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Passing of a Celtics legend

Red Auerbach was the combative, competitive and occasionally abrasive personification of the Boston Celtics.
Red Auerbach was the combative, competitive and occasionally abrasive personification of the Boston Celtics. (Globe Staff File Photo / Jim Davis )

Arnold Red Auerbach, named the greatest coach in the history of the National Basketball Association and, for more than half a century, the combative, competitive and occasionally abrasive personification of pro basketball's greatest dynasty, the Boston Celtics, has died at age 89.

He died of a heart attack near his home in Washington, according to an NBA official who spoke to the Associated Press and didn't want to be identified. His last public appearance was on Wednesday, when he received the U.S. Navy's Lone Sailor Award in front of family and friends in ceremonies in Washington.

Auerbach's death was announced by the Celtics, for whom he still served as team president. The team said the upcoming season would be dedicated in his honor.

In two decades of NBA coaching, Auerbach won 938 games, a record when he retired in 1966, as well as a record nine NBA titles, a record he shares with Phil Jackson. In those 20 years, 16 of them with the Celtics, Auerbach had only one losing season while winning almost two thirds of his games. He was inducted into the NBA Hall of Fame in 1968 and, 12 years later, was recognized as the greatest coach in NBA history by the Professional Basketball Writers Association of America. That same year, 1980, he was inducted into the Hall of Fame a second time as a contributor.

In 1996, he was honored on the 50th anniversary of the NBA as one of its greatest 10 coaches. His coaching achievement is recognized annually with the awarding of the Red Auerbach Trophy to the league's Coach of the Year. Auerbach himself won the award only once, in 1965, two years after it was instituted.

But Auerbach's genius extended well beyond his coaching years, when he moved into the Celtics front office, starting in 1966. By then, he already had shown his ability to judge and acquire talent with the acquisitions of Hall of Famers such as Bill Russell, John Havlicek, and Sam Jones through trades or the NBA draft. Later, as the team's general manager, he engineered deals for Hall of Famers such as Larry Bird, Kevin McHale, Robert Parish, and Dave Cowens.

A testament to Auerbach's impact on the game as both a coach and talent evaluator is seen by the number of his players who made it to the Hall of Fame and to the number of his players who followed his footsteps into professional coaching. There are 14 Hall of Famers who had extended Celtics careers thanks to either playing for, or being drafted by, Auerbach. More than 30 Auerbach players ended up in coaching positions, including eight of the 12 players on his 1962-63 championship team. Three of his players, Tom Heinsohn, Bill Sharman, and Don Nelson, later won Coach of the Year honors. Nelson won it three times.

He was also a social force in the NBA, drafting the league's first African-American player in 1950 in Chuck Cooper, hiring pro sports' first African-American head coach in 1966 in Russell, and starting five African-Americans on the Celtics, an NBA first. He was an international ambassador for the game as well, leading NBA teams on exhibition tours through Europe.

Auerbach was fiercely competitive, sometimes to the point of boorishness. It was Auerbach who would break out a celebratory cigar during Celtics homes games -- never on the road -- when it was clear his team had won. He once had a writer's seat moved from the floor to the upper box at the Boston Garden because of an unfavorable story. He ordered that a favorable mention of Cedric Maxwell be excised from one of his books after he felt Maxwell betrayed him.

In 1984, Auerbach was invited to coach an old-timer's team in the 1984 All-Star Game and was ejected for arguing with the officials. In his early years as the commissioner of the NBA, David Stern would joke to friends that he felt his real first name was Stupid because of all the conversations he had with Auerbach.

Whether it was tennis, racquetball, basketball, Chinese cuisine, or simply having the final word, Auerbach was relentless. As former player-agent Ron Grinker once said of Auerbach, Red plays chess while the other general managers play checkers.

Auerbach took over as the Celtics' head coach in 1950. He retired from coaching after the 1965-66 season, having won his eighth consecutive NBA title and ninth overall. He served as the team's president and general manager for another 14 years and as the president solely from 1984 until 1997, and again from 2001 until his death. He also was the team's vice chairman of the board and was still a sought-after voice well into the 21st century.

