Red Auerbach had already given up coaching duties to Bill Russell. After the 1965-66 season, Auerbach became the Boston Celtics general manager. He had coached the team to eight straight NBA titles and made 10 consecutive NBA Finals appearances. During the 1968-69 season, Russell led the team to yet another berth in the championship series as a player-coach. Although the Lakers were the favorites, Auerbach knew the Celtics were winning Game 7 on the road before it even began.
Red Auerbach and the Boston Celtics enjoyed an incredible run in the 1960s
Boston’s historic stretch technically began in the late 1950s when they won their first of eight straight championships during the 1958-59 season. From 1959 to 1966, the Celtics were NBA champions, but they also won it in 1957 and lost to the St Louis Hawks in the finals in 1958.
Auerbach began coaching the Celtics during the 1950-51 season and eventually put together one heck of a run that has gone unmatched in the NBA. He racked up 795 regular-season victories with Boston and added 90 more in the postseason.
During the 1956-57 campaign, he claimed the first of his nine championships as a coach. After handing over the coaching reins to Russell in 1966, Auerbach enjoyed another wild run in the Celtics front office as GM an team president. In 1969, Auerbach was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame as a coach.
He worked as a front-office executive with the Celtics until his death in 2006. During that time, he added seven more championship rings to his resume.
Red Auerbach believed the Celtics would beat the Lakers in Game 7 before the game began
This was considered bulletin-board material high in the rafters. The Celtics struggled through the 1968-69 regular season, earning the fourth seed. The Celtics defeated the Philadelphia 76ers and the New York Knicks to earn another meeting with the Lakers in the NBA Finals.
The Lakers were the heavy favorites coming into the series. The addition of Wilt Chamberlain to an already loaded roster that included Jerry West and Elgin Baylor helped the Lakers win 55 games during the regular season. The first four games of the best-of-seven series were all close with every game finishing within six points. The Lakers won their first two at home and the Celtics followed suit.
The first lopsided win came in Game 5 when LA won 117-104, but Boston tied the series with a 99-90 win in Game 6.
Before Game 7, the Celtics and Auerbach found some added motivation simply by looking up. Thousands of celebratory balloons were tied up nets high overhead at the Forum. Auerbach noticed them right away.
“I noticed them when I walked in,” Auerbach said in 1987, according to United Press International. “I was doing the color (commentary on television). After we won, I asked, ‘What is Jack Kent Cooke going to do with all those damn balloons?’ What they did was make the biggest mistake you could make in sports.
“They had a mimeographed sheet, and they gave it out to everybody; we all got a copy of it. It said, ‘After the Lakers win, this player should go here, and that player should go there, and the balloons will be released from the four corners of the building.’ And it all backfired.”
The Celtics pulled off the Game 7 upset
It wasn’t expected, nor was it easy, but the Celtics hung on to upset the Lakers on their home court in the deciding Game 7.
Boston held a nine-point lead with five minutes remaining, but with Chamberlain on the bench with an injury late in the game, the Lakers mounted a frantic run to get within a point. Boston, however, hung on for a 108-106 victory. It was the final NBA game for Russell, who finished with six points and 21 rebounds.
West was the star of the game and the series in a losing cause. Playing with a leg injury suffered during Game 5, West put up a triple-double in the finale. He led all scorers with 42 points and added 13 rebounds and 12 assists. This came after he went for 53 points in the series opener and added 40 and 39 points in Games 4 and 5.
West was named the MVP of the series. He might have also added a ring if it weren’t for a few thousand balloons.