Red Auerbach Never Wanted the Boston Celtics to Play Home on Christmas? It May Not Be Entirely True

The story is that late Boston Celtics president Red Auerbach never wanted his team to play home games on Christmas. The reasoning was that he didn’t want his staff to have to work on the holiday. Since the Celtics hosted the Detroit Pistons on Christmas in 1964, they went 53 years without hosting a holiday game before welcoming the Washington Wizards in 2017. While legend has it that Auerbach didn’t want to host Christmas Day games, that may not be entirely true.

The Boston Celtics travel to face the Milwaukee Bucks on Christmas Day

Jayson Tatum of the Boston Celtics shoots the ball while guarded by Giannis Antetokounmpo of the Milwaukee Bucks at TD Garden on December 13, 2021, in Boston, Massachusetts. | Adam Glanzman/Getty Images.

For the sixth straight year, the Celtics will play Christmas Day. This year, they’re in familiar territory — on the road. They travel to face the defending champion Milwaukee Bucks, a team playing its fourth consecutive game on the holiday.

Like they did a year ago, the Celtics have underachieved this season, hovering around the .500 mark all year. Recently, they have been decimated by COVID-19, playing their game against the Philadelphia 76ers with seven players in the NBA’s health and safety protocols.

The Bucks are in a COVID-19 mess as well. Two-time MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo was placed in protocols last week. He did not play Wednesday night against the Houston Rockets. His status for the Christmas Day game is still up in the air. Antetokounmpo joins Wesley Matthews, Bobby Portis, and Donte DiVincenzo on the sideline.

The Celtics vs. Bucks game is one of fie scheduled for Christmas Day. The Atlanta Hawks travel to the New York Knicks in a rematch of last year’s first-round playoff series. The Golden State Warriors travel to face the Phoenix Suns in a meeting between the West’s top two teams.

LeBron James and the Lakers host the Brookly Nets, while the Dallas Mavericks play at the Utah Jazz. While five games are scheduled, NBA Commissioner Adam Silver said the latest COVID-19 spike could force some last-minute changes to the schedule.

Did Red Auerbach really not want the Boston Celtics to play at home on Christmas?

Maybe Auerbach didn’t want to play home games on Christmas, but there apparently is much more to the story than that. Randy Auerbach, Red’s youngest daughter, said the story sounded good, but just wasn’t entirely true.

“If it’s a good myth, I’ll go with it,” Randy Auerbach said to ESPN back in 2017. “I’d love to say, yes, of course. I remember I’d always watch him on Christmas Day on TV. But I don’t know that it was anything he could specifically do within his powers. I think it was really more about scheduling.”

The biggest problem with the holiday scheduling was the arena itself. The Boston Bruins and Celtics share the Garden, but the Bruins own the building and have scheduling priority. Back when the NHL played on Christmas, the Bruins were always a big part of the affair. They played 34 holiday games at home between 1928 and 1971.

Jan Volk, who took over for Auerbach as the team’s general manager in 1984, brushed aside the rumor of Auerbach having a say in the Christmas games.

“I wish I could say yes,” Volk said to ESPN. “Red loved the game of basketball, he loved the Celtics, and he loved playing to win. But Red was not adverse to any of us working seven days per week. He was in it for keeps.”

The Celtics have played three home Christmas Day games since 2017

After not playing a home Christmas Day game since 1964, the Celtics found themselves playing in front of Boston fans in 2017, 2018, and 2020. When 2017 rolled around, it became a big deal in Boston for players, fans, and team executives to be able to play in front of the home crowd.

Team president Rich Gotham said the team’s popularity made them a natural television draw. He said playing at home on Dec. 25 was beneficial.

“Now that we are sort of a national TV draw again, we’re getting invited every year to play on Christmas Day, which is an honor, but it’s nice to be able to do it at home,” Gotham said to ESPN. “We can let the players, the coaches, the whole travel staff be at home with their families (during the week of Christmas).”

According to ESPN, the NBA confirmed the Auerbach rumor was just that — a rumor. The league confirmed the biggest problem with the Celtics playing at home on Christmas was arena availability. If it wasn’t the Bruins, it was Disney on Ice that had the arena booked for the holiday.

Auerbach having that much authority over how the NBA scheduled its games sounded pretty cool. It’s just not true.

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