In his long tenure in Boston, he built three separate Celtics champions -- the dominating team that won all but one title in the 1960s, a second team that won two titles in the 1970s, and the last, great Celtics team, which won three championships in the 1980s. The team he took over in 1950 was in last place; seven years later he had the first of his nine championships, all anchored by the indomitable Russell. The Celtics won world championships in 1974 and 1976 with a nucleus built around Auerbach draftees Havlicek, Cowens and Jo Jo White and also triumphed in 1981, 1984 and 1986 with the so-called Big Three: Bird, McHale and Parish, arguably the greatest frontcourt in NBA history.

But the magic wore off after the 16th championship in 1986. At that point, the Celtics had amassed the 16 titles in 30 years, never going longer than five years without a championship. They are now approaching two decades since the last championship flag was raised to the rafters.

In the 1990s, the Celtics became something they never were when Auerbach was either coaching or involved on a day-to-day basis in the front office: irrelevant. Bird and McHale retired prematurely due to injuries. Reggie Lewis, an Auerbach draft pick and emerging star, died of cardiac arrest. The team had a stretch where it made the playoffs only once in eight years.

And even when Celtics briefly made what looked to be a significant and signature move in 1997, the hiring of Rick Pitino, it quickly backfired on Auerbach when Pitino insisted on having Auerbach's long-held title of president. Four years later, Pitino left in disgrace and the team quickly moved to re-install Auerbach's favorite title (other than coach).

Auerbach still had a presence and a voice, although somewhat muted, in personnel matters in the new millennium. It was Auerbach who advocated successfully for the drafting of Joseph Forte in 2001 over the likes of Tony Parker, Jamaal Tinsley and Gilbert Arenas.

While he missed a few along the way (Forte, Willis Reed and Gus Johnson), Auerbach's track record for identifying talent and then acquiring it was remarkable. He convinced two teams in 1956 not to draft Russell, getting one of them (St. Louis) to trade their pick to him for two players, and getting the other to bypass Russell entirely in return for some arena-filling Ice Capades dates. In 1978, five teams passed on the then junior-eligible Bird, either because Bird would cost too much or would not be available for another year. Auerbach didn't hesitate, and then managed to sign Bird and keep him in Boston throughout his Hall of Fame career.

Where others saw impediments or obstacles, Auerbach saw opportunity. In 1969, several teams shied away from White due to a supposed military commitment. Auerbach drafted White and White went directly to the NBA while doing his military service in the reserves. In 1981, Danny Ainge, then a professional baseball player, was said to be firm and unyielding in his decision not to play in the NBA. Auerbach drafted Ainge in the second round and had him in a Celtics uniform for 53 games the following season.

Trades brought him not only Russell, but also Parish and the chance to draft McHale, still considered today to be the most lopsided trade in NBA history. The Warriors, who made the deal, ended up with Joe Barry Carroll and Rickey Brown. Auerbach also made deals to acquire Bill Sharman, Dennis Johnson and made a point of bringing in supposedly over-the-hill veterans such as Wayne Embry, Bailey Howell and Clyde Lovellette. He picked up Don Nelson off waivers and Nelson became a key part of five championship teams.

Auerbach developed Bob Cousy into a Hall of Famer, but at first was adamant that Cousy not be on his team. He bypassed Cousy in the 1950 draft, taking Charlie Share instead. But Cousy ended up in Boston anyway when his team folded and the Celtics drew his name out of a hat.

Auerbach was among the first to cultivate the team as family concept, using loyalty as his linchpin. Hall of Famer Bill Walton, who really only had one season with Boston, still considers himself a Celtic, first, last, and always. Players occasionally felt his public wrath, but there was always a method to the motive. Agents became a favorite target; he only gradually and reluctantly revised his opinion of them from scum to lowest possible life form. And others, be they referees, judges, opponents, advisors, or even colleagues, would feel his wrath if he detected the Celtics were being scorned or spurned. No one played the us-against-them dynamic better or more adroitly.

