The championship is just frosting on the cake. A nice way to begin to say goodbye for Red Auerbach as he heads toward his 35th year of service with the Boston Celtics.
"This has been one of the most enjoyable years I've ever had in basketball," said Auerbach, who will not retire this season but instead will gradually fade away, spending more time in his home in Washington, D.C., than at his eighth-floor office at 150 Causeway st.
A year ago, Auerbach wasn't sure he wanted to be around the Celtics even this long. Six years ago, when he turned 60, he had promised himself he would get out of the game completely when he was 65.
He reneged on that vow because he felt the franchise needed his leadership heading into the 1982-83 season, which finished in shambles when the Milwaukee Bucks swept his team in the playoffs four straight.
Auerbach was not a happy man last spring. He felt, justifiably or not, that he was being pushed subtly into the background in the growing friendship between owner Harry Mangurian and head coach Bill Fitch.
The change started to come when Red announced he was going to quit. Mangurian called for a meeting, and the two talked it out, with Auerbach promising to stay one more year. Then, less than a month later, Mangurian announced his intention to sell the team, and before you could say Houston, Fitch quit and rocketed to Texas to another job.
"I still wasn't sure I was going to stay after that happened," said Auerbach. "I got a guarantee from Harry (Mangurian) that I could approve the new owners. If I didn't like them, I wouldn't stay around. That's the way I felt about it."
Auerbach also wanted the authority to hire a new coach, and the man he wanted for the job was K.C. Jones. Mangurian let him do it before selling the team to a group of three owners, Don Gaston, Alan Cohen, and Paul DuPee.
"I never thought K.C. got a fair deal in Washington when he coached there," said Auerbach. "I thought that under the right circumstances he could prove to be the coach I thought he was.
"The way he handled things made this a great year for me. Everyone on the ballclub and around the organization seemed to be closer together than we had been in years and really enjoying what they were doing. This is due to K.C.'s personality and his way of handling people.
"If I went out to practice and wanted to take a player aside to make a point, K.C. was all for it. He didn't feel intimidated by it. But the thing that pleased me most was the way he ran the club off the bench. I felt all year long he was a better bench coach than anyone else in the league. I thought his substitutions were terrific."
When the Celtics were assured of the division title, he went to the owners and asked them to extend K.C.'s contract and add a raise that would show their appreciation. "I went to them, and it was done right away. They were all for it. These guys have been great owners. They rate right up there with the best this organization has ever had. They did everything we asked them to do to help improve the club. You couldn't ask for anything more."
Auerbach will turn over his role of general manager to Jan Volk, who is Red's personal choice and who has been the team counsel for many years. Over the years, Auerbach would attend almost every home game at Boston Garden. From now on, he plans to attend about 20 games a year and move completely away from scouting, which he has been involved with over the years.
"I just won't be here as much anymore," he said, "but I'm only a phone call away if Jan needs me for anything."
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