Red Auerbach’s Cigar Prank Backfired and Literally Blew Up in Front of the Boston Media

With Red Auerbach on board, the Boston Celtics were certain of a few things. One, they were going to have a winning product. Two, they would be on the right side of any trades. Three, there would always be a cigar.

The legendary Celtics coach/GM/president once tried to cheer up future Hall of Famer Tom Heinsohn, who had a rough day on and off the court, with a good-natured prank. It ended up backfiring on Auerbach right in front of the Boston media.

Red Auerbach once tried to console a dejected Tom Heinsohn after a brutal day

Boston Celtics coach Red Auerbach with basketball players John Havlicek, center, and Willie Naulls celebrates against the Los Angeles Lakers on their way to a seventh NBA championship. | Getty Images.

Heinsohn, who died in November 2020, won eight championships playing for the Celtics under Red Auerbach and then added two more as a head coach in Boston. The two had a strong player/coach relationship, and Auerbach tried his best to console his star player after a day when everything seemed to go wrong. Heinsohn once recalled that rough day during an interview with Michael D. McClellan of Celtic Nation.

“I was in the insurance business, and I opened the paper