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Remembering Red Auerbach

Published: November 3, 2006
Section: Sports


Red Auerbachs dead. Even though he was 89 and had health problems for years, it was still a bit of a surprise to go on to washingtonpost.com Saturday night to find the words Red Auerbach Dies. Just like that, a heart attack took away a man who had become an institution, not only in Boston but in the realm of sports in general.

Hes the guy that brought professional basketball into the area, mens basketball coach, Brian Meehan explained. As a kid growing up, watching the teams of the 70s and the 80s, you understood what championships meant, and the excitement that it generated. He was a great story teller, a guy that really made things fun for a lot of people.

I always imagined Red as immortal. Even with his failing health that nearly took him last year, I never really imagined him gone. He was a larger than life figure to me. An icon in basketball, an icon in Washington, DC, an icon within the Jewish community, he always seemed to be therea presence if you will. Obviously, mortality is an inevitability, but nonetheless I thought Red could reach 120 years and still have the ability to make people like Rick Pitino light his cigar for him.

In terms of mere accomplishment, there is no equal to Red as a coach (except maybe John Wooden, and he stayed in the collegiate ranks), general manager or team president. How fitting that the main arena is named after Redsure maybe it was more of the initiative of the Celtics, but seriously, who could have been a more appropriate choice?

Brandeis prides itself as a source of social activism and Red was not merely a trail blazer, but a trail scorcher. In 1950, Red made Duquesnes Chuck Cooper the first black player selected in the NBA draft. Thirteen years later, the Celtics were the first NBA team to have an all-black starting lineup and two years later, in 1966, Auerbach stepped down and made Bill Russell the first black coach not only in the NBA, but in any major professional sports league.

He coached K.C. Jones, a hall of famer renowned for his defense, who served as Brandeis hoops head coach from 1967-70. He took a gamble on drafting a sparsely known power forward out of Florida State named Dave Cowens. Cowens, also a hall of famer, has visited Brandeis on many occasions, most recently last April for the WNBA pre-draft free agent camp that was held at the Gosman gymnasium.

Sure, Red was not perfecthe was sexist, and his highly competitive nature and signature victory cigar made him very reviled among opposing NBA players and fans. In fact, Red would fight with hecklers, refs, and once tried to take on Moses Malone during a 1983 game. And his control over the team was what Phil Elderkin wrote of in the Christian Science Monitor as a compassionate dictatorship. Auerbach, however, was able transcend all of that. His victory cigar became an everlasting symbol of Celtic glory. It seems like a great loss to think that we now cant see Red light one up again. Coach Meehan, though, provided a perspective that too often gets lost in the shuffle.

I dont think you look at this as loss, Coach Meehan explained. I think when a coach passes away at a young age and you never get to see him fulfill everything that he couldve, I think thats a loss. He gave 50 years of memories, and examples, and lots of lessons for people to follow, so I dont think its a loss. He had a great run there, going to 89. He was larger than life in the Boston area for sure.

Auerbach will always be considered a transcendent figure. More than the NBA, he was a part of the Jewish community, George Washington, Washington DC, Boston, and yes, even a part of the Brandeis community. Basketball season tips off in two weeks;

when both the men's and womens teams take on their foes, let's live up to the name of the arena and light one up for him.