By Anthony McClean, Editor In Chief Emeritus NEW HAVEN (BASN) —...
The Black Athlete Owes A Great Debt To Red And Dotie Auerbach
WASHINGTON — The world of sports lost a true giant when NBA legend Red Auerbach died on Saturday, October 28, 2006. Red died of a heart attack at the age of 89 in Washington, D.C.
We all know that Red Auerbach was the greatest coach in the history of team sports. However, his won-lost record in human and civil rights remains undefeated to this very day.
In 1950, Chuck Cooper of Duquesne University and a second team All-American would be drafted by Red Auerbach and owner Walter Brown of the Boston Celtics, making him the first black player drafted and signed by an NBA team.
The NBA is now the most integrated sports franchise in America.
I met Red and Dotie Auerbach on a Chevy Chase playground in a Maryland suburb of DC in the late sixties. They were hanging out watching Summer League Basketball. When I met them Dotie was sitting alone outside the fence watching the action. We struck up a conversation about one of the players.
I thought to myself “this little white lady knows a lot about the game of basketball.” We would talk basketball for the next 30 minutes when suddenly her husband shows up with cold drinks for them. Her husband was the one and only Red Auerbach.
She introduced us to each other and Red growled something sarcastic and Dotie said, “Arnold, stop acting up.” Red had a demeanor of a tiger when he didn’t want someone getting too close, but in reality he was nothing but a pussycat.
For the next 30 years, Red and Dotie Auerbach would become a fixture and supporters of “Kids In Trouble, Inc. and Inside Sports.” During that relationship my wife Hattie and I would visit their home in upper Northwest D.C.
We would often have lunch with Dotie and she would show off her antiques and art collection in the room of a next door apartment. The walls of the apartment had been knocked down to accommodate the collection.
Red, would usually be out playing cards or tennis at Woodmont Country Club in Bethesda, Md. Dotie was a classy down to earth lady and we fell in love with her. We were and still are benefactors of their generosity and kindness.
I remember the first time Red invited me to have lunch with him. He asked me to meet him on the corner of 9th and F Streets in Northwest D.C. I’m thinking we are going to have lunch at some fancy restaurant downtown. I was in for a surprise.
He treated me to a kosher hotdog with sauerkraut and a RC cola from a vendor’s stand. We would later walk around the corner to Ophenheimer’s jewelry store where his brother the late Zang Auerbach worked. Zang had been a cartoonist for the now defunct Washington Star newspaper before his retirement.
He would later draw a cartoon of Hattie playing a guitar for her 40th birthday portraying the legendary and late comedian Jack Benny saying “I’m 39 years old and not a day older.”
Much like Red, Zang and his son Johnny who also worked in the store were rare jewels themselves. The jewelry store would become my downtown hangout. I remember one day walking into the store and there was Red, Zang and Hymie Perlo joking around.
Before I could get through the door good, Hymie was asking Red, “What does Harold Bell have on you? Every time I turn on the damn radio you are on his show?” Without hesitation, Red responded, “My wife loves him.”
I would later be invited to the VIP luncheons in Chinatown on Tuesdays where Red would play “King For a Day.” He would hold court and listen to his friends, media and sports personalities tell him how great he was.
I really enjoyed the outings when his friend the late Hymie Perlo attended. Hymie kept us laughing and he made Red keep it real with his down to earth humor. With the exception of a few most of the guys in attendance were a bunch of wannabees and being around Red made them feel like they were important!
The last time I saw Red was last year at one of those Tuesday luncheons in Chinatown. I walked in uninvited and you could hear a pin drop at the table where he was holding court. Seeing me walking toward the table everyone suddenly stopped laughing and talking. Red had his back to me and could not see me. I stood directly behind him.
He had to turn to see who in the hell was interrupting his lunch and when he did he said, “Who in the hell invited you?” My response was, “Now I need an invitation to eat with you?” Suddenly, he started laughing and got up and hugged me.
I whispered, “You are out of sight but never out of mind and I love you.” He understood exactly what I was trying to say to him. Even though we had talked by telephone this was my first time seeing him since his wife Dotie died in 2000 and his brother Zang in 2003. I hugged him again and walked away.