He could also be crude, abusive and hostile. He once sought out Ainge after Ainge played a particularly bad game in Washington. What, were you out drinking with your other wife? Auerbach said to Ainge, a Mormon. One longtime acquaintance called Auerbach a terminal juvenile delinquent -- and Auerbach did little to dispel the image. Yet it also, undeniably, was a shtick that he cultivated.

In whatever he did, Auerbach wanted to win, said Harry Mangurian, one of many former owners who worked with Auerbach. There was no letup in him at all.

Arnold Jacob Auerbach was born Sept. 20, 1917, the second of four children of Hyman Auerbach, who ran a dry cleaning business in Brooklyn, and Marie Thompson Auerbach. Hyman Auerbach immigrated to the United States from Minsk, Russia, at the age of 12. He took a job working the counter at Rosoffs Restaurant in Manhattan and met Marie Thompson there. They married and opened a delicatessen on Sixth Avenue, across from Radio City Music Hall. In 1931, Hyman Auerbach sold his delicatessen and moved into the dry cleaning business.

Arnold had one older brother, Victor, who succeeded his father in the dry cleaning business. A younger brother, Zang, became a commercial artist and designed the Celtics' leprechaun logo. He had a younger sister, Florence, born two days before his eighth birthday.

Auerbach attended P.S. 122 and then Eastern District High School, where he captained both the basketball and handball teams. His grades were not quite good enough to get a scholarship to New York University, but the basketball coach at Seth Low Junior College, a Brooklyn offshoot of Columbia University, offered him a $100 scholarship to New York University. Two years after enrolling at Seth Low, Auerbach moved on to George Washington University after the GW basketball coach spotted him during a scrimmage and gave him a scholarship. The move to Washington turned out to be a permanent one for Auerbach, who maintained a residence there until his death. Even when he coached the Celtics, his wife and daughters lived in the nation's capital while he stayed at the Lenox Hotel and later in an apartment in the Prudential Center.

Auerbach played three seasons for George Washington, averaging 6 points in 56 games. But while there, he established two relationships that would guide him for decades: a love for his wife and a visceral hatred of Madison Square Garden, then the Mecca of college basketball.

His wife was Dorothy Lewis, a third-generation Washingtonian and daughter of a local pediatrician. The two were married when Auerbach graduated from George Washington in 1941 with a Bachelor of Science degree in physical education. He also got a masters in education, leading him one time to chastise a heckler by saying, I'm not a bum. I'm an educated bum!

They had two daughters, Randy and Nancy. Dorothy died in 2000.

The issue with Madison Square Garden came about because the National Invitation Tournament, then the best of the post-college tournaments, slighted George Washington in Auerbach's first season. He blamed the folks at Madison Square Garden for the snub -- the tournament was played there -- and throughout his pro career he relished wins in that building more than in any other.

Auerbach's first two coaching jobs were both high school assignments. The first was at an exclusive private school in Washington, St. Albans, and the second was at Roosevelt High School in the city. The second job also included teaching history and hygiene (this was before he became addicted to cigars) and coaching handball. In May 1943, he joined the Navy.

Auerbach was spared active duty in World War II, although he became a third class petty officer. He was assigned to the physical fitness program headed by boxer Gene Tunney and ended up with other sports celebrities such as baseball's Johnny Mize and future California basketball coach Pete Newell at a fitness school in Maryland. From there, he was sent to the Norfolk Naval base to start up an intramural athletic program and had candidates such as Bob Feller, Dominic DiMaggio, Phil Rizzutto as well as future NBA head coach Red Holzman. After getting the base involved in a number of athletic activities, Auerbach was reassigned to upstate New York and finished out the war at Bethesda Naval Hospital. It was during his stint in the Navy that he started to smoke cigars, a habit he had until his death.

It was then, at age 28, that Auerbach entered a career that would define him until his death and make him wealthy and famous: professional basketball. A new league was beginning in 1946 which, eventually, became the National Basketball Association. One of the new franchises was located in Washington, D.C., and Auerbach summoned all of his legendary bravado to present himself to the new owner as the best candidate for the job. He was offered and accepted -- a one-year deal for $5,000.

