Red Auerbach is only weeks away from his 85th birthday, and the cigar-smoking patriarch of the Boston Celtics is as sharp – in mind and tongue – as ever. He answers the telephone, his voice a time machine that warps me back to his native Brooklyn, and the volume on his television descends before disappearing altogether. I imagine him sitting comfortably in his recliner, that trademark cigar jammed between his fingers, thick smoke hanging in the room like a fog bank at sea. I introduce myself as the Editor-in-Chief of Celtic Nation. Auerbach listens politely in a way that reminds me of Marlon Brando in The Godfather, and I suddenly realize that this comparison isn’t far from the truth. Larry Bird said it best: ‘When Red Auerbach walks into the room everyone knows their place. Everyone respects him. And when Red says something you listen to him.”
Auerbach on his strongest attribute as a head coach:
My ability to communicate with the players. That was the thing that I took the most pride in. There are a lot of coaches out there that know their Xs and Os, but a lot of what they say doesn’t translate once the player gets out on the court. The player gets out there and forgets what was just said. I prided myself in my ability to communicate, to get my point across in a way that the player could understand.
Auerbach on his relationship with Bill Russell:
I treated him [Russell] with respect, and I respected him as person. He knew that I didn’t see people as black or white. That was never an issue. If something came up I’d talk to him about it privately. It would get settled and we’d move on. Did I treat him differently than the other players on the team? Yes. He might not practice as long as the others, but there were many nights when he would play the entire game. You make a few concessions like that and it goes a long way.