Red and Dotie’s friendship reminds me of what Muhammad Ali once told me about the definition of a friend. He said, “A friend is someone who is always doing something for you and never expecting anything in return.” Ali, meet Red and Dotie Auerbach.
Red reminded me a lot of Ali when he made his entrance into a crowded room all activity came to an abrupt end. He would be the center of attention. When I called the house to talk with Dotie and once he found out it was me he would shout “Hey, Dotie it’s that nuisance Harold Bell” or “Dotie, it’s your boyfriend Harold Bell.” The Auerbachs treated Hattie and me like we were family.
Red Auerbach was a rare “Superstar.” His telephone number was listed and he answered his own telephone. I don’t ever remember them having an answering service or maybe I just never left a message!
2006 marked 38 years straight for Christmas Toy Parties sponsored by Kids In Trouble, Inc. Before Dotie took ill and died in 2000 there was always a check for toys coming from the home of the Auerbachs. Red co-hosted several of my Inside Sports Celebrity Tennis Tournaments.
He was a frequent guest speaker for my Kids In Trouble, Inc. forums. He co-hosted “Inside Sports” like he owned it. In 1990, along with Celtic legend Sam Jones and Al Attles of the Golden State Warriors as our guests, Red co-hosted a show with me titled “Celebrity Sports Calls.”
Red loved to attend “Double Dutch” jump rope tournaments in the inner-city. I would call him and we would go and sit up in a far corner of a gym and enjoy the program. He would swear the kids participating were some of the greatest athletes in the city.
In 1989 while covering my first NBA All-Star game in Houston, I would have a problem acquiring press credentials. When I went to pick them us, I was told by NBA Media Director Brian McIntye that my credential request had not been received.
I asked Mr. McIntye, “Why would I fly all the way from D.C. to Houston without applying for press credentials in advance?” He was not budging. I then remembered talking to Red before I left D.C. and he said, “Harold, I don’t think I am going to make this one.”
It was then I realized I had an ace in the hole in Red Auerbach.
I returned to the pressroom and asked Mr. McIntye if he knew Red Auerbach? His response was, “Yes, do you?” I then asked him if I could use his telephone and he said sure go ahead.
I dialed Red and Dotie’s number in D.C. knowing Red was probably out at the club playing tennis or cards. My only hope was that Dotie would be home. The telephone rang several times and Dotie answers and I said, “Hi Dotie, this is Harold Bell. I am at the NBA All-Star game in Houston. Would you please speak to Mr. McIntye he needs verification of who I am?”
I gave the phone to Mr. McIntye and the look on his face said it all. The look said, Dotie Auerbach had told him exactly who I was. Talking about a look being priceless. He hung up the telephone and was speechless for about 30 seconds. He finally said, “No problem Mr. Bell.”
Earl Lloyd of West Virginia State was the first black to play in a game, beating Chuck Cooper by one day (Lloyd was discharged from the Army one day before Cooper). For years, basketball historians were under the impression that Cooper was the first to play in a NBA game.
I had Red address the issue in 1974 on my sports talk show “Inside Sports.” He and his lovely wife Dotie were my in-studio guests. Red made it clear that Lloyd was the first to play in an NBA game.
For years the NBA had forgotten that it was Earl Lloyd who broke its color barrier or ignored the fact. They left him on the outside looking into the Hall of Fame. I went to Red and asked him to remind them.
While growing up I had watched Earl shoot hoops on the playgrounds of D.C. He was born and raised in nearby Alexandria, Virginia. With Red’s support I started a media campaign in the 90′s to get Earl inducted into the NBA Hall of Fame. In 2001, Washington, D.C. would host the NBA All-Star Game.
I would coordinate a salute and reception for Earl Lloyd in the Nation’s Capitol. During the NBA All-Star weekend the salute and reception were the only NBA related events Red Auerbach attended. The final vote came 50 years later.
In 2002, Earl Lloyd was finally inducted into the NBA Hall of Fame. The Auerbachs’ acts of kindness is just not my story, there are probably hundreds more like mine in the inner-cities of America. Red and Dotie Auerbach are gone but never should be forgotten in the black community.