July 1, 1986
Everything _ a trade, a draft lottery, a championship _ seems to go Red Auerbach's way. The image persists that his mere touch will turn a valueless object into gold.
"I don't discourage it and I don't encourage it," says the master builder of the Boston Celtics. "I ignore it."But his rivals don't.
"He calls up a team and says, 'Hey, I'm interested in your 12th player.' That guy is likely to start the next game for them. They suddenly reassess," Celtics' General Manager Jan Volk said.
It's not entirely foolish for competitors to use Auerbach's knack for judging talent, a skill that has helped make the Celtics favorites to win their 16th NBA title. The previous 15 were won since Auerbach joined the team in 1950 as coach and then took over as general manager in 1966.
The Celtics, with a chance to win more regular season and playoff games in one season than any other team, entered Sunday's game against the Houston Rockets with a 2-0 lead in the best-of-seven title series.
To get them to this point, Auerbach relies on his intelligence, foresight, patience and a passion for winning.
He never sits back and accepts his position in NBA drafts. Instead he imaginatively shapes the order to his needs. What he couldn't get from the draft he pilfered from other clubs through trades.
"He made six or seven magnificent moves," Philadelphia General Manager Pat Williams said. "Every one of them worked and the end result is probably the best team ever."Auerbach, who gave up his general manager's title after the 1984 season but remained an active club president after the 1984 season, doesn't deserve all the credit. Player moves result from consultations with Celtic owners, coaches and other officials. But Volk doesn't mind seeing the praise flow toward Auerbach.
"Not at all," he said. "If it weren't for Red, it wouldn't mean anything to be here."Volk and Assistant Coach Jimmy Rodgers were more responsible than Auerbach for trading Gerald Henderson to Seattle two years ago for what became the second pick in next month's draft.
"I don't have that big ego that everything that's done I do myself," Auerbach said, although he has the final say on players.
"Red has enough respect for the people who work for him that if everybody said yes he'd listen real long and hard even though his opinion was different," Volk said.
In 1979, Boston signed free agent M.L. Carr. The Celtics gave Bob McAdoo to Detroit as compensation, but also got two first-round draft choices. The Pistons had the worst record that season, making one of those picks the first one in the 1980 draft.
Boston traded that choice and another first-rounder to Golden State for Robert Parish and the third pick in 1980, which turned out to be Kevin McHale.
"That was the deal that made the team," Williams said.
In 1978, Boston took Larry Bird with the sixth pick, even though he wouldn't be eligible for the NBA until 1979 and the Celtics'needed immediate help. In 1981, they drafted Danny Ainge on the second round, even though he was playing baseball for the Toronto Blue Jays.
"You've just got to have patience and wait for real good players," Auerbach said.
The Celtics other four main contributors came in trades _ Dennis Johnson for Rick Robey, Bill Walton for Cedric Maxwell, Scott Wedman for Darren Tillis and Jerry Sichting for two second-round draft picks.
"I don't feel I know more than anybody," Auerbach said. "I just feel that we work hard. We do a lot of thinking."He hasn't been perfect. Michael Young, Tillis, Charles Bradley, Freeman Williams and Norm Cook were among his last 10 first-round choices, and none of them has turned into a star.
Williams particularly praised Auerbach's eye for talent on Bird and Parish. He said scouting reports on Bird were not all glowing and that Parish, with Golden State, "was viewed in the league as a non-factor."Of Auerbach's ability to evaluate players, Volk said, "He's like Roy Hobbs. There goes Red Auerbach, the best there ever was."Hobbs was a baseball hero in a movie, and also was called the best.
Auerbach's reputation is so impressive that Volk said Auerbach has a problem dealing with general managers, who fear being fleeced. "I don't think I do," Volk said, "simply because I think they're so happy to talk to me instead of Red.
"Red is a very personable guy. One of the signs of his liking you is the way in which he insults you in a friendly way or flicks cigar ashes on your head."Auerbach can be gruff or playful. At the draft lottery, he told Williams, who got the top pick, that if Williams didn't take North Carolina center Brad Daugherty, he would. Williams wondered what Auerbach was up to.
"If I confuse them, that's great," Auerbach said. "That's the trouble with a lot of general managers. They worry about the other teams. ... I don't worry about what they do or try to be cute or make crazy statements.""If you and I handled ourselves as Red does in many cases they'd lock us in a room," said Williams. "His main project in life is donating money to piranha research, but that's part of the mystique of Red."At age 68 and in his 36th season with the Celtics, Auerbach has no retirement plans.
"When I was with him at the lottery, it was obvious that he still had the gleam in his eye," Williams said. "Father Time is the only hope for the rest of the league."