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At 65, he's still Red-hot

"It was very simple; every time I looked up, Cunningham's in the middle of the floor and they're doing a job on our guys and the refs are doing nothing about it. So I got mad. That's all; I got mad."- Red Auerbach

Oh, the fires still burn deep and white hot . . . do they ever.

Sixty-five years old, at an age when the only battle in life could be with his Social Security check, and there's the Redhead padding across the Garden floor, walking right up to Moses himself, all 6 feet 10 of him.

Head to head, man to man, curse to curse, the calendar and the difference in reach be damned.

Exhibition game? It makes no difference, Auerbach explains, because "they come out there with their starting lineup and they think they're going to bury us." It was an exhibition game, certainly, but it was a game against the Sixers and there are no exhibition games against the Sixers.

"First, they knock Maxwell down," Auerbach goes on, "and then that other guy (Marc Iavaroni) is doing a job on Bird and all that kind of stuff is going on. I couldn't help it; I just got mad."

He had been always like that, of course.

Old Celtic Bob Brannum was at practice yesterday and he remembered the game 32 years ago when the Celtics slipped into Davenport, Iowa, with Chuck Cooper, the NBA's first black player, and St. Louis' Mel Hutchens was at the cutting edge with his comments.

Words led to words, Auerbach and Hawks' coach Doxie Moore met on the court "and Doxie coldcocked him," Brannum recalled. "Just gave him a shot out of the blue."

"Yeah," said Auerbach, "Moore sucker-punched me but he didn't knock me down."

Or that famous bout 25 years ago, K.C. Jones recalled, when Auerbach and St. Louis owner Ben Kerner went at each other.

"It was a playoff game, back in 1958," the Celtics' coach recalled, "and it happened before a game - they had an argument about something - then they went after each other and they were swinging. I remember this about Red; he didn't back down."

But all that was a long time ago, when Auerbach was a toddling youth of 40, and the last sight Jones expected to see Sunday night was Auerbach stepping down from the stands and joining the many-sided fray.

"In all the years I've seen the Celtics play," said Jones, "I've never seen anything like (Sunday) night. And then I see Red."

One moment Jones is in a swirl of bodies and the next he sees Auerbach, sport coat open, stepping purposefully across the floor. "I didn't expect that one; I looked around and here comes Red flying out there like a mad rooster . . . shouting, the arms flailing. I think he was having fun."

It all started only one round into the bout during a rebounding tussle between Malone and Cedric Maxwell.

Maxwell wasn't surprised the teams needed only four minutes of a new season to go at each other, "because with our two teams, it's possible for anything to happen once we step onto the floor. I wouldn't be surprised if something happens in warmups one day."

Actually, joked M.L. Carr, "The reason it happened is obvious. We didn't play Philadelphia in the playoffs last season so we missed each other. We hadn't seen each other in a while. Maybe, if they were smart, they would have scheduled a summer-league game between us to get all this stuff out of our blood."

So, Maxwell and Malone crashed, Maxwell threw the ball at Moses, and Malone threw himself at Maxwell.

Do you wish now you hadn't thrown the ball at Malone? Maxwell was asked.

"No, not really," replied Maxwell. "I didn't think it was right of him to push me so I hit him with the ball. It was no big deal; Moses then tackled me but nothing more happened than that. But I'm sure that probably had something to do with everything else that happened."

Yes. Soon enough, Bird and Iavaroni were tangling, the benches again were cleared "and what was happening," said Carr, "is that the two teams were trying to establish their turf. Julius (Erving) and I were talking about this after the game; you have two teams here that have utmost respect for each other individually and collectively.

"You're trying to establish an edge because there's a team that comes onto your home court and they're announced as world champions. They're your arch- rival and they're trying to defend what you're trying to win back, so both teams are trying to establish ground."

Bird didn't want to talk about the battles at all and Auerbach only a little.

It was Bird's being tossed out of the game and Malone remaining that blew the fuse for Auerbach. "I got mad at what I saw," said Auerbach. "I've got a lot of respect for (76er coach) Billy Cunningham - he's one of the greatest coaches the league has had - but he was out there getting his players all steamed up. And when Larry got thrown out, that was enough."

Not surprisingly, the view from Philadelphia was a tad different.

"Obviously, the Celtics went about this with midseason intensity," said 76er general manager Pat Williams. "They're determined to establish themselves early as a team to be reckoned with. The way last year ended really stunned them. Billy (Cunningham) played it like an exhibition; Boston didn't and that's their problem."

Owner Harold Katz of the Sixers said the fault was entirely the Celtics'.

"Those incidents were uncalled for," said Katz. "You can't touch the Celtics' players in Boston Garden, apparently that's the new rule. This wasn't the seventh game of the playoffs, this was an exhibition game. And if nothing happens to the Celtics, I'll run down onto the court the next time. I've never seen it done before . . . I mean, the man was sitting in the stands and he ran onto the court."

Katz is close to the truth of the matter but not close enough. Auerbach is 65 but the fires still burn deep and hot.

The man is more than special; he is one in a million.

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