As the head coach of the Washington Caps, he assembled a team from all over, using his military and coaching contacts. One of his signees, a player from North Carolina named Bones McKinney, agreed to terms in the men's room of the Blackstone Hotel. McKinney finished his career with the Celtics and later became a trusted advisor and confidant to Auerbach, responsible for the Celtics' drafting of Hall of Famer Sam Jones in 1957.

His first professional team won 49 of 60 games, including 17 straight, a streak that would remain a league record until 1969. The team, however, was eliminated in the playoffs. In his next two years with Washington, he went 28-20 and 38-22, the second year making it to the NBA Finals before losing in six games to the Minneapolis Lakers.

But there were rumors of discontent on the team and Auerbach went back to ownership and demanded a three-year contract. When he was offered only one, he left to accept a profitable ($7,500) job at Duke University as an assistant and advisor to head coach Jerry Gerard. This was Auerbach's only flirtation with the college game -- and it was over almost as soon as it began. He felt uneasy about the job, mainly because Gerard was terminally ill with cancer and Auerbach looked like a crepe hanger. Three months after arriving in Durham, N.C., owner Ben Kerner of the Tri-Cities Blackhawks of the NBA called. He had just fired his coach, Roger Potter, after a 1-6 start, and needed a new coach. Auerbach accepted a two-year deal for $17,000.

He finished out the 1949-50 season in Tri-Cities, going 28-29. It was the only time he coached a team with a losing record. He then left, furious that Kerner traded away one of his starters without his knowledge. The two would have some celebrated battles over the years when Kerner later bought the St. Louis Hawks, including a fistfight.

The owner of the last-place Boston Celtics, Walter Brown, inquired if Auerbach would coach the team. (Brown had come across Auerbach's name after talking to local sports writers.) Auerbach also was acquainted with Browns co-owner, Lou Pieri, who had unsuccessfully tried to lure him to Providence to coach the NBA Steamrollers in the mid 1940s.

Auerbach demanded a three-year deal. Brown told him it would be a one-year offer because the team's situation was so precarious there might not be a second year. The Celtics had finished 31 games out of first place with a 22-46 record. Auerbach took the one-year offer for $10,000 and began a long, amicable relationship covering 13 years with Brown that always involved a handshake deal. One year, Auerbach estimated it took 70 seconds to agree on a new contract.

Auerbach had two new players around which to build. The team acquired 6-foot-8 Easy Ed Macauley in the 1950 dispersal draft and lucked out in getting a local backcourt whiz from Holy Cross named Bob Cousy. The Celtics could have had Cousy in the draft, but Auerbach was wary of the local pressure to play the popular Cousy and also thought Cousy's unrefined game might not make it in the pros. He opted instead for Bowling Green center Charlie Share.

Cousy went to Tri-Cities and quickly was dealt to Chicago. He never played a game for either team because Chicago soon folded. Its three premier players, or presumed to be such, were Cousy, Max Zaslofsky and Andy Phillip. Their names were put into a hat for the three teams that could afford them or want them: New York, Boston and Philadelphia. Auerbach wanted Zaslofsky first. Then Phillip. But when the Celtics drew the last name out of the hat, it was Cousy's. They had him for $8,500.

The 1950 draft also produced a first: the NBA's first black player. Auerbach chose Chuck Cooper of Duquesne, who played four seasons with the Celtics. It was a risky move as much for the racial issue as for the apparent intrusion into Abe Saperstein's domain as the man behind the Harlem Globetrotters. The NBA didn't want to get into a fight with Saperstein. His Globetrotters filled arenas as part of NBA doubleheaders -- and Cooper had toured with the Trotters. But Cooper signed on with Boston.

Cousy and Macauley started the Celtics on their way. The 1950-51 Celtics went 39-30 and made the playoffs. In 1951, Auerbach traded the NBA rights to Share to Fort Wayne for a shooting guard named Bill Sharman and a bruiser named Bob Brannum and the team had success each year.

