The Boston Celtics are one of the most storied franchises in NBA history. Red Auerbach, their coach and president for over 50 years, is known as one of the best coaches in league history. His cigar-smoking personality has been a part of Celtics lore since before he coached them. One day after his retirement, he was photographed with a rolled up game program while smoking cigars on the sidelines during a game against the Miami Heat.
Red Auerbach was a basketball coach for the Boston Celtics from 1946 to 1969. He led the Celtics to 11 NBA championships in 13 years, and is considered one of the best coaches in history.
Red Auerbach, the legendary Boston Celtics coach and club president, was renowned for a few other things than winning. When he went on the road, he was known for getting booed. He also had a few eccentricities, such as lighting his cigars and sitting on the bench with a rolled-up game program in hand. Those shenanigans were previously described by the guy who won nine NBA titles as a coach and seven more as a club administrator.
With the Boston Celtics, Red Auerbach became used to hearing the boos.
Red Auerbach, general manager of the NBA champion Boston Celtics, smokes a cigar at the White House in Washington, DC, in 1981. From 1984 until 2006, Auerbach served as the Celtics’ President and Vice Chairman. | Getty Images/Focus on Sport
Everyone is out to get you if you win. You turn become a foe. From 1959 through 1966, the Celtics won eight consecutive NBA championships with Auerbach as their head coach. On the road, they were not warmly welcomed.
When Auerbach appeared as a guest on The Regis Philbin Show in 1965, he was greeted warmly by the studio audience. That was unfamiliar territory for him. Philbin even made a joke about it, stating that the ovation for Auerbach made him uncomfortable.
Auerbach seemed unfazed by the boos. He typically replied with a wave, which probably added to the anger. As long as his team was winning, the booing didn’t affect him.
“How are you going to handle it?” In 1965, Auerbach told Sports Illustrated. “A boo is a boo,” says the narrator. You don’t usually take the time to find out what sort of boo it is, whether it’s a friendly boo or not. It’s a boo and there’s nothing I can do about it.”
Why was Red Auerbach smoking so many cigarettes and holding a rolled-up game plan in his hand?
According to Sports Illustrated, while Auerbach was coaching the Washington Capitols in 1946, he observed that his knuckles were swelled from beating his fists after games. When he had a disagreement with an official or was upset with his team, he rolled up the game program and squeezed it hard.
The cigars were a method to irritating the NBA’s upper management as well as many non-Boston supporters. When Auerbach knew he’d won, he’d light up the cigar. He also discovered a method to profit from the cigars.
“Years ago, when (the NBA) was picking on me for a hundred different reasons, I tried to think of anything to irritate them,” Auerbach said. They were making fun of me. All of a sudden, I lit a cigar. ‘It doesn’t seem good for you to smoke cigars on the bench,’ I received a letter. I promised them I’d quit when the other coaches gave up their smokes. By that time, I was sold on the concept, and Blackstone wanted me to promote their cigar.
“Some of the coaches were enraged. They mistook me for someone who ruled over them. The cigar is a symbol of unwinding. The cigarette is a symbol of stress. I explained to them that it was an endorsement, and that I would get money as well as unlimited smokes. They were more relaxed as a result of this. Why should a man be prevented from earning a profit? Fans, on the other hand, believe this is a big event.”
Auerbach is regarded as one of the NBA’s most successful coaches and executives.
From 1950 through 1966, Auerbach was the Celtics’ head coach. He won 938 games in the regular season, 795 of them with the Celtics. During the 1956-57 season, he guided the Celtics to their first NBA championship with a 44-28 record. The next year, he led the club to the NBA Finals, where they were defeated in six games by the St. Louis Hawks. After that, he won eight consecutive titles until retiring after the 1965-66 season.
Following his coaching career, he became the Celtics’ team president and worked as a front-office administrator until his death in 2006. During that time, he added seven additional championship rings to his collection. In 1969, he was honored as a coach into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame.
Auerbach became a target as a result of his success. It wasn’t just the booing. Objects were hurled at him, and supporters were known to become violent with him.
“A lot of individuals believe that getting a ticket gives them the right to berate you,” he said. “A coach should be able to work without being bothered. It’s heinous.”
He was mild-mannered when he wasn’t on the court. Some even thought his ferocious play on the court was a ruse.
“Basketball is a high-octane sport,” Auerbach remarked. “I don’t walk about screaming, blowing my top, or losing my cool in my home. Home is a whole other planet, a completely different game. It’s entirely based on reality. I’d be an actor if this were a play. “I wouldn’t want to be a coach.”
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