How Should Red Auerbach’s Legacy Really Be Judged?

By L.A.Batchelor
Updated: October 31, 2006

Red Auerbach (middle) is flanked by Bill Russell (left) and John Havilcek.

Red Auerbach (middle) is flanked by Bill Russell (left) and John Havilcek.

NORTH CAROLINA — Arnold “Red” Auerbach, who presided over 16 NBA Championship teams as a coach, general manager and club president with the Boston Celtics, died Saturday at the age of 89 of an apparent heart attack.

A presence in pro basketball for 60 years, Auerbach’s career stretches back to the beginning of the N.B.A. His statistical legacy and significance to the Boston Celtics and the NBA include:

— Winning nine N.B.A. championships, eight of them consecutively from 1959 to 1966 with the Celtics.

— Building another six championship teams as the Celtics’ general manager and oversaw a final one, in 1986, as the team’s president, a position he held at the time of his death.

— When Auerbach turned over the Celtics’ coaching position to his star center Bill Russell in 1966, after 20 seasons as an N.B.A. coach and 16 of them in Boston, he was No. 1 in career victories with a record of 938-479.

— He was inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame in 1969 and he was named the greatest coach in N.B.A. history by the Professional Basketball Writers Association of America in 1980.

— His nine N.B.A. championships as a coach have been equaled only by Phil Jackson

In 1950, his first season coaching the Celtics, he chose Chuck Cooper of Duquesne University as the first black player selected in an N.B.A. draft.

— In the 1963-64 season, the Celtics became the first N.B.A. team to start a game with an all-black lineup: Russell, K. C. Jones, Sam Jones, Tom Sanders and Willie Naulls.

— When Auerbach named Russell as his coaching successor, it was the first time a black had become coach of a major American professional sports team.

These are just a few of the more important and well-documented achievements by the legendary figure and there is no question, the impact and importance of Auerbach and his role as an avant-garde in amalgamating the NBA with the first black players and his legacy of turning a failing and declining franchise like the Celtics into the first true dynasty in professional basketball.

Auerbach also showed his cleverness, shrewdness and creative thinking in administering some of the greatest trades in NBA history. He indebted himself to Celtic fans here and abroad and brought the dismay and discomfort of those who do not cheer for them.

He also drafted and played African Americans in a city a region where even the great Bill Russell felt he was not welcome in the neighborhoods of the very city that cheered him and his other black teammates because of the fore mentioned color of his skin-BLACK.

As we look back on his life and times in honor and respect for who he was, what he stood for and his contributions, I must respectfully point out unpopular realities.

Sometimes people get recognition, acclaim, acknowledgment, approval and attention for the moral positions and judgments they make for the good of mankind, however the applauds of righteousness should stop there.

The oversight Mr. Auerbach had of taking a stand and playing an African American player or players in a time, region and city where is unpopular and unorthodox serve two vital and important roles for him and for black players but ultimately the action was a move of personal gain rather than the righteous perception everyone seems to have.

Auerbach realized the talent of black players and the athleticism and natural ability they possess. Growing up in Brooklyn, NY, Auerbach must have seen and known of some of the most dominant and God-gifted black basketball players in the city, state and country.

Look at the players and the aggressiveness he pursued a trade to get the overwhelming presence and dominating force from the University of San Francisco in Bill Russell.

He realized in order to not only win, not only be a dominant team but to be a dynasty franchise which was unprecedented in pro basketball, he had to have the best and like Baseball, African Americans were very talented and gifted.

Like the beginning line in the old TV series “The Six Million Dollar Man”: bigger, stronger and faster can best describe black athletes whether some in the media and the masses would admit.

Speaking of baseball, the paragon in what Auerbach did for his team, his sport and African Americans and what Branch Rickey accomplished and is widely known for are barefaced.

Mr. Rickey was best known for two things: breaking baseball’s color barrier by signing the first African-American player Jackie Robinson and what we sometimes forget, later drafting the first Hispanic player, Roberto Clemente.

Auerbach and Rickey: Both played had humble upbringings, played their sport in high school and college, both were a coach/manager, both were apart of building great teams, both pioneered integration into their sports while becoming successful in upper management.

The biggest thing they have in common is the integration of minorities as apart of a bigger picture that benefited themselves, the teams they represented and the players who desperately wanted and deserved a chance to play a the highest level possible.

In closing, I am not condemning or criticizing Rickey or more importantly Auerbach so Celtic fans and basketball fans alike can just relax. Auerbach showed courage and conviction in the face of hate, scrutiny and evil.

What I am saying is he did what anyone who was decent and realistic would do, he drafted and went after players he affirmed and concluded to be the best players available and obtainable.

Everyone has an agenda and sometimes morality does commingle and commix with our own indulgence and personal advancements which are two entities we all should be resolute in achieving.