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8.13.2008

Red Auerbach: The Harvard Business Review Interview

Part 22

HBR: So what is Red Auerbach's secret recipe for creating America's most successful sports franchise?

AUERBACH: I think it all stems from the fact that the players' livelihoods depend on their contribution toward the Celtics, not toward themselves. And after a while they believe in this.

Take Bill Walton. He contacted me when he was a free agent and asked if I could possibly get him. So I asked him why he wanted to play with the Celtics. He said it was not only because we had a team that was a contender and he could get along tremendously with the guys we had. On top of that, the Celtics' chemistry and reputation made it a team he'd always dreamed of playing for--which I felt was very kind. In fact, when he was with San Diego, he came up here to my office to see me. He wanted some Celtics T-shirts for his kids because to him this was what a sports franchise should be.

So it worked out that we got him. And one day he told me that he was down in the dumps. I asked him what was wrong, and he said he didn't feel like he was contributing to the team. I told him, "Of course you're contributing." "But I'm not scoring," he said. "That's the trouble with you," I said. "You're worried about statistics."

I told him that we didn't care about what he scored. All we were interested in was what he contributed. Did he roll down? Did he play defense? Did he run the court? Did he pass?

He asked, "You mean you really don't care about scoring?" I told him, "Not at all. It won't affect you one iota."

You could see his face light up. And from that point on, he was a different guy. He was always great to begin with, but this made him even better. He became loose. And he never looked to see what he scored. All he looked at was, did we win. And it was "we," not "I."

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