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2008-09 Nba Champions

Red, Redefined

Auerbach was not Jackson's equal as coach, but he was the best GM

June 17, 2009|MARK HEISLER | ON THE NBA

Truth be told, Phil Jackson didn't really care whether he had one more title than Red Auerbach or one fewer, although if he had to choose he'd take "more."

As far as Auerbach was concerned, it may be better he didn't live to see Jackson pass him, just as he didn't live to see the Celtics Dancers.

The Celtics actually waited until Auerbach's death at 89 in 2006 before unveiling a dance troupe, either out of sensitivity to his feelings . . . or knowing someone would ask him about it and he'd sneer at it.

So, no, he wouldn't have liked people asking how it felt to be No. 2 to Jackson, whom Auerbach could remember as that curly-haired hippie on the Knicks' bench.

Before Phil even tied him at nine in 2002, Auerbach growled:

"He's never tried building a team and teaching the fundamentals. When he's gone in there, they've been ready-made for him. It's just a matter of putting his system in there.

"They don't worry about developing players if they're not good enough. They just go get someone else."

That was all true, by the way. It was all Auerbach too.

Jackson embraced basketball as a quest, and meditation as a lifestyle.

Auerbach embraced basketball as a quest, and competition as a lifestyle. Auerbach was right. Jackson had little to do with personnel with the Bulls and Lakers.

On the other hand, as a coach, Jackson is 100 times better than Auerbach was.

Auerbach was actually the greatest general manager in NBA history, building a dynasty that won 11 titles in 13 years in the 1950s and '60s with players such as Bill Russell, Bob Cousy and John Havlicek . . . none of whom he had first crack at.

He won his 12th and 13th titles in the '70s with Dave Cowens, and his 14th, 15th and 16th in the '80s with Larry Bird, Kevin McHale and Robert Parish . . . none of whom he had the first shot at, either.

As a coach, Auerbach was as basic as basic got, with a few simple plays everyone in the league knew backward and forward.

In person, Auerbach played the churl, although if he knew you he became someone else altogether.

The Celtics family was an actual family, with many of the stars remaining close to the hierarchy forever after as an untitled board of directors.

Despite his tyrannical bearing, Auerbach was a great listener who wanted to hear from everyone. In 1974, with the Celtics facing a Game 7 against Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and the Milwaukee Bucks, it was Cousy who argued Auerbach and Boston Coach Tommy Heinsohn into double-teaming Abdul-Jabbar, something they didn't like to do at the time but which worked famously.

Auerbach just didn't know many outsiders that well, regarding out-of-town reporters as enemies.

One night in the Spectrum press room, legendary sports journalist George Kiseda of the Philadelphia Bulletin, bantering with Auerbach, challenged him to "do something typical."

Auerbach shot him the finger.

Auerbach was graceless in victory, lighting up his cigars on the bench, and worse in defeat.

In 1987, after the Lakers won Game 4 in Boston Garden on Magic Johnson's "junior, junior skyhook," Auerbach, retired from day-to-day operations, harangued referee Earl Strom all the way to the dressing room, where Strom slammed the door in his face.

It wasn't about manners. It wasn't even about titles.

Atop the all-time list or No. 2, Red was still Red, and no one else can ever be.

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mark.heisler@latimes.com

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BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX

AUERBACH'S NBA COACHING RECORD

*--* TEAM SEASON PLAYOFFS FINISH 1946-47 Washington 49-11 2-4 Lost to Chicago Stags in semifinals, 4-2 1947-48 Washington 28-20 0-0 did not qualify for playoffs 1948-49 Washington 38-22 6-5 Lost to Minneapolis Lakers in finals, 4-2 1949-50 Tri-Cities 28-29 1-2 Lost to Anderson Packers in Western Division semifinals, 2-1 1950-51 Boston 39-30 0-2 Lost to New York in Eastern Division semifinals, 2-0 1951-52 Boston 39-27 1-2 Lost to New York in Eastern Division semifinals, 2-1 1952-53 Boston 46-25 3-3 Lost to New York in Eastern Division finals, 3-1 1953-54 Boston 42-30 2-4 Lost to Syracuse Nationals in Eastern Division finals, 2-0 1954-55 Boston 36-36 3-4 Lost to Syracuse in Eastern Division finals, 3-1 1955-56 Boston 39-33 1-2 Lost to Syracuse in Eastern Division semifinals, 2-1 1956-57 Boston 44-28 7-3 Beat St. Louis Hawks in NBA Finals, 4-3 1957-58 Boston 49-23 6-5 Lost to St. Louis in NBA Finals, 4-2 1958-59 Boston 52-20 8-3 Beat Minneapolis Lakers in NBA Finals, 4-0 1959-60 Boston 59-16 8-5 Beat St. Louis in NBA Finals, 4-3 1960-61 Boston 57-22 8-2 Beat St. Louis in NBA Finals, 4-1 1961-62 Boston 60-20 8-6 Beat Lakers in NBA Finals, 4-3 1962-63 Boston 58-22 8-5 Beat Lakers in NBA Finals, 4-2 1963-64 Boston 59-21 8-2 Beat San Francisco Warriors in NBA Finals, 4-1 1964-65 Boston 62-18 8-4 Beat Lakers in NBA Finals, 4-1 1965-66 Boston 54-26 11-6 Beat Lakers in NBA Finals, 4-3 TOTALS 938-479 99-69 *--*

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