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King of the Garden

With a cigar in his hand, Red Auerbach guided the Boston Celtics to 16 NBA Championships.
Kenneth Shouler
From the Print Edition:
Fidel Castro, Summer 94

(continued from page 2)

In his first year, Russell led the team in rebounding, even though he missed the season's first two months. The Celtics won their first world championship that year: 1957.

In 1958, Russell injured his ankle in the finals against St. Louis and the Hawks won in six games. That year was pivotal in NBA basketball. It was the last time that anyone besides the Celtics would win for eight straight years.

TNT analyst and former coach Hubie Brown remembers the Celtic style. "He (Red) had a relentless fast break, pressure defense and Bill Russell in the back that allowed him to play this style. They were also very organized in their play sets. Then, I feel he had the ability to motivate them individually, because it is extremely difficult to maintain excellence, and when you look at eight in a row, it's breathtaking. It comes down to that ability to maintain excellence. He knew how to push the right button on each guy to get him to be subservient to the team."

Through it all, Red typically ate Chinese food in his room between games, conserving his energy for the grueling travel demands that included more trains and cars than planes.

The 1960-61 squad may have been the Celtics' finest under Auerbach. The team won 57 and lost 22 and, amazingly, had six scorers averaging between 15 and 21 points a game. No Celtic landed in the Top Ten in scoring. As Hubie Brown surmises, under Auerbach the Celtics understood the maxim: "There is no 'I' in team."

"In any good coach is the ability to communicate," Auerbach explains. "In other words, a lot of coaches know their X's and O's, but the players must absorb it. Team was important; we didn't care who the starting five was. The sixth-man concept was my idea."

Auerbach could be a taskmaster in practice. Celtic success stories are reminiscent of old Yankee stories. Asked once why the Yankees beat the Red Sox all the time, Tommy "Old Reliable" Henrich said that when you walked through the Red Sox parking lot, you saw one Cadillac after another. "We had to work for ours," said Henrich, alluding to Yankee management's habit of being tough salary negotiators. He explained that by winning the World Series, the Yankees were often able to double their modest salaries. The same desire was present with the Celtics. Sure they had talent, but they also worked harder than other teams. Says league executive and former Celtic forward Tom "Satch" Sanders: "Defense and conditioning were the best parts of those teams."

"In those days you had eight teams, 10 guys, 80 players altogether," says Hubie Brown. "Nobody had a two-year contract. Everybody had a year-to-year game. You will never see that kind of hunger and thirst again. Now you have 28 teams, long-term contracts, mega-dollars, with no control over the players. And you're still not seeing better basketball."

As the Celtics' routinely whipped the opposition, Red would frequently sit back and enjoy the end of the game--always with a cigar. "I smoked all different cigars at that time," he says. "Sometimes fans would give me some. I did TV promotions for King Edwards." Hence, the "victory cigar." "It all boils down to this. I used to hate these college coaches or any coach that was 25 points ahead with three minutes left to go, and they're up there yellin' and coachin' because they're on TV, and they want their picture on, and they get recognition. To me the game was over. The day's work is done. Worry about the next game. This game is over. So I would light a cigar and sit on the bench and just watch it. The game was over, for all intents and purposes. I didn't want to rub anything in or show anybody what a great coach I was when I was 25 points ahead. Why? I gotta win by 30? What the hell difference does it make?

"The commissioner [Maurice Podoloff] said you can't smoke the cigars on the bench. But there were guys smoking cigarettes on the bench. I said, 'What is this, an airplane--you can smoke cigarettes but not cigars?' No way. I wouldn't do it.


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