I grew up around Boston and during the 1960's one of the joys of living here during that period was watching the Boston Celtics. I don't know exactly when I began to appreciate the delicate balance of individual effort achieved within the iron framework of a team-based ideology that I saw, but I did slowly realize that there was a unique balancing act taking place on the Boston Garden's parquet floor -- one where the numerous stars of the team understood that no one person, no matter how talented, was more important than the success of the team as a whole. Not Cousy; not Russell; not Heinson; not Havlicek.
And I understood that the person that promulgated this view of the game was the short, bald guy at the end of the bench -- Arnold Auerbach.
As model of the modern point guard, Bob Cousy might have been enforcing disipline on the court (and he was a strict taskmaster) but the orders came from the sidelines and everyone knew it. Red reached through his players like a great symphony conductor could reach through is musicians to get everyone where they wanted to go, be it the perfect execution of Beethoven's Ninth or, in Red's case, 16 World Championships. His mastership was so complete that he could do this with professional athletes - not people noted for being weak of will. And he did it as coach or general manager with 14 players that would eventually end up in the Hall of Fame, not to mention 30 who would end up being NBA coaches themselves.
Red coached the games where I first noticed that it was possible for a small number of people to fuse themselves together in such a way that they could achieve collectively what would have been impossible for them individually, no matter how talented they were. Year after year, the Celtics would collectively fling themselves at the Los Angeles Lakers in the best contest that sport had to offer at that time -- the NBA Championship -- and they would, more often than not, come out victorious even if it took them seven games to do it. And they would do it as a team.
A couple of years ago, I went into a local bar for some lunch on a Saturday afternoon and there was a NBA basketball game on the television. I was only half watching it when I noticed that something seemed very odd about the type of play that I saw - people were looking to pass before they took a shot; they were running plays; there was a disipline in the way that people were playing; in short, they were playing team basketball, something that is only found these days in women's game. It was only at this point, that I realized that I was watching ESPN Classic and the game was from the mid-1970's.
This was the game that Red Auerbach taught - a game that had legs and had an integrity that showed in the way that people played it. Red didn't have a contract when he first started being the Celtics coach. He and Walter Brown, the Celts original owner and owner of the Boston Garden, had a handshake deal that went from year to year. Such was the integrity of the two men that this was all that was needed. The fact that this integrity trickled down into their common organization is public record.
Ladies and gentlemen, let us acknowledge that a Titan has fallen and, sadly, we may not see his kind again.
Thanks for teaching me what people are capable of, Red. I'll try to not forget the lesson.