ESPN boston: Hall of Fame

Red Auerbach

Celtics coach (1950-1966), GM, pres./vice chair (1984-2006)


The most decorated franchise in the history of the National Basketball Association, using titles as the measuring stick, is the Boston Celtics. And the one man most responsible for the success is Red Auerbach.

Red Auerbach
ESPN
The victory cigar came from the legend himself, as evidenced by this 1996 portrait of Red Auerbach in front of the Celtics' championship banners.
Auerbach basically was the Boston Celtics for more than half a century. He coached them, built them, nurtured them and turned them into the most famous team brand in the sport. It didn't hurt that along the way he won nine titles as a coach and seven more as a team executive. He died just before the start of the 2006-07 season, a year before the Celtics' latest championship.

Auerbach was an innovator. He saw basketball as the ultimate team game and built his Celtics' squads around the concept that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. He preached defense and running, destroying opponents with a fast break triggered by defense and rebounding.

He saw greatness and acted on his gut where others saw only potential or backed down. He traded two future Hall of Famers to St. Louis in 1956 for the rights to draft a rookie named Bill Russell. He drafted Larry Bird as a junior eligible, even though he knew he would not get him for a year, if at all. He drafted Danny Ainge in the second round, convinced that Ainge would give up his baseball career. He drafted Charlie Scott, who went to the ABA, then traded his rights to Phoenix for Paul Silas.

He broke racial barriers. He was the first to draft an African-American (Chuck Cooper in 1950) and was the first NBA coach to employ a starting lineup of five African-Americans. When he decided to leave the bench at the end of the 1965-66 season, he turned over the coaching duties to Bill Russell, the first African-American coach in a major American sport. Auerbach was only 49 at that time, but had already been a professional coach for 20 years.

But, mostly, he won as no one else had won -- and loved to rub it in with a lighted cigar near the end of blowout wins. When Auerbach arrived in Boston in 1950, the team had missed the playoffs in three of its first four seasons. It wouldn't miss them again until the season after Russell retired in 1970.

The Celtics won their first NBA title in 1957, following Russell's rookie season, lost in the NBA Finals the next year, then ripped off an unprecedented eight straight championships. It was after the eighth that Auerbach retired, leaving a legacy of unmatched success and a slew of Basketball Hall of Famers.

As the Celtics' general manager and president, Auerbach rebuilt the team on two occasions and, from 1956 until 1992, the Celtics never went more than five years without winning a title. A smallish team with the 6-foot-8 Dave Cowens at center and the relentless John Havlicek on the perimeter won two titles and a franchise-record 68 games in another season. Three more titles came in the 1980s, with a team dominated by arguably the greatest frontcourt in NBA history -- Bird, Kevin McHale and Robert Parish. The latter two had come to Boston after Auerbach engineered one of the greatest trades in NBA history, dealing away a pair of draft picks who wound up being Joe Barry Carroll and Rickey Brown.

Auerbach was inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame in 1969. The NBA honored him by naming its coach of the year award the Red Auerbach Trophy.

2011 Boston Hall of Fame classmates: Larry Bird | Ted Williams | Bill Russell | Bobby Orr