by Michael L. Rautins
In memoriam, I would like to recognize Arnold “Red” Auerbach as the architect of one of, if not the greatest dynasties in sports history. The Brooklyn native blessed the city of Boston with his basketball genius for over half a century. As coach of the Celtics, Red won nine NBA championships, eight of them in succession. Never before had the world of basketball seen such a character on the sidelines. However, as arrogant and brash as the lighting of every victory Hoyo de Monterrey cigar was, nothing could overshadow the seemingly innate understandings of the game that Auerbach portrayed. More importantly, it is at this time we must remember Red for his intelligence amongst the many ignorant in the social setting of his time. One color mattered to Auerbach throughout his life. Green.
In 1950, one can say that Red Auerbach’s personal civil rights movement began. That year he made Chuck Cooper the first ever African-American to be selected in an NBA Draft. It would take four more years for the United States Supreme Court to ban the segregation of public schools in the decision of Brown vs. the Board of Education. Shortly after, Rosa Parks would be arrested for refusing to give up her seat on a bus to a white man.
Bill Russell, K. C. Jones, Willie Naulls, Sam Jones and Tom Sanders comprised Auerbach’s starting lineup during the 1963-64 season. These men also represented the first time a starting lineup consisted of five African-American players. That same year, four young African-American girls were killed in an Alabama church bombing.
Come 1966 Auerbach had made it quite evident that no matter what was going on outside the walls of Boston Garden, he was not afraid to challenge the very maligned fabric of society during the time. However, Red was not done. He chose hall-of-fame player Bill Russell to succeed him as the coach of the Celtics. This would mark the first time in the history of the four major sports, the hiring of an African-American head coach. While Russell’s newly appointed position gave promise to a future of equality, only two years later the head coach of the civil rights movement, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., would be assassinated.
Winning a game, let alone nine NBA championships is difficult to fathom under those circumstances.
Red Auerbach had an eye for talent. He himself had an incredible talent to mold five into one. Along with a relentless appetite for winning, those three components helped build some of the finest teams the world of basketball will ever see. However, when it’s all said and done, Auerbach’s greatest win may have never graced the parquet floor. According to sociologist Dr. Richard Lapchick, as of 2005, 78% of the NBA players were African-American.
Thank you Red.