Then, in the summer of 1953 while working at a resort in New York, he got his first glimpse at Wilt Chamberlain, then still a gangly high school center from Philadelphia. Auerbach was infatuated with the teenager. He knew he had no chance to get Chamberlain, but it made him realize he needed a big man to complete the Celtics puzzle. Two years later, he first laid his eyes on Bill Russell, while in New York to scout the Holiday Festival.

Auerbach also figured he had no shot at Russell in the draft, as Russell had led San Francisco to consecutive NCAA championships. But Auerbach made inquiries as the 1956 draft approached first to Rochester, which had the No. 1 pick, and then to his old boss, Kerner, now the owner of St. Louis, which held the No. 2 pick. The Celtics had the seventh pick.

Rochester felt it couldn't afford to pay Russell. Royals owner Les Harrison, a future Hall of Famer, agreed to accept a deal from Celtics owner Brown, who also owned the money-generating Ice Capades. Brown agreed to give the Royals extra Ice Capades dates if Harrison passed on Russell. Harrison did, drafting Sihugo Green of Duquesne.

The Hawks had the second pick. Auerbach agreed to part with St. Louis-native Macauley and the rights to University of Kentucky star Cliff Hagan for the Hawks pick. Kerner was willing to make the deal in part because St. Louis was arguably the worst NBA city in those days for African-American players.

Auerbach made the deal with St. Louis, then fended off advances from the Harlem Globetrotters and signed Russell, starting a 13-year partnership that would produce 11 world championships. Simply, there is no more successful professional team athlete than Russell. In his college and pro careers, he played in 21 winner-take-all games. His record in those games: 21-0.

The Celtics teams of the Russell era were built on defense and running. Russell dominated the boards and blocked shots. Cousy ran the break. Sharman, Heinsohn (a territorial pick in 1956), Frank Ramsey, and Sam Jones delivered at the other end. Gradually, new pieces were added to the mix. K.C. Jones, drafted in 1956, came aboard in 1958 and Tom Sanders in 1960. In 1962, Auerbach drafted John Havlicek, who had played in Jerry Lucas' shadow at Ohio State, and then sweated out Havlicek's ill-fated tryout with the Cleveland Browns.

The following year, however, Auerbach had a choice between Gus Johnson and Bill Green. He took Green, a leaper from Colorado State, only to discover after the fact that Green would not fly. Johnson went on to enjoy an All-Star career for Baltimore. Auerbach then drafted Mel Counts the next year when Willis Reed was available.

But the Celtics continued to win. And Auerbach become the embodiment of their success which, given his legendary arrogance, inevitably led to some clashes. He was never a favorite of the referees and was fined more than $17,000 in his career. Even when he returned in 1974 to coach for one game during an emergency, he couldn't control himself and got ejected. He was suspended for three games in 1951 and got into a fight with Kerner during the 1957 NBA Finals, the one and only playoff series he ever lost after Russell arrived. In 1961, three fans in Syracuse invaded the Boston huddle and fists started flying. Auerbach was served with a summons the next day.

And the Celtics also were known as innovators, again, thanks to Auerbach. Among his new wrinkles was the sixth man, popularized by Ramsey and followed by Havlicek and, later, McHale. The theory was that the first player off the bench should be an asset, not a detriment. He also encouraged his shooters to shoot from the outside when the prevailing wisdom at the time was to get the ball as close to the basket as possible. The Celtics also didn't hesitate to use non-centers in the pivot to capitalize on height mismatches.

The 1965-66 season was his last and the Celtics rewarded him with an eighth straight title, defeating the Lakers in seven games. He had begun to think of a successor and his first choice was Ramsey, who had retired after the 1963-64 season. But Ramsey was too involved in business affairs in Kentucky. Cousy was his second choice, but he was at Boston College. Heinsohn could have had the job, but was wary of coaching Russell. Heinsohn felt, accurately, that only two people could coach Russell: Auerbach and Russell himself.

