Tip-Off Timer: Red Auerbach Leaves on Top in '66
As the years pass, Red Auerbach gets passed on all the lists that pay homage to his coaching greatness. Most victories, most playoff victories, most NBA championships, none of those titles are his anymore.
Time eventually takes everything away.
Well, almost everything. It can't take away the cigar, the symbol of his superiority, and the symbol of his decision to retire from coaching in 1966, riding the wave of eight consecutive NBA titles.
No one ever has left so on top of the game. He did in '66.
Although most following the modern era of NBA basketball know Auerbach only as the finest general manager of his time, there was another period when Auerbach also reigned on the bench.
In this smoke-free time of political correctness, the sight of a coach lighting up a big fat hand-rolled cigar on the end of the bench in a public arena would seem unthinkable.
In Boston, it was the norm. When he was coaching, it meant victory was assured. It was the original form of in-your-face, trash talking. Opponents hated it, but they were forced to swallow it.
It's tough to tell anyone in the midst of eight consecutive championships to change anything. Auerbach as a coach was a sore loser, and a gloating winner. And he apologized for neither one.
He could have won more titles, but he decided that outsmarting the competition as a general manager was even more fun that outcoaching them from the sideline, and he only had time for one. He tabbed the great Bill Russell to become a player-coach while he sat in the stands, still lighting his cigar.
Even before he died in 2006, they wrote books about him, built statues in his honor, named awards after him. As much, or more, than any of the great players he acquired -- Russell, Cousy, Havlicek, Cowens, Bird -- Auerbach was Celtics basketball, the symbol of the most storied franchise in history.
It wasn't until he left coaching that the great Wilt Chamberlain could find a way to get past Boston and win his first title. In Auerbach's final season as coach, the Celtics won only 54 games, fewest in seven years, but they delivered that last title by beating Chambelain's 76ers in the conference final and the Lakers of Jerry West and Elgin Baylor in the Finals.
He coached in the league for 20 years, but his dynasty didn't begin until he made the trade that allowed him to draft Russell in 1956. He won nine titles in the next 10 years, including his final eight.
As a coach, Auerbach was as loved in Boston and as hated around the league for his arrogance as any coach in league history. He would bait referees, infuriate opposing coaches and compete with everything he had.
Then he walked away from the bench in '66. The following year, the NBA renamed the Coach of the Year Award as "The Red Auerbach Trophy.''