Red Auerbach: The Esquire Interview (Part I)

Auerbach would select Michael Jordan, Bill Russell, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Wilt Chamberlain to be on his all-star NBA team. He would not choose Dennis Rodman or Bill Walton. Auerbach evaluates several of the top basketball players in history.

The old man has done it all. Seen it all. All you have to do is ask him.

"Ask me anything that happened in this league," Red Auerbach growls. "Fifty years ago, forty years ago, thirty--I remember it all. Just don't ask me what I had for breakfast."

The old man and I are here to discuss the history of the National Basketball Association in this, its fiftieth-anniversary season. He was there when the NBA opened up for business, and all this time later he is still here. He is still on the masthead of the Boston Celtics, at the age of seventy-nine; he still knows more about coaching a team or running one than any of the current slicked-back NBA wonder boys; he still hats records in the books that no one will ever touch He was the Jordan of coaches. Or maybe Michael Jordan is the Auerbach of basketball players. The only other management figure in the history of American professional sports who compares to Auerbach is the late George Halas. As great as Halas was, as much of a pro-foot-ball pioneer as he was, e did not win the way Auerbach did in Boston, first as a coach, then as the president and general manager of the team.

After breakfast, the old man sits in the office he, keeps in downtown Washington, D. C. Three times a week, he goes from there to a racquetball game, two-on-one, he and his partner against Sam Jones's son, the recreational-sports director at George Washington University, Auerbach's alma mater. The old man with the cigar in his mouth doesn't look the part, but back in the thirties he was the the best rebounder on the GW team.

Following the racquetball game, he goes to his club for lunch and plays cards with the boys the rest of the afternoon. He is basketball's Sunshine Boy, funny and cantankerous--as if Neil Simon, a big basketball fan himself, had invented him.

And he is being Wilt: How can you asked on this day to help leave him off? me make up my all-time NBA team--before the rest of the free world does later this year. A real Dream Team, for the ages. Twelve players and a coach. And as far as I'm concerned, when it comes to coaches, there is the list with his name on it, then all the others. There was going to be no polling here. Just Auerbach. He is my coach and my general manager.

Who else am I going to ask to help pick the team, Dennis Rodman?

Right out of the box, in fact, I ask Auerbach if Rodman, the most prolific rebounder in the NBA since Bill Russell, would make the team. Auerbach snorts.

"I wouldn't take that guy even if he was good enough," he says. "Come on. I can't take that shit. Besides, why would I want to travel with a team beautician?"

Before we really get started, I ask if he would like to pick any assistant coaches.

"Why?" he says. "I didn't have any in the old days--why do I need them now? I watch these guys huddle up with their assistant coaches before they start talking to the team during a time-out, and I'm thinking, What the hell are they talking about in there? Don't they know why they called the damn time-out in the first place?"

So Auerbach won't require four assistant coaches and one of those magnetized boards that have movable pieces to draw up plays and perhaps offer everything during an NBA time-out except a slide show.

"I used something else," the old man says, ready to give away one of his coaching secrets. "It's called memory."


FLCeltsFan said...

I love his comments on Rodman. Those who compare Red to Phil have no idea. Phil took over ready made teams every time with a superstar on them. No building or rebuilding for him.

On the other hand, Red built his teams from scratch and HE did it. He was also the driver, PR guy, equipment manager, and chief cook and bottle washer for the team. He didn't have assistants and didn't have video coordinators or any of that stuff. To me, there is no comparison.

FLCeltsFan said...

I'm anxiously awaiting the rest of this interview. Red is always good for a great interview.

Lex said...

Wait till we get to the Harvard Business Interview!!!

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