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SI Vault: They all boo when Celtics legend Red Auerbach sits down

Red Auerbach, the coach of the Boston Celtics, is by far the most successful coach in professional basketball, but away from home he incites a murderous rage when he takes his place on the bench.   

This story originally appeared in the April 5, 1965, issue of Sports Illustrated. Subscribe to the magazine here.

If, as many social psychologists contend, the invective of a hostile crowd is an expression of a literally murderous impulse, Arnold (Red) Auerbach, the coach of the Boston Celtics, who this month seek their seventh consecutive world professional basketball championship, is the most frequently and diabolically murdered man in America.

Elias Canetti, the Bulgarian-born author, might be describing Auerbach's tormentors when he deals with what he terms "the baiting crowd." Canetti writes in his Crowds and Power: "One important reason for the rapid growth of the baiting crowd is that there is no risk involved...because the crowd have immense superiority on their side. The victim can do nothing to them.... His permitted murder stands for all the murders people have to deny themselves for fear of the penalties for the perpetration. A murder shared with many others, which is not only safe and permitted, but indeed recommended, is irresistible to the great majority of men."

When Auerbach recently appeared on That Regis Philbin Show, a television program, he was visibly taken aback by the warm reception the studio audience accorded him. "How come the people applauded?" he asked Philbin. "It makes me feel uneasy." Away from the Boston Garden, in what Auerbach calls "hostile territory," basketball fans react to his presence in much the same way that sharks respond to even minute quantities of blood in the water. When Auerbach is introduced before a game he is invariably greeted with what has become known as a chorus of boos. Auerbach acknowledges these with a little, feckless wave. "What are you going to do?" he says. "A boo is a boo. Generally, you don't take the time to figure out what kind of a boo it is, whether it's a good-natured boo, for instance. It's a boo and the hell with it." When Auerbach wrathfully rises from the bench, a program rolled tightly in one hand, to take exception to an official's decision, the crowd becomes predictably frenzied, bloodthirsty and, in downtown Philadelphia, violent.

Auerbach never looks at his program. In 1946, when he started coaching professional basketball with the Washington Capitols, he found that after a game his knuckles were swollen from repeatedly pounding his fists, so he began using a program as a sort of pacifier. It has since become as much of a prop as the cigar he lights when he believes victory is assured—a ceremony that also inevitably enrages the fans.


• MORE NBA: Auerbach remembered through rare photos

"Years ago," says Auerbach, "when they [apparently the hierarchy of the National Basketball Association] were picking on me for a hundred different things, I tried to think of something to aggravate them. They were abusing me. I lighted a cigar all of a sudden. I got a note: 'It doesn't look good for you to smoke cigars on the bench.' I told them I'd stop when the other coaches stopped smoking cigarettes. By then I liked the idea, and the people from Blackstone wanted me to endorse their cigar. Some of the coaches got aggravated. They thought I was lording it over them. The cigar is a sign of relaxation. The cigarette is a sign of tension. I explained to them that it was an endorsement, that I get money and all the cigars I can smoke. That calmed them down. Why stop a guy from making a buck? However, the fans think this is a major thing."

When the Celtics are losing, there are always half a dozen creeps chanting monotonously: "Hey, Red, where's the cigar, skin head?" One day last month when Auerbach was in Burlington, Vt. to address the Ethan Allen Club, one of its members buttonholed him. "Remember me?" he said. "I'm the guy who took the cigar from your wife and handed it to you four minutes before the end of the sixth playoff game against St. Louis in 1958." Says Auerbach: "The image of this cigar is unbelievable. A guy in Quincy, Mass. won the $1,000 first prize from the Cigar Institute of America for a photograph of me blowing smoke."

In the past 19 years, the last 15 of which he has spent with the Celtics, Auerbach has been the object of more tangible indications of the crowd's displeasure than boos. He has been hit with everything from peanuts (aimed at his bald spot) to right hands to, on the infrequent occasions when he has retaliated, assault actions—what he refers to, almost fondly, as "my suits." Says Auerbach: "A lot of people feel a ticket gives them a license to berate you. A coach should have the right to be unmolested. It's murderous.