So Auerbach made the leap and named Russell as player-coach while he went into the front office as general manager. The first year, the Celtics relinquished their title despite the additions of Wayne Embry and Bailey Howell. But Russell led Boston to championships in the next two years -- both upsets -- before retiring unexpectedly in 1969. Auerbach, who had built the team from scratch in 1950, now had to rebuild again. Sam Jones also was leaving.

It took five years, but another flag was raised to the Boston Garden rafters in 1974. A year after Russell retired, the Celtics won 34 games under coach Tom Heinsohn and ended up with the fourth pick in the NBA draft. Needing a center, Auerbach had scouted a 6-8 dervish from Florida State named Dave Cowens. The first three teams passed on Cowens, who would anchor the 1974 and 1976 championship teams, win the Most Valuable Player award in 1973, and go on to be named one of the top 50 NBA players of all time in 1996.

After the 1976 title, things deteriorated again. Paul Silas, a key figure on both title teams, was traded to Denver in part due to a contract dispute. There soon arrived two ex-UCLA stars who would come to personify the team's dark years: Curtis Rowe and Sidney Wicks. Both were horribly misplaced in Boston and never reached anything close to their supposed abilities. Auerbach was forced to remove Heinsohn in the 1977-78 season. The slide continued. The Celtics won 61 games from 1977-79.

But in 1978, Auerbach pulled another coup, drafting Bird, then a junior eligible at Indiana State. The only hitch was that Bird had said repeatedly that would not play until he graduated the following year. Under the rules at the time, if a team drafted Bird, it would have a year in which to sign him or lose the choice when the 1979 draft was held.

It was a risk, because not only did you face the certainty of not having Bird immediately, there also was the chance you might not get him at all. Bird's enviable situation was due to a hiatus in the eligibility rules. Until 1976, if a player returned to college, his draft rights were cancelled. After 1979, a player had to declare before the draft and renounce his eligibility. Under either of those scenarios, Bird would never have been a Celtic.

Auerbach had the sixth pick, courtesy of Boston's horrible record, and the eighth, courtesy of a deal the previous season with the Lakers. The extra first rounder gave him leverage. The Celtics waited as the first five teams, mostly for financial reasons, passed on Bird. Auerbach then wasted no time in making the historic pick. Had he not done so, Portland, which had the seventh pick, was planning to draft Bird.

Drafting Bird was easy compared to signing him. And, soon after the draft, the Celtics were sold in a bizarre transaction that brought in the one owner who almost forced Auerbach out of Boston: John Y. Brown.

Auerbach had always had a relationship with the owners that allowed for him to have all the basketball authority so long as he didn't spend wildly. Through a succession of owners, seven in 10 years following the death of Brown, there were times when money was tight. But no owner ever crossed Auerbach on a major basketball decision. Brown did.

Brown, who had owned the Buffalo Braves, became the Celtics owner following a then unprecedented franchise swap with Irv Levin in the summer of 1978. The Braves then moved to San Diego and became the Clippers and Levin also took with him a couple of Celtics players. Levin later said he could have had the rights to Bird as well, but feared Auerbach's wrath and retribution.

The Celtics were again bad in 1978-79. Fans awaited the (hoped-for) signing of Bird, who was dazzling everyone in his senior year. Auerbach also had carefully accumulated three No. 1 picks in the 1979 draft. Brown traded them all to New York for Bob McAdoo. Auerbach subsequently entered into negotiations to leave the team and take over the Knicks, but, in the end, decided to remain. Brown soon sold out to Mangurian and was gone as quickly as he came.

The contract negotiations with Bird's agent, Bob Woolf, were historic both for the contentiousness and the time constraints. Woolf knew his client had extraordinary leverage and tried to milk it for what he could. Auerbach became so exasperated he turned things over to Mangurian and a deal was reached. Bird then proceeded to lead the Celtics to a 31-game turnaround, largest at the time in NBA history.

