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The legendary Red Auerbach was known for his coaching success and his knack for making big moves during his time as president and GM of the Boston Celtics. He was also known for lighting up a cigar.

During his coaching days, he’d light up his victory cigars right there on the bench. With the game comfortably in hand, he’d light up well before the final buzzer. That nearly backfired on him one game, and Tommy Heinsohn was to blame.

Red Auerbach had a hand in 16 Boston Celtics championships

Team President and Vice Chairman Red Auerbach of the Boston Celtic circa 1985. | Focus on Sport/Getty Images.

Auerbach is the definition of a winner. Whether it was coaching the Celtics to nine championships or building a team through the draft or trades and collecting seven more titles as a member of the front office, Auerbach knew how to win.

Auerbach hooked on with the Celtics for the 1950-51 season, taking over a franchise that won 22 games the previous season. In his first year with the team, he guided the Celtics into the playoffs after a 39-30 season.

With Auerbach at the helm, the playoffs became the norm. Seven years into his coaching career, NBA championships became the norm.

He guided the franchise to its first title in the 1956-57 season. From then on, he reached the championship round each year. During the 1957-58 season, the Celtics lost to the St. Louis Hawks in the NBA Finals before they won eight straight titles. Auerbach retired from coaching after the 1965-66 season.

Auerbach then became the team’s general manager until 1984 and then was Boston’s president and vice chairman until his death in 2006.

Auerbach lit a victory cigar, and Heinsohn nearly blew the game

During a 1991 interview with Bob Costas, posted by NBA History & Legends on CLNS, Auerbach spoke about the lighting of his cigars. Costas it was one of the most famous trademarks in all of sports, and he said Auerbach lit up, not only after championship wins, but after regular-season victories.

“I never had the ego of some of these coaches today, especially college coaches” Auerbach said. “They’re 40 points ahead with four minutes to go, and they’re up there giving signals and this and that because they are on TV.

“To me, the game was over. So rather than me taking a chance of getting up and making an ass of myself, I sat there and I’d light a cigar and let the game go over.”

Costas asked Auerbach if he ever prematurely lit up a cigar and the team wound up losing.

“I didn’t blow the game, but they tied it up,” Auerbach recalled. “That’s the only thing I remember about Heinsohn. I could have killed him.

“We were three points ahead with 10 seconds to go (no three-point shot then) and they had the ball. So I lit up the cigar and said let ’em score. Don’t touch ’em. Sure enough, Heinsohn wants to block a shot. So he hits the guy, and the ball goes in. They make the free throw. They tie it up. Now I’m dying. The cigar’s in my hand, no victory, but we won in overtime.”

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