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Red Auerbach Dies at 89
He entered the Navy in 1943 and was assigned to the Norfolk Naval Base, where he directed the sports program. Among the athletes stationed there was New York Yankees shortstop Phil Rizzuto, who told Auerbach that manager Joe McCarthy believed a team's demeanor away from the field of play affected its performance on it.
"I remember thinking right there," Auerbach wrote in his autobiography, "that if I ever go to the professional coaching level, I wanted my ballclubs to look and act like champions, too."
After completing his military service at Bethesda Naval Hospital, Auerbach got his chance to coach a professional team in 1946, with the fledgling Washington Capitols in the first season of the Basketball Association of America. Stocked with military stars Auerbach had recruited, the Caps went 49-11 in their inaugural season.
After leaving the Capitols in 1949 in a contract dispute, Auerbach spent three months as an assistant coach at Duke University before signing on as coach of one of the original NBA franchises, the Tri-Cities Blackhawks (Moline and Rock Island, Ill., and Davenport, Iowa). In 1950, eager to return to the East Coast, he became coach of the struggling Boston Celtics.
Before he had coached a single game, Auerbach made NBA history by selecting Chuck Cooper of Duquesne University in the second round of the league's annual player draft. Cooper was the first African American player chosen to play in the NBA.
In the 1950s, the future of the Celtics, or of the NBA for that matter, was hardly secure. Seven of the league's 17 franchises folded during the 1950-51 season, and by 1955 the NBA was reduced to eight teams. Auerbach sometimes paid the Celtics' travel costs out of his own pocket.
For years, the Celtics wore black sneakers when every other team in the NBA wore white. The reason? They didn't show dirt and wouldn't need to be replaced as often.
In his first six seasons, Auerbach did not have a losing season, but the Celtics failed to win a championship. To bolster his team's fortunes, he was determined to draft Russell, who was recommended by Reinhart, Auerbach's former GW coach.
To acquire Russell, who had led the University of San Francisco to two consecutive NCAA championships, Auerbach engaged in calculated maneuverings. First, he traded two of his better players, Ed Macauley and Cliff Hagan, to the St. Louis Hawks for the second pick in the 1956 player draft.
Then, to prevent the Rochester Royals -- who held the first choice in the draft -- from selecting Russell, Auerbach turned to the Celtics' owner, Walter Brown, who also owned the Ice Capades. Brown arranged for a weeklong engagement of the ice show in Rochester, and in return the Royals agreed to allow the Celtics to sign Russell, who would anchor their championship teams for more than decade.
In Russell's rookie season, the Celtics won their first NBA title, defeating St. Louis in the decisive seventh game of their championship series, 125-123 in double overtime. During the series, Auerbach was fined $300 for throwing a punch at the Hawks' owner, Ben Kerner, during an argument about the height of the baskets. (During his career, he was fined $17,000 for his petulance.)
The Celtics lost to the Hawks in 1958, then reeled off eight straight championships from 1959 through 1966. Four times during the 1960s, the Celtics defeated the Los Angeles Lakers, launching a heated rivalry that would last for decades. Auerbach's teams reached the seventh, and final, game of the NBA playoffs eight times -- and never lost.