Sixteen championships in 29 years is a pretty good resume. Arnold “Red” Auerbach” is considered by many to be one of the greatest basketball coaches in the history of the NBA, guiding the Boston Celtics to nine titles. Coaching was just the beginning of his legendary basketball career.
After Auerbach retired from the sidelines, he became one of the greatest front-office executives in the game, adding seven more championships to his collection. Always a step ahead of his counterparts, Auerbach is responsible for bringing legends Bill Russell and Larry Bird to Boston. He also orchestrated a one-sided trade that began the Celtics dynasty of the 1980s. Without Auerbach, there’s no Celtics tradition that we know of today.
In honor of the Boston Celtics’ 17 championships, we’re highlighting 17 signature moments, both good and bad, that took the Celtics from a woeful 22-38 debut in 1946-47 to the current iteration of the longtime powerhouse franchise that’s now coming off an NBA Finals appearance. The 17-part series on the Celtics’ championship history will run through the summer and take us to the beginning of the 2022-23 NBA season, one Boston hopes ends with Banner No. 18.
Red Auerbach won eight straight championships as head coach of the Boston Celtics
Auerbach collected 795 of his 938 coaching victories with the Celtics. He previously coached the Washington Capitols and the Tri-Cities Blackhawks. The Celtics took a back seat to the Boston Red Sox and Boston Bruins and hadn’t had a winning season in its four years of existence before Auerbach came on board. Boston never won more than 25 games in any one season.
Auerbach arrived for the 1950-51 season, and the Celtics went 39-30, making the playoffs for only the second time. In the 1956-57 season, the Celtics went 44-28 and played in their first NBA Finals. Boston had a pair of outstanding rookies in Russell and Tommy Heinsohn. Heinsohn was Rookie of the Year after averaging 16.2 points and 9.8 rebounds. Bob Cousy was named the league’s MVP. The Celtics defeated the St. Louis Hawks in seven games for the first title in franchise history.
The Celtics returned to the championship round the following season but fell to the Hawks in six. The next year they faced the Minneapolis Lakers and swept them, beginning a string of eight straight championships. During that run, the Celtics never had less than 52 wins in a season.
Known for lighting up a victory cigar on the bench when the game was well in hand, Auerbach’s antics annoyed a few opponents.
“I didn’t do it originally to annoy them,” Auerbach said in a 1991 interview with Bob Costas, posted by NBA History & Legends on CLNS. “But after a while, it was charismatic, and I didn’t care.
“We went into Cincinnati one time, and they gave out 5,000 cigars to every male in the place. So when they beat us, everybody’s going to light up a cigar.
“You talk about a pregame motivating talk. I told them if we lose this game, they’re dead. They’re dead. I’d kill them. Well, luckily we beat the heck out of them, and they didn’t light up.”
Auerbach also drafted Chuck Cooper, the first Black player to be selected by an NBA team, essentially breaking the league’s color barrier.
Auerbach was just as successful in the front office
As a coach, Auerbach certainly had the players needed to win a championship. Russell, Cousy, and Heinsohn are all Hall of Famers. As the GM/president of the Celtics, Auerbach made sure he kept the Hall of Famers coming.
One of Auerbach’s biggest moves in the Celtics’ front office was drafting Bird. That may sound like a no-brainer, but Auerbach took the draft-eligible Bird with the sixth pick in the 1978 NBA Draft, knowing he wouldn’t be in a Celtics uniform until the following season because he wanted to finish his senior year at Indiana State.
Patience paid off as Bird became one of the best players in NBA history. He won three straight MVPs from 1984 to 1986 and helped Boston win three championships in the 1980s. Bird, along with Magic Johnson, is also credited with helping take the NBA to another level when it came to growing and marketing the game.
Auerbach gets as much credit as Bird for winning those ’80s championships. Before the 1980 NBA Draft, he orchestrated one of the best trades in Celtics history.
After Bird’s rookie season, the Celtics held the No. 1 pick in 1980. Auerbach swung a deal with the Golden State Warriors, sending that pick and the No. 13 selection in exchange for center Robert Parish and the third pick. With that third pick, the Celtics drafted Kevin McHale.
That move gave Boston arguably the best frontcourt in NBA history. All three went on to become Hall of Famers and were named to the NBA’s 75th Anniversary Team.
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