Bob Ryan

Friends and admirers share parting thoughts

By Bob Ryan
Globe Columnist / October 31, 2006

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WASHINGTON -- You could never ever make this up.

"We were looking for my dad's casket," said Nancy Auerbach. "My daughter Julie saw one in the back of the room. It was lined in Celtic green. So he's going down in Celtic green, all the way."

That will take place this morning, at King David Memorial Gardens in nearby Falls Church, Va. But the true farewell took place at Joseph Gawler's Funeral Home here last evening when Red Auerbach's friends and admirers came to call.

The Roommate
"I was Red's college roommate at George Washington," said Larry Black. "I never called him 'Red,' just 'Arnold.' Remember when the Celtics went public with their stock? I called him and said, 'Is this stock any good?' He said, 'Any good? I just heard Larry Bird put in for 250,000 shares, and they turned him down.' "

The Trainer "I was Red's trainer with the Washington Capitols [1946]," said Jim Rager. "Mike Uline was the owner, and he only wanted to hire redheads. I had red hair. I went down there and he said, 'We need a trainer.' I didn't know anything about being a trainer, but I became the trainer and we immediately went on a 17-game winning streak. So they thought I was a good-luck charm, and I kept the job."

The Noble Foe "Red was one of the brightest people I've ever known," said Billy Cunningham, who battled the Celtics as both a brilliant player and championship-level coach. "He was just so special. Can you imagine him having four or five assistant coaches?"

On the subject of the famous exhibition brawl when Red, then a septuagenarian, came out of the stands to engage in combat with, among others, Moses Malone (and in which Billy tore his sportcoat): "I called Red the next day. I said, 'We could have a great Miller Lite commercial with this. You could come out of the stands and say, 'Tastes great!' and I could say, 'Less filling!' "

The Rival Publicist
Harvey Pollack had known Red longer that anyone in the NBA. Pollack was the first Philadelphia PR man in 1946, and he still edits the definitive annual tome on the NBA, which has more NBA data than can be found anywhere else on earth. "Back in the days when [Bill] Russell and Wilt [Chamberlain] were battling, there were always questions about the rebound stats," said Pollack. "I came to Boston once and kept my own offensive and defensive totals for each, plus time of each rebound. When the game was over, I went down to the table and asked what they had.

" 'I have 35 rebounds for Russell and 22 for Wilt,' the guy said. 'Well, I have just the opposite,' I said, 'and I've been doing this for 14 years' -- this was 1959 -- 'and you've been doing it for one.' Red found out about it, and didn't speak to me for two years."

The TV Guy
"Red schooled me in what basketball was all about," said Sonny Hill, a Philadelphia hoop legend who broadcast NBA games for CBS in the '70s. "I was from Philly, and looked at basketball from an Eddie Gottlieb point of view. Eddie never had much money, so he believed you needed stars to sell tickets. Red taught me about true team basketball. He legitimized me, took me under his wing, and allowed me to hang out with him. And I knew what he had done for so many black players. He opened doors for people who didn't have the opportunity."

The Serious TV Guy
"I was part of the Tuesday lunch group at the China Doll [preserved for all time by John Feinstein's book, 'Let Me Tell You A Story']," said Fox TV's Chris Wallace. "It was a treasured time for all of us. Red really wanted us to like each other, and we were just this bunch of unsocial, un-evolved men who just wanted to be with him. Red was a true American Original."

The Owner "What I'll always remember was his humanity," said Celtics managing partner Steve Pagliuca. "Underneath that gruff exterior, he was a real softie. He always asked about my son [a Duke walk-on], who had a back operation. He would tell him to keep shooting. I took him to the NCAA tournament and a Maryland game last year. We were just a couple of gym rats. He always used to say, 'That Pagliuca, all he knows is 'Duke, Duke, Duke.' "

The Superstar
"First time I saw him at rookie camp, I had my girlfriend with me," said Larry Bird. " 'What's she doing here?' he said. I said, 'She's helping me carry my bag.' What he was saying, of course, was, 'Get her out of here.' "

The Sub
"He's the reason I went to Wake Forest," said Ronnie Watts. "I want my son Russell to know who he's named after and why his godfather is Bill Russell, but none of it would have happened if Red hadn't told Bones McKinney to give me a scholarship."

The Rival GM
"I remember going to the league meetings," said former Washington general manager Bob Ferry. "Everyone would be arguing about rule changes, and Red would just sit there, blowing smoke, saying nothing. Then he would invariably say, 'Let's talk about why this rule is here in the first place,' and that would always change everything.

"And there was never any chance of Red being cremated," Ferry concluded. "He still doesn't think the game is over."

The Fan
"I'm just a fan," said Ben Hermosa. "I drove up from Columbia [Md.]. I was born in the Philippines, and I used to get up at 3 a.m. to watch Celtic games. I just wanted to pay my respects."

The Superduperstar
Bill Russell kissed Red's closed coffin. Asked how Red's death had hit him when he heard the news, he replied, "I can't talk about that yet."

OK, then. Russ has been on record for many years, testifying to his love, admiration, and gratitude for all Red did for him.

"Is that the way you still feel?" he was asked.

"Nothing has changed," said the greatest team athlete this country has ever produced.

A Celtic green-lined coffin. How cool is that?

Bob Ryan is a Globe columnist. His e-mail is

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