Kevin Cullen

A final win for Red

By Kevin Cullen
Globe Columnist / January 7, 2010

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The news should be announced any day now. The concourse at North Station and TD Garden will formally become Red Auerbach Concourse next Friday, which in a town like this is big news indeed.

Getting something renamed in Boston is about as easy as sneaking into the White House. Actually, come to think of it, that’s a lousy comparison.

Let’s just say this is a city where getting anything named, renamed, or you-name-it can be difficult. It could be history, red tape, competing interests, or incomparable memories of slights, real and imagined.

Red Auerbach’s friends aimed high. They wanted Causeway Street renamed for the man who as coach, general manager, and team president made the Boston Celtics the gold standard for professional basketball franchises.

But that was probably never in the cards, if only because the Bruins own the Garden that sits on Causeway Street. Renaming the street after Bobby Orr stands a better chance.

But Red Auerbach’s friends are more than loyal. They are persistent.

Not long after Red’s death in October 2006, Judge Mark Wolf hosted a dinner for a group of Red’s friends at the St. Botolph Club.

Most people know Wolf as chief judge of the federal court in Boston. But his father was Red’s accountant, and as a kid he came under the spell of a guy who smoked cigars like a chimney, used curse words like a sailor, and knew more about the human condition than anybody deserved.

That dinner in the Back Bay became a posthumous testimonial to Arnold Jacob Auerbach. They went around the table and everybody told a Red story.

Ray Tye, who made a fortune in the liquor business and has spent years giving most of it away to poor kids, recalled how Red called him up and said he couldn’t make the payroll. So Red Auerbach borrowed money from Ray Tye to pay the world’s greatest basketball team.

Red paid Ray Tye back not just in money, but in Chinese food, heated up on the hot plate Red kept in his room at the Lenox Hotel.

That dinner that honored Red led to another, and another. The people who attended - among them Frank Bellotti, the former attorney general; Don Rodman, the car dealer who gives away as much money as he makes; Mal Sherman, the retail genius; Stu Grossman, a lawyer and Red’s nephew; Jan Volk, the former Celtics general manager; Jon Jennings, the former Celtics assistant coach - were movers and shakers and do-gooders all.

Some former Celtics, among them Bob Cousy, Tommy Heinsohn, M.L. Carr, showed up.

From those dinners came a determination to mark Red Auerbach’s contribution to the fabric of this town, of this nation, with something more than the life-size bronze statue in Quincy Market.

There was a consensus that it had to be closer to the spot where Red Auerbach put the greatest teams in the NBA on the floor, where in 1950 he drafted the first African-American in the NBA, where in 1964 he started the first all-black lineup, where in 1966 he handpicked Bill Russell to succeed him and become the NBA’s first black head coach.

In a city where race was the most contentious of issues, at a time when integration was the most divisive issue in the country, Red Auerbach made racial progress without making a big deal about it.

Red Auerbach was the first to figure out that the way you win was as important as winning itself.

And so his friends pressed on. Jennings, who is rare in having made a life in both professional sports and professional politics, called everybody he knew. Bellotti made his pitch to the MBTA. Everybody called up somebody.

The Friends of Red ended up with a concourse, not a street. But that’s almost beside the point.

If Red were alive, he’d approve.

Then he’d send out for Chinese.

Kevin Cullen is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at