But a championship eluded them in 1980 and the Celtics knew what they had lacked. It was the same thing in 1956 and in 1970: a big man. In 1981, Auerbach had acquired the Pistons' No. 1 pick in a deal for McAdoo, and that turned out to be the No. 1 overall pick. Auerbach's first choice was college freshman Ralph Sampson, then at Virginia, and deemed by one and all to be the next great center.

Auerbach met with Sampson, trying to persuade him to leave school early and join an established franchise with an All-Star (Bird). Sampson mulled it over but decided to remain in school. Auerbach was steamed, saying Sampson had been hoodwinked by a flew glad-handers.

Boston then looked to trade the pick. The consensus No. 1 that year was a center, Carroll from Purdue, but Auerbach didn't like his game. He did like the 6-11 McHale from Minnesota, who had elevated his chances with some strong postseason performances. With prodding from coach Bill Fitch, Auerbach approached the Warriors, who had an unhappy Parish and were worried about being able to re-sign him. Golden State agreed to give up Parish and its pick, No. 3 overall, for two Celtics picks, No. 1 and No. 13. The rest is history.

The Celtics won another title, first of the Bird era, in 1981, but by 1983, the team was coming apart. Auerbach named placid K.C. Jones to replace Fitch and then convinced Phoenix to part with guard Dennis Johnson for the no-longer-needed Rick Robey. Johnson gave Boston a stabilizing and defensive presence in the backcourt and the Celtics beat Magic Johnson and the Lakers in a thrilling, seven-game series in 1984.

Two years later, Auerbach experienced the high and low of his Celtics career. In early June, he again accepted the league championship trophy after the Celtics steamrolled through the league with a 67-15 record and through the postseason at 15-3. It was probably the greatest Celtics team ever. Walton, who had come over the previous summer in a trade for Cedric Maxwell, won the Sixth Man of the Year Award and was a huge presence on and off the floor. Bird won the third of his three consecutive MVPs. The team went 40-1 at home.

But soon after defeating the Houston Rockets for the NBA title, the bottom fell out. The Celtics had the second pick in the draft, courtesy of a deal with Seattle in 1984. Auerbach had his heart set on an athletic, mobile, gifted forward from Maryland named Len Bias. Auerbach had scouted Bias and was good friends with Maryland coach, Lefty Dreisell. By all accounts, Bias was a can't miss prospect and Auerbach gloated when he announced the pick. Two days later, Bias was dead of cocaine intoxication. Auerbach cried in the Celtics office.

The Bias death cast a pall over the team and triggered a series of unrelated but nonetheless almost unfortunate events. McHale broke his foot in the 1987 playoffs. Walton managed only 10 games after breaking a bone in his foot on the exercise bike. Bird missed all but six games of the 1988-89 season due to double Achilles surgery. Auerbach finally ceded day-to-day operations in 1991 to Dave Gavitt, a longtime college basketball bigwig.

But Auerbachs reputation and presence still loomed large, even from afar. In the early 1990s, Gavitt and another general manager had agreed on a trade. But when the opposing owner was asked to approve, he shook his head and said, if Red is for it, I want no part of it.

Gavitt was forced out in 1994 and former Celtic player ML Carr was brought in to run the day-to-day operation. He stayed there long enough to pave the way for Pitino by engineering a 15-67 record in 1996-97, all designed to get the No. 1 pick in the 1997 draft -- Tim Duncan. But the Celtics ended up with the third pick (and No. 6) and Pitino never recovered. Auerbach was still consulted, but with Pitino was the unquestioned muscle, as evidenced by his insistence on stripping Auerbach of the club president's title.

Pitino left in 2000. Yet another new ownership group came on board in 2002. Another Auerbach protge, Ainge, was hired in May 2002 to rebuild the team. On the podium that day, Auerbach was asked what he thought about Ainge. He bleeds green, Auerbach said. Ainge knew there could be no greater compliment.

Auerbach is pre-deceased by his wife Dorothy in 2000. He leaves two daughters, Nancy Collins and Randy. He also leaves a granddaughter, Julie Flieger, and three great grandchildren.

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