Arnold "Red" Auerbach, revered in Boston, reviled elsewhere, was the ultimate hometown hero. As coach of the Celtics for 16 seasons, Auerbach won 67 percent of his games and presided over nine championship teams. After moving upstairs to the president's office in 1966, he crafted seven more championship units. During the NBA's 35th anniversary celebration in 1980, a panel of sports writers selected him as the greatest coach in the history of the league.
A savvy judge of talent and character, the cigar-puffing Auerbach drafted wisely, orchestrated the trade that put Bill Russell in Celtic green, and pushed the right buttons when injuries and complacency threatened the Celtics dynasty. When he wasn't good, he was lucky, drawing Bob Cousy's name out of a hat in a dispersal of the Chicago Stags, and hitting paydirt when five other teams passed on Larry Bird.
Rather than manipulate Xs and Os, Auerbach reduced basketball to a simple game. He seldom drew up plays on a clipboard or called them from the bench. He prepared his players in training camp and practice, then watched them work in games. Most of his energies were spent brow-beating the officials.
Auerbach invented the "sixth man" when he began using Frank Ramsey as a super-sub in 1957. He also popularized the concept of the role-player with specialists such as Satch Sanders (defense) and Jim Loscutoff (mayhem). The Celtics under Auerbach stressed physical conditioning, team defense, and fastbreaking offense. Balanced scoring was a trademark. During Auerbach's last season as coach, seven different Celtics averaged in double figures.
Born September 20, 1917, in Brooklyn, New York, Auerbach worked his way up the ladder, first as a player at George Washington University, then as a high school coach. His first pro job, from 1946-49, was in the Basketball Association of America with the Washington Capitols, where he went 49-11 his first season. He moved to the NBA's Tri-Cities Blackhawks for one season before joining the Celtics in 1950. His Celtics won their division in each of his last 10 seasons as coach. He died in 2006.