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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 5)

At McHale's retirement ceremony, fans shower a five-minute standing ovation on the athlete. For one day, perfection returns to Boston Garden. Like a bottomless well, Celtic glory is there to be tapped at any time.

Still, cigar--aside from victory--may be the word most frequently associated with Red Auerbach. "I think of a penguin with a cigar," says Danny Ainge, kidding about Auerbach's deliberate style of walking.

Jeff Twiss, head of public relations, thinks cigars, too. "When I started here 13 years ago, I was an administrative assistant. One of my duties was to drive Mr. Auerbach to certain functions, affairs and games. One night, on the way to a preseason game in Worcester, it was really rainy and foggy. John Poppell and Jack Satter (the owner of Colonial Meats) are in the back and Red is in front. Satter and Red lit up, and my eyes were watering. The smoke has no place to go, and I'm scared out of my wits. I can't see. I didn't open the window because it would let rain in, and I didn't dare let Red know I couldn't see. It was my job to escort all these important people, and I thought I wouldn't make it. That's my baptism story."

Gavitt waxes philosophical. "I'll always think of the cigar. And another thing. Bob Lanier said to me, 'you guys up here must be doing something right: all your players stay in the organization as coaches and front-office positions.'" Indeed Auerbach has the most extensive network of alumni and bloodhounds known to sports.

"On my seventy-fifth birthday party, about 45 of these guys showed up from all over the country." Red says. "When you treat people good, they will want to reciprocate. We're the only team with alumni like that. We're a real group. And they become scouts." If Red wants to know about a player's character, he can make a call and get an answer.

Auerbach's manifold talents were summed up in three beats by Hubie Brown. "As an outsider looking in, I thought he had a keen ability to judge talent, acquire the talent and force them to play as a team."

At halftime, Auerbach tugged on a rope with McHale's children, and the No. 32 rose up and up. He is not smoking his victory cigar. "After I retired, they stopped smoking in the Garden," he later explains. On this day, the Celtics will beat Phoenix. The day is perfect enough to be included in 1961 or 1969 or 1986. Then the Celtics will fail to win a single game for a month.

What they need is one more superstar. One more deal from Red Auerbach. Then--in next year's new Boston Garden next door--puffs of smoke would once again return. Seven rows up-front, center court.

Ken Shouler is a sportswriter and author based in White Plains, New York.


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