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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 3)

"I started with a pipe," he explains. "The pipe was less expensive to start with." The change to a cigar was fortuitous; a "victory pipe" might not have worked.

"In Cincinnati one night, management gave out 5,000 cigars to the fans. They were going to light up when the Royals won the game. You talk about motivation. I had the team so sky-high we never let them get in front. We beat the hell out of them."

A player's perspective on Red's smoking can be found in Dan Shaugnessy's Evergreen. In the book, Bob Cousy says: "It [the cigar] made us all uncomfortable. It was more offensive to us and everyone else on the road. When he did this, it got everyone's attention. And hell, we had enough hostility focused on us as it was. This was another trigger point. The fans were already pissed off because then it looked like they'd lose the game. And they did. This was an irritant. He sat benignly and comfortably on the bench, smoking away, with a guard behind him. Meanwhile, we were out on the floor taking all this abuse. The feeling among the players was: 'Why get their attention anymore? Why piss 'em off?' The fans would get more belligerent and hostile toward us, and we had to bust our tails to keep the lead because once he went for the cigar, the other team's intensity went up 100 percent. I hated that thing. Paul Seymour [a Syracuse Nationals player from 1949 through 1960] told me that his ambition in life was not to win an NBA championship as much as it was to have Auerbach light up prematurely and lose, so that he could go down and stuff that cigar in his face. That's all Seymour wanted to do in sports. It created this kind of reaction from opponents. As players, who needs it?"

"He had his own style," Hubie Brown says. "I think you would have to talk to coaches. They were the people being shown up at that time. That's why I say he had a distinct style. Lombardi had a distinct style; you can't imitate either one."

Tom "Satch" Sanders didn't mind the smoke on the bench. "But the locker room was another story; it was close quarters in there!" Would Red put out his cigar? "Are you kidding?" Sanders snaps.

With smoke and 13 years of Russell, the Celtics copped 11 world championships. But after Russell's retirement in 1969, hard times followed. Word around the league was that Red had won with Russell, but then came the challenge: "Let's see him win without him." Hubie Brown is unimpressed with that view. "He had Russell, and he won. You think about this," he pauses, measuring each word. "Wilt Chamberlain, Jerry West and Don Baylor never won. That's the answer to that. Go up to when Red retired (1966, when he appointed Russell as player-coach)-- Baylor, Bob Pettit, Oscar Robertson, West and Chamberlain were the best all-time at that point. Los Angelesgot three of them and couldn't win."

And win again Red would. With former sixth man John Havlicek, Jo Jo White and Dave Cowens leading the way, Red the general manager managed two world championships in the 1970s--the only team besides the New York Knicks to accomplish that feat. Still, when great teams are discussed one hears that the 1967 Sixers and the 1972 Lakers--both Chamberlain squads--were the greatest ever. "They say that because they get tired of giving the Celtics all the awards," Red says.

Though his coaching was over, the wheeling and dealing was only beginning. After Havlicek departed in 1978, the Celtics went through lean times again. In two years the Celtics won 61 games and lost 103.

So Auerbach went to work on a junior eligible from Indiana State, Larry Bird. Five teams had passed on drafting Bird in the first round in his junior year. "They didn't know he'd be that good, and I didn't either," says Auerbach. "I only saw him play once." But Auerbach didn't pass on him. Picking sixth, he thought that Bird would be impressed with the Celtic history and mystique and eventually sign.

The Celtics won 29 games in the 1978-1979 season and won 61 the following season with Bird. He made an immediate impact, averaging 21 points and 10 rebounds a game.


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