"Basketball is a game of high emotion," Auerbach says. "In my house I don't go around yelling, blowing my top, losing my temper. Home is a different world, a different game." Auerbach resents the suggestion that his irascibility is ever feigned. "It's all realistic," he says. "If this is an act, I'd be an actor, I wouldn't be a coach. You pick your spots to this extent: you must control yourself. If you yell all the time, no one listens. Some coaches started to imitate me, but they felt I did it all the time. Not so. They're getting smarter now. They're starting to pace themselves. It's not a technique. It's a reaction. That's why I can't eat before a game. It's a plain, physiological thing. After you eat, you sit down. What happens? You go to sleep. Who are the most dangerous people? Animals. A hungry tiger. Not a starving tiger, a hungry tiger."

Auerbach has fallen asleep on the bench, but not from satiety. Once, in 1949, when he was coaching Tri-Cities, he took Dramamine to avoid getting carsick en route to a game, and later found he was unable to keep his eyes open. "I didn't make any substitutions the whole first half," he recalls vaguely. Auerbach is very big on naps. He has learned that stewardesses are not. "Imagine waking someone out of a sound sleep to ask them if they want a pillow," he says.

Auerbach counts on his naps to keep him going. "I've never taken sleeping pills, vitamins or tranquilizers," he says. "I don't average one aspirin a month. Every once in a while I'll have a doctor check my blood pressure. By the time I walk from the bench to the locker room, I'm normal. People say to me, 'Why don't you go to Florida, relax, lie in the sun, get a little tan?' I can't relax. What do I need a tan for? I look good."

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Auerbach usually eats delicatessen (Hebrew National is after him to endorse its hot dogs) or Chinese. He goes for chicken wings and oyster sauce, lobster in meat sauce and steamed fish with wine sauce and almonds. When Auerbach recently stated that Boston had better Chinese restaurants than San Francisco, he was blasted in the press. "For what I like," Auerbach insists. "I'm no Danny Kaye. The guy cooks Chinese food. What does he need? Special kitchens? The neighbors' permission? I don't have the time. Mostly I heat it." For a while Auerbach had a piece of a Chinese restaurant in Boston. "The joint was mismanaged," he says. Auerbach likes delicatessen when he is on the road. "You get tired of going out," he says, "sitting down, the soup, the meat, two vegetables." Auerbach does not eat eggs or drink coffee. For breakfast he may have a hot dog and the first of the 10 Cokes he consumes daily.

During the basketball season Auerbach lives in a corner suite on the ninth floor of the Hotel Lenox in Boston's Back Bay. His wife, Dorothy, his two girls, Nancy, 19, and Randy, 13, and his two boxers stay at home in Washington, D.C. "My family is very fortunate," Auerbach says. "They escape the brunt of the great many changes in my emotions." Over Auerbach's bed in the Lenox are two prints depicting an angelic boy and girl; the boy is wearing a sailor suit and holding a sailboat. "What pictures?" Auerbach says. "I don't even know they're there." By his bed is a carton full of Argyle socks. "I'm throwing them out," Auerbach says. "Willie Naulls [the Celtics' forward], my sartorial adviser, says they're out-of-date."

On his mantelpiece, alongside bottles of Chinese noodles and specimens from his collection of 500 letter openers, are jars of nuts. "I'm a great eater of nuts," Auerbach said the other day. "Dr. Paul Dudley White is also a great believer in nuts. We had a conversation in a plane once about our great affinities for nuts. At present I got the shorts. My pumpkin seeds are out. Just the other day I ran out of pistachios and Indian nuts. I got duplicates of these at home and away. All I have now is paper-thin almonds and sunflower seeds—what some people call polly seeds. For a change of pace, I sometimes buy some chiches. A lot of these things come salted and un-salted. I eat them unsalted. I also eat all kinds of candy. I just finished my last coconut-covered marshmallow."

