Originally written on Celtics Green ...a boston celtics blog.  |  Last updated 9/20/13
On September 20, 1917, Red Auerbach was born and he would become the patriarch of the NBA as well as the Celtics. He would have been 96 years old today and his presence is missed in the Celtics front office. He was an intricate part of 16 of the Celtics championships and as a coach, Auerbach won nine NBA championships. Red was also an accomplished author and every one of his books that I have read has been excellent. To celebrate his birthday, perhaps you should look up one of his books and give it a read. If you are a Celtics fan, you won't be disappointed. At the end of this article, I'll post a list of his books. But first, here is an excerpt from his book "Let Me Tell You a Story," which was my favorite of all of his books. This is a story that shows Red's incredible basketball mind and how he thought ahead of everyone else. It was said of Larry Bird that he was playing chess while everyone else on the court was playing checkers. The same could be said of Red. We also hear about the beginning of Red's famous victory cigars. While he was trying to sell tickets any way he could, Red was building a pretty good team. In spite of Red's objections, Cousy arrived that season along with Ed Macauley, Sharman and Brannum came a year after that. Then, in 1953, Red made a move that proved to be one of the most important of his career. That season, Kentucky's program had been shut down in the wake of a point fixing scandal. Adolph Rupp told Red that Frank Ramsey and Cliff Hagan, his two best players, were planning to come back for a fifth season even though both were eligible to graduate in the spring. At that time the NBA rules said you couldn't draft a player until his college eligibility had been completed. During the league meetings that winter, Red made a proposal: why not change the rules to allow players to be drafted four years after they graduated from high school? "It's the same as the NFL," Red reasoned. "Why not just do it the way they do it?" No one could see any harm in changing the rules. Why not go along with football? So the proposal quickly passed. "What I always did when I had something I wanted to get through for a specific reason was I waited until the end of the day to bring it up," Red said. "Guys were tired, they wanted to go out and get dinner. I'd bring something up kind of casually and usually there wouldn't be much conversation about it. They'd just go ahead and pass it. That's what happened with this." A few months later, when the draft rolled around, Red stood up and announced that his first draft pick was Frank Ramsey. "People jumped up and said, "What are you talking about? You can't take him. He's going back to Kentucky." Red said, "I said, 'Read the rule. We passed it a couple of months ago.'" In the third round, Red drafted Hagan. Now people were really upset. Ned Irish [who was president of the New York Knicks] stood up and said, "Hey, fellas, we goofed. Red's right. The rules say he can do this." Neither player would play for the Celtics that year. But Ramsey would join the team a year later and be a key player for ten years, taking over the critical sixth man role that Red had first created in Washington. Hagan had to serve two years in the military after graduation since he had joined the ROTC during the Korean War. He ended up plaing on the Andrews Air Force Base basketball team - coached by John Toomay (whom Red had once cut), a man who went on to become a three star general - and finally reached the NBA in 1956. He would go on to have a Hall of Fame career - but not with the Celtics. And yet, his role in making the Celtics the greatest dynasty in the history of basketball is undeniable. "I took my lumps those first few years. People forget that. They think we came out of the chute winning championships and just kept on winning. I wish that were true. But it wasn't the case." Red never had a losing season with the Celtics. In his first season, the team, after being twenty four games under .500 the year before, was 39-30. They became consistent winners, making the playoffs every year, usually finishing with one of the best records in the league. But just as in Washington, Red found himself unable to get over the playoff hump. He had a team built on speed and quickness. He had great guards in Cousy and Sharman and a slew of good forwards, especially after Ramsey and Tom Heinsohn joined Macauley up front. But he didn't have a great center, a rebounder who could start the fast break with consistency in postseason play. "In the playoffs, winning usually comes down to one simple thing," Red said. "You have to have people who can get you the ball. Those first six years we didn't have a guy who could get us the ball." It was during those early Celtic years that Red first began smoking his famous victory cigar. He had been a cigar smoker since his Navy days but never smoked during games. It was his concern with bench decorum at the end of a one sided game that got him started on the cigars. "It has always bothered me to see coaches who are up twenty or thirty points jumping up and down and screaming with two minutes or a minute to go," he said. "I see coaches do it today and it drives me nuts. It's such a 'Look at me' thing. My attitude was, when we had a game in hand. I'd get the subs in, sit down on the bench, and relax. Let people know I wasn't trying to embarrass the other team, just get the game over and done with. "But I'd kind of sit there and not know exactly what to do. Cross my legs? Maybe that's too casual. Sit back? I didn't know. Then I noticed that Joe Lapchick [then the coach of the Knicks] always smoked on the bench. Back in those days you could do that. So I decided if we had a game comfortably in hand, I'd smoke too. I'd light a cigar and just sit back. That ended up becoming the signal to people that we'd won the game, so guys started calling it my victory cigar. Then it became a big thing. People waiting for me to light the cigar. I never did it on the road - never. That would have been rubbing it in. Of course one night we went into Cincinnati and I found out that they'd given out five thousand cigars and told the fans when the Royals won the game they should all light up. I said to the guys in the locker room before the game, 'If you don't win this one, I'll kill you.'" The Celtics, of course, won. Red resisted the urge to break his rule about lighting up on the road. "The cigar didn't really become a big thing until we started winning championships." he said. "People in Boston noticed before then, but it became a big thing around the league after we started winning." You can't go wrong with any of Red's books. Here's a list of books by and about Red Auerbach that should be required reading for all Celtics fans. Let Me Tell You a Story: A Lifetime in the Game by Auerbach, Red and Feinstein, John (Sep 3, 2007) Red Auerbach an Autobiography by Arnold Red Auerbach & Joe Fitzgerald, John Havlicek and Joe Fitzgerald (1977) Basketball for the Play the Fan and the Coach by Arnold "Red" Auerbach (Jan 1, 1952) MBA: Management by Auerbach : Management Tips from the Leader of One of America's Most Successful Organizations... by Red Auerbach and Ken Dooley (May 1994) On and Off the Court by Red Auerbach (Oct 1, 1985) Red Auerbach: Winning the Hard Way Basketball's greatest coach tells his story by Arnold Red Auerbach (1966) Seeing Red: The Red Auerbach Story by Dan Shaughnessy (Oct 25, 1994) Red Auerbach's Winning Ways by The Editors of New Word City (Nov 1, 2011) Red and Me: My Coach, My Lifelong Friend by Russell, Bill and Steinberg, Alan (May 5, 2009) Happy Birthday to Red... I leave you with this video that always leaves me with a tear in my eye... [Discuss on CG Forums!]
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