Monday, October 30, 2006

Arnold "Red" Auerbach

When the news came, on Saturday night, that Red Auerbach had died, I popped open a window to write. I quickly realized that I had nothing to say that wouldn't be said, probably better, by a thousand other people, with better access to the facts. Everybody knows about the championships, the victory cigars, the gamesmanship (some true, some, no doubt, apocryphal), the chinese food, the nickname (Bob Cousy called him Arnold - no one else ever did, not in public, anyway). My younger brother met him and had his picture taken with him when he was a boy, but I didn't - I've got no Red Auerbach memories that aren't public domain.

What I will say is that Auerbach's work provided me, personally, with a lot of enjoyment in my life. It was Red who brought Larry Bird to Boston, Red who traded the rights to Joe Barry Carroll for Robert Parish and the rights to Kevin McHale. Red traded Rick Robey for Dennis Johnson. Red drafted Danny Ainge when he was playing for the Blue Jays. Red, after the spectacular history of the Celtics in the 60s and 70s, compiled what was, in my opinion, the best team in NBA history in the 1986 Celtics. I know that there have been a couple of teams that finished with better records, but I'd put that team up against any team in history. That was a team that was bringing Bill Walton off the bench. They played 41 games in the Boston Garden that season, and won 40 of them.

If Auerbach had never accomplished anything else, I, as a Celtics fan who was privileged to watch that season, would always be greatful to him.

Unfortunately, the championship which they won that year was almost the last real high point for this franchise. Shortly after the Championship series, the Celtics, because of a canny trade made earlier by Auerbach, added the 2nd pick in the draft, Len Bias, considered by many to be the best player in that draft, to the roster. As good as the season had been, the future looked just as bright. 24 hours later, Bias was dead, and the franchise (and Red) have never recovered. It turns out that the 1986 season was the last high point for the Auerbach Celtics.

But, as Rick and Ilsa realized, "we'll always have Paris." As frustrating as they've been since 1986, that season is always there to look back on, with great affection. And so, we remember, with great affection, the man who gave it to us...

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