Auerbach gets much of his candy from H. W. Powers, a company which makes most of the nation's fruit slices, and one of Auerbach's accounts. For the past 12 years Auerbach has been a salesman for Cellu-Craft, a flexible packaging concern that manufactures everything from Jell-O bags to Kool-Pop wrappers. "A long time ago I felt my entire income depended on basketball," Auerbach says. "This was a situation which could lead to overcoaching—being so obsessed with the job it takes you over—which is just as bad as undercoaching. I said to myself, I have two degrees [a B.S. in physical education and an M.A. in education from George Washington], but I'm a narrow man. I was at the mercy of other people. I was dealing in a game of touch—the ability to put a ball in a hole. Why should I bank everything on whether a guy has the touch on certain days? Let's be honest—I can't direct the flight of the ball." As Bill Russell, the captain of the Celtics, said in the Boston dressing room the other night, "Red can say he made you, but he can't put that ball in the hoop." "But I pay you," said Auerbach, pointedly.

Auerbach has not punched anyone in the mouth this season, and so far the NBA has only fined him around $1,000, which is well below his league-leading average. "My image has changed," Auerbach says. "There's more to this than a loudmouth, raving guy. I have built up a reputation of saying what I believe. I'm not always right, but at least it's what I believe. People are very curious to know what I'm like off court. Am I articulate? Am I sociable? I'm not an easy man to be friendly with. I'm not a hail-fellow-well-met. I'm a good friend and a good enemy. You mellow with age. Once I was younger, tougher, meaner." According to Jim Loscutoff, who played for the Celtics for eight years, Auerbach told him one time, "If you get obnoxious you build incentive."

"This year Red's mellowed in his dealings with the referees," says Tommy Heinsohn, the oldest Celtic in point of service. "There are a lot of young refs, and I think Red figured these guys are all new guys, so there's no sense getting on them, getting them rattled."

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"Study the official's personality. Decide your attitude on this basis." This is a quotation from Basketball for the Player, the Fan and the Coach by Arnold (Red) Auerbach, a book that has sold 600,000 copies, not counting the Russian, Polish and Italian editions. For the most part, it is a first-rate presentation of such subjects as "How to Play the Pivot," but Auerbach doesn't really hit his stride until page 189 and the chapter headed "Individual and Team Strategy." Herein he lists "57 Strategic Moves," which he prefaces with this disclaimer: "How many of these you consider ethical or unethical depends entirely on your organization. I am merely listing them as things that can happen." Among the possible moves are:

•When a player notices an official's indecision as to an out-of-bounds ball, he should run over and pick it up with the full confidence that it is his.

•If the opposing team has a high scorer, keep reminding the other players of their uselessness because the scorer takes all the shots.

•Grabbing or pulling the pants or shirt of the opponent can be very aggravating.

•When the other team is given possession of the ball from an official's decision, don't throw the ball directly to an opponent. The ball should be thrown rather slowly to the official. This will give your men time to get set on defense.

•Place the scorer's and timer's table near your bench.

•Wait until the other team has started warming up and then request their basket. This request must be honored away from home.

For those who have never had the privilege of hearing an Auerbach performance from the bench (and vicinity), the following is (exclusive! live! in black and white!) a verbatim account of same during the first quarter of the game of March 5 at Baltimore, in which the Celtics were outscored 37-27:

Just before the referee was about to throw the ball up for the center jump, Auerbach stood up and said: "I think the visiting team ought to pick the ball. I don't want to say anything, but it's the way it's supposed to be."


"Whatya got?"

"Look at 'em holding 'em!"

"Goddam!" [He stamped his foot, and then slumped back, in evident agony, as though a Jivaro seated in the balcony had hit him with a poisoned dart.]

"One!" [This is one of the Celtics' seven basic plays, of which there are 28 variations.]

"Buddy! Russell!" [Auerbach had noticed Russell limping and was calling this to the attention of the Boston trainer, Buddy LeRoux.]

"What are you going to do?"

"Give it to Satch! Too late." [Satch is Forward Tom Sanders.]

"Don't foul 'em! Five on us!"

"How about the push?"

"Hey, hey, the foul's on Howell!" [Auerbach smote the adjoining press table a terrific blow with his right fist, got up and, head thrust forward, purpling, stalked along the press table to the official scorer.]

Alas, Auerbach did not have any of his notorious confrontations with the officials. Tommy Heinsohn's favorite is this bizarre exchange that ended a discussion between Auerbach and Sid Borgia, now the NBA supervisor of officials.

