From the basketball stars to the championship trophies, see highlights from the life of the legendary Celtics coach.
BOSTON - His genius was building a basketball dynasty in Boston, his gift was straight talk, his signature was the pungent cigar he lit up and savored after every victory.
Red Auerbach, the Hall of Famer who guided the Celtics to 16 championships — first as a coach and later as general manager — died Saturday. He was 89.
Auerbach died of a heart attack near his home in Washington, according to an NBA official, who didn’t want to be identified. His last public appearance was on Wednesday, when he received the Navy’s Lone Sailor Award during a ceremony in the nation’s capital.
Auerbach’s death was announced by the Celtics, who still employed him as team president. Next season will be dedicated to him, they said.
“He was relentless and produced the greatest basketball dynasty so far that this country has ever seen and certainly that the NBA has ever seen,” said Bob Cousy, the point guard for many of Auerbach’s championship teams, who referred to his coach by his given name. “This is a personal loss for me. Arnold and I have been together since 1950. I was fortunate that I was able to attend a function with him Wednesday night. ... I am so glad now that I took the time to be there and spend a few more moments with him.”
Tom Heinsohn, who played under Auerbach and then coached the Celtics when he was their general manager, remembered his personal side.
“He was exceptional at listening and motivating people to put out their very best,” Heinsohn said. “In my playing days he once gave me a loaded cigar and six months later I gave him one. That was our relationship. We had a tremendous amount of fun and the game of basketball will never see anyone else like him.”
Auerbach’s 938 victories made him the winningest coach in NBA history until Lenny Wilkens overtook him during the 1994-95 season.
“Beyond his incomparable achievements, Red had come to be our basketball soul and our basketball conscience,” NBA commissioner David Stern said, “the void left by his death will never be filled.”
Auerbach’s nine titles as a coach came in the 1950s and 1960s — including eight straight from 1959 through 1966 — and then through shrewd deals and foresight he became the architect of Celtics teams that won seven more championships in the 1970s and 1980s.
Phil Jackson matched those record nine championships when the Los Angeles Lakers won the title in 2001-02.
“Red was a true champion and one whose legacy transcends the Celtics and basketball,” Sen. Ted Kennedy said. “He was the gold standard in coaching and in civic leadership, and he set an example that continues today. We all knew and loved Red in the Kennedy family.”
“He was a unique personality, a combination of toughness and great, great caring about people,” said author John Feinstein, who last year collaborated on a book with Auerbach on the coach’s reflections of seven decades in basketball. “He cared about people much more than it showed in his public face, and that’s why people cared about him.”
With the Celtics, he made deals that brought Bill Russell, Robert Parish and Kevin McHale to Boston. He drafted Larry Bird a year early when the Indiana State star was a junior to make sure Bird would come to Boston.
Auerbach coached championship teams that featured players such as Russell, Cousy, Heinsohn, Bill Sharman, K.C. Jones and Sam Jones, all inducted into the Hall of Fame.
After stepping down as general manager in 1984, Auerbach served as president of the Celtics and occasionally attended team practices into the mid-1990s, although his role in the draft and personnel decisions had diminished.
“Red was a guy who always introduced new things,” Celtics co-owner Steve Pagliuca told The Associated Press in an interview this month. “He had some of the first black players in the league and some people didn’t like that, but you’ve got to do what’s right for the fans.”
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