The record means a lot to Jackson, and it meant a lot to Auerbach, too. And, while a modern generation might take the number of titles to be the measure of the best coach, no one who remembers Auerbach’s Celtics will ever take that bait.
In most sports arguments about the greatest ever, there is room for debate. But not in this one. Auerbach’s record as a coach and general manager is unassailable. Jackson won his nine titles with two teams — the Bulls and the Lakers. In each case, he had the best players, and, when they departed, so did he.
Auerbach brought the best players to his home court, the old Boston Garden. With his first crew, led by Bob Cousy, Bill Russell, Bill Sharman and Tom Heinsohn, he won eight straight championships and then a ninth. He retired then, moving to the front office as team president and general manager, and he built teams that won seven more titles.
When Jackson or anyone else does that, we can entertain comparisons with the greatest coach and executive basketball or any other sport will ever see.
Auerbach was also a pioneer who maneuvered in 1956 to draft Russell, a black man, as the center of his team. When he retired, he named Russell the coach, making one of the game’s greatest centers the first African-American coach in the NBA.
He was passionate, once attacking a referee with whom he had a difference of opinion about the fine points of the rules. He also aggravated foes when he introduced what could be called the predecessor of the end-zone dance, the home-run pose and all the other acts of self-celebration that infest the games today. At the end of a game whose outcome was no longer in doubt, Auerbach would extract a cigar from the pocket of his suit jacket and with studied nonchalance light it up while still sitting at the end of the bench.
Life was different in those days, when smoking was allowed just about everywhere, including sporting arenas, elevators and doctors’ offices. Some players smoked at halftime. So no one objected to the deleterious effects of tobacco on the human cardiovascular system. But they did object to Auerbach’s rubbing it in by lighting that victory cigar.
Long before it wasn’t over until the fat lady sang, in Boston it wasn’t over until Red lit a stogie.
He wasn’t a saint, kind and generous to all he met. If he didn’t like someone or something, he said so in words that dripped acid. He hated losing to New York and never hid his antipathy towards teams from his hometown. It’s doubtful many referees enjoyed seeing him on the sidelines, and nobody ever accused him of being compromising.
And he was forever loyal to his players and his team.
If there is one thing he said that encapsulates him, it would be this: “The only correct actions are those that demand no explanation and no apology.”
If the Roaring Twenties were the Golden Age of North American sports for individual athletes, the Boring Fifties were the Golden Era of team sports. The former had Babe Ruth, Jack Dempsey, Bill Tilden and Red Grange. The latter had the Cleveland Browns with legendary coach Paul Brown, the Montreal Canadiens and coach Toe Blake, the New York Yankees and Casey Stengel, and the Boston Celtics and Auerbach.
The Celtics came along at the tail end of that decade, winning their first NBA title at the conclusion of the 1958-59 season. That team was to become the standard by which every team in every sport would be measured forever more. And it was Auerbach who made them so.
PBT: LeBron James took over the 4th quarter, Ray Allen hit a huge three to force OT and the Heat survived to force a Game 7.
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