Auerbach: Borgia, if you didn't have that whistle, you wouldn't have a nickel.

Borgia: If you didn't marry money, you'd be nothing.

Auerbach: What do you mean? She didn't have a nickel!


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This year Red Auerbach was one of 10 recipients of the Boston Medal for Distinguished Achievement; the other medals were awarded to six Nobel Prizewinners, Richard Rodgers, Arthur Fiedler and Charles A. Coolidge, an attorney. Auerbach ranks this award as one of the chief "thrills" of his life. Among the others are the publication of his first article, Indoor Obstacle Courses, which appeared in the May 1943 issue of The Journal of Health and Physical Education; the night the St. Louis Hawks gave him a tea set to commemorate the thousandth game he coached ("They had always booed me resoundingly in St. Louis," says Auerbach with feeling); and the day in 1960 when a stranger approached him and said he had always remembered the lecture on The Potential Limit Auerbach delivered at Roosevelt High School in Washington in 1941. "He was Lee Pogostin, the TV writer," Auerbach says. "A C student, a very obscure-type kid at the time."

After Auerbach received the Boston Medal, he said, "I don't know where they got my name. They must be giving it to me because I can go to my left. I certainly can't do anything else." Auerbach is not only without rival as a basketball coach; no one in any of the other major team sports has ever come close to matching his remarkable record. The only NBA marks left for Auerbach to break are those held by Auerbach This year, for example, the Celtics won 62 games out of 80, to surpass the record of 60 set by the Celtics in 1961-62. In 1946 the Capitols won 17 games in a row, a feat duplicated by the Celtics in 1959-60. Auerbach's teams have won seven world championships, nine divisional titles and failed to make the playoffs only once. At the beginning of the current season Auerbach had a career record of 822 wins and 435 losses; the overall total for the eight other NBA coaches was 820 and 851. He has coached the East team in the annual NBA All-Star Game for nine years, but until this year had never been voted Coach of the Year. Last season Auerbach was tied for third with Charley Wolf, who formerly coached Detroit, which is certainly a record for infantilism on the part of the sportswriters who did the selecting.

Auerbach's preeminence as a coach has been attributed to many factors, but Loscutoff and Heinsohn single out his relationship—or, rather, the deliberate lack of it—with his players' wives. "His whole theory behind basketball is never get too close to the wives," Loscutoff says. "It's the smartest move the man ever made," says Heinsohn. "Nothing can ruin a team more than 10 wives who love their husbands and think they're the greatest." Says Auerbach, "I'm on a hello basis with the wives. I never go to anyone's house for dinner. You can't become emotionally involved and then be impartial. It breeds discontent, jealousy, and who needs it?"

Auerbach has often said that he runs the Celtics like a dictatorship. "It's a dictatorship with compassion," he explains. "I don't think I'm a dictator to the extent that I'm never wrong. The thing I've got to watch is being carried away with my own importance. You're dealing with a game where everybody wants to be heard, to go down in history. A man thinks he's infallible, he's ridiculous. I admit it if I've had a bad day on the bench. You let them know you're human, too, that you can't be up for 80 games. Otherwise how can you keep patting them on the behind?

"But I don't believe in electing a team captain, for instance. I appoint one. I don't take any chances. And I'm not having a group discussion when I get a point across. I'm not really interested in gripes, either. This isn't a union. Contrary to popular belief, I'm not explosive with my players. I concede that a lot of the rookies are awed by me. I watch it. Every once in a while I bring them inside and talk to them, but you can overtalk just like you can overcoach.

"A lot of coaches have to prove they're the boss. They get their teams so emotionally hopped up that, while they'll hustle and fight off the boards, they won't take the shot and they'll throw the ball away. They keep looking at the coach! I can't stand a ballplayer who plays in fear. Any fellow who has a good shot has got to take it and keep taking it. So he misses. So what."

"You can make a thousand mistakes as long as you hustle," says Heinsohn. "The guys know they're not going to be rushed out the door when they make a mistake. The reason Red's been so successful is that he's always the boss. But he's not a know-it-all and he's always open to suggestions. You've got to earn his friendship. He doesn't get friendly with a guy until the guy knows Red's the boss. Red's got a heart as big as a grapefruit. All this Leo Durocher stuff. Baloney! He's soft."

"He's a man hardened by his environment," says Mel Counts, the Celtics' rookie forward, "but he also has a lot of heart. He likes to feel he's the boss, that he's important, but Red'll surprise you sometimes. He'll be generous, helpful, not gruff like a bear. He's not consistent. He's complimented me on the fine games I've had but, of course, they were quite obvious. He's kind of like the captain of a ship. You can't get too close to the captain, yet you can ask questions, but you feel uneasy. Sometimes he'll say things to see how you'll react, like it's a game. He's sarcastic. Sometimes he offends my intelligence. You have a little pride, a little dignity yourself. I don't think man was put on the earth to be abused. There's a time to stand on your own two feet. I like Red, but I don't understand him."

"As soon as I retire, I said to myself, I'm going to belt Red," Jim Loscutoff, who now coaches at Boston State, said one day last month, "but I admired the guy, I respected the guy. He's a fantastic guy. I learned a lot about psychology from Red. He knows exactly what to say to each ballplayer. He knows you can't say anything derogatory to Russell because he'll pout. You couldn't criticize Cousy or Ramsey, either. We could be losing a game by eight points and nobody would be doing anything wrong but Heinsohn and Loscutoff. Auerbach and Russell get along because each knows just what kind of a guy the other is. Russell knows Auerbach isn't a person who would appreciate being stepped on. I learned a lot from him. I find myself using a lot of his terminology."

"Poor kids," said Loscutoff's wife.

"Like my wife would say," Loscutoff said, "Red's a diamond in the rough."

"In fact," said Mrs. Loscutoff, "Red's wife told me that."

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"When you get down to serious coaching. Red's the best," says Bill Russell. "He's versatile, intelligent, astute, flexible and he has me on the team. He's made the most out of it. He's getting the maximum out of me. In order to be successful, you've got to believe in yourself, which is commonly known as egotism. Red's an egotist, just like me. He's a human being. He has his successes and his failures. He keeps his failures to a minimum—he tries to get along with me."

"I admire Russell because he's smart enough to understand me," Auerbach says. Indeed, the maintenance of the sometimes strained symbiosis of Auerbach and Russell is, by and large, responsible for the Celtics' good fortune. Auerbach had never won a championship until Russell joined the Celtics late in 1956, and of the 19 games Russell has missed during the past nine years, Boston has won only six.

Arnold Auerbach was born in "-Brooklyn 47 years ago. He is called Red because, as he explains 1,673 times a year, in a bygone era he had abundant auburn hair. Auerbach went to Eastern District High School in Brooklyn, where he was president of the student body. "I was no brain," he says. "I had no ability. It was a popularity contest." In his senior year Auerbach made the All-Brooklyn second team in basketball. His recital of this honor never fails to break up the Celtics—which, in turn, enrages Auerbach. "We got more high school kids in Brooklyn than most of you guys have in your whole state," he says.

At George Washington, Auerbach was the leading scorer in the metropolitan Washington area, with a 10.6 average, another achievement that greatly amuses the Celtics. "Through the years, I've been one of the three or four best shooters on the Celtics," he says. Auerbach was subsequently a high school gym teacher and basketball coach, a college referee, a member of the physical education staff at Duke and a physical rehabilitation officer in the Navy.

Auerbach is a true believer in fundamentals, by which he may mean spending half an hour demonstrating the proper way to throw a rock into a wastebasket: "Do I heave it underhand? If so, why? Should I put this foot forward or this one? Or should I stand with both feet together?" Or, on a slightly higher level: "You've got a basketball. It's round. The floor's even. If you bounce it, it's going to come up straight. You don't have to watch it. One of the most important things in basketball is the position of the head. The game is not played there," he says, indicating the floor. "It's played up there!"

Additional Auerbach aphorisms:

•Never bounce the ball without a purpose.

•Remember that passing is the fastest method of advancing the ball.

•If a pass is not caught it is almost always the fault of the guy who threw it.

•When a man has the ball, watch his hips. He can't go anywhere without them.

•Never rest on defense.

•You've got to have your best shooter shoot more, but the others have to shoot enough.