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View Full Version : Interesting Peter Vecsey column on Red Auerbach



Will Galen
11-05-2006, 06:57 AM
http://www.nypost.com/seven/11052006/sports/seeing_red_sports_peter_vecsey.htm?page=0

SEEING RED
TIME SPENT BADGERING BOASTFUL BULLY RED AUERBACH
By Peter Vecsey

November 5, 2006 -- I'VE always found it fairly fascinating Brooklyn was the birthplace of Michael Jordan, Al Capone and Red Auerbach, all of whom found fame/ infamy elsewhere. Three heavyweights/ heavies, depending on which side of the court(room) you sat. Three major figures not to make cross or cross(over).

That is, unless you can't help yourself. Unless you're given no choice. Unless you've just gotta do what you're paid to do.

For years, I made a habit of offending Red Auerbach in this space. If you weren't a Celtics fan or one of his house organs in the Boston media, what was there to like?

Red infuriated opponents by rubbing opponents' losses into their psyches by lighting up victory cigars before the result was official. Once in Syracuse, the Nationals already down 30-something, Red starting puffing away before halftime. Alex Hannum (who once challenged Wilt Chamberlain, whom he coached in Philadelphia, and lived to hype it) got so stressed, remembers Dick Barnett, he ordered Dolph Schayes & Co. to punch the Celtic nearest to them. That gave the 6-7 bruiser a free path to pursue Auerbach, who wisely turned tail and scrambled into the locker room, which was quickly bolted.

Again, for an outsider looking in, especially an ABA zealot like myself, Red made it impossible to be objective where he was concerned. Conceit and condescension consumed him. He was strictly a fabled front office wheeler and dealer by the time I started covering the NBA full time in '73. Unless you genuflected when he graced your presence and gave every personnel decision he made a standing ovation, he'd treat you like a leper and didn't hesitate to bully you in front of an audience.

Once I understood how hot and bothered Red would get when the tables got turned, when he got called out in public, there was no stopping me. Our first conflict was over something harmless. Once I knew how it bugged him to be called out in print, how wounded the Celtic czar would get if his name was taken in vain, how flustered he'd get when Red Holzman, Red Sarachek or Red Klotz got praised instead of him, I'd go out of my way to needle him. And was proud of it! Because no one else dared!

But we didn't stop talking to each other until I took on Red in his step-city. It was either '78 or '79. At the time, Rupert Murdoch owned The Post and Boston Herald. I was asked to spend a couple weeks covering the Celtics and moved into a hotel that housed Legal Sea Food. Every night I'd try to have dinner downstairs with Johnny Most, the Celtics' celebrated play-by-play voice, and every column I'd be sure to agitate Red.

Just for spite, I'd defend former ABA Kentucky Colonel commander John Y. Brown, Auerbach's arch-enemy, then half-owner of the Celts, on one issue or another. Or, just to make Red squirm, I revealed the salaries of each Celtic, info that wasn't nearly as accessible in those days as it is today. The ultimate insult was delivered when I accused him of financially exploiting Tiny Archibald, one of my all-time favorite people, then and now.

Indicting Red for disloyalty to one of his players (I later came after him for branding Cedric Maxwell a malingerer) was unforgivable. Though Auerbach and Archibald made up (Tiny won the MVP in the '81 All-Star Game, the same year he helped guide the Celts to a title), Red and I didn't speak, even avoided eye contact for years, and I was around the team on a regular basis.

One day, maybe a decade later, covering some All-Star Game, who knows what city or hotel lobby, I walked head down into an empty elevator, or so I thought. I look up and there's Red. He stares at me. I glare at him. Then, inexplicably, we both put out our hands. I'm not going to lie and claim I became his confidant, but, from that moment on, we enjoyed a warm, respectful relationship.

Four or five years ago, D.C. lawyer Rob Ades, my agent du jour, asked if I'd be interested in attending an afternoon lunch (tip off actually was 11 a.m.) hosted by Red. He told me he'd become a regular at the Tuesday get-together with a chosen few and could swing an invite. When Red and Selma Holzman ask you and your wife out for dinner, you accept with pleasure. Knowing I'd probably never get another chance to talk basketball with Red, the following Tuesday - en route to Atlanta to work for TNT - I detoured for several hours. It was a rainy day in D.C. Ades picked me up at National and we drove to the China Club where Red held court and the rest of us ate up his anecdotes that left no player, coach, owner or writer untouched or unscathed.

Contrary to the fairytale version of my time spent with Red portrayed by John Feinstein in his debatably accurate book of Auerbach's stories (if he couldn't get mine right, and he was sitting there, though he arrived later than me, why should we believe he got anything correct?), I was cordially received. Contrary to a quote attributed to Ades, I did not cower outside in the rain without an umbrella until I was certain Red was happy to see me.

After washing up, Red requested I sit next to him, and for the next two hours I gave him a name or a situation and he'd spin a no-holds barred yarn.

On his quasi relationship with Bird: "We're fine. We talk occasionally. But he don't chase me and I don't chase him."

On Holzman, a daunting alley fighter on the down low who resented Auerbach's grating style and arrogant personality: "Eddie Donovan used to call me every two weeks. Until the day he died, he believed Red submarined him and cost him the Knicks' GM job. If I give you a good job, would you stab me in the back?"

On sending enforcers like Jim Loscutoff and Bob Brannum to rough up Al McGuire and Paul Seymour and anybody else who tried to physically intimidate Bob Cousy: "Did I order them to do that? You're [bleepin'] a-right I did!"

On taking his Celtics on a spontaneous stroll over to the White House to see President John Kennedy: "[Bill] Russell didn't believe me until I made it happen. Big deal, I took the [Capitals] over to see Harry Truman." Former Celtic assistant Don Casey says Red took him to meet Bill Clinton unannounced, and Bill Gates, sitting outside, just had to wait his turn.

There were so many more notes taken that day, so many more untold stories, because of space, that will stay untold for the time being. Auerbach and I left the China Doll side-by-side that day. The day had become brighter. Someone had pulled up a flashy red convertible to the curb. Its license plate read "CELTIC."

Red opened the trunk. It was messy full of little gifts teams give in appreciation to their fans. I'm told his office was overflowing with stuff that accumulated over the decades. He signed a towel, added a gracious inscription and handed it to me.

Who would've thought!
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David Stern would have a heart attack if some of the stuff pulled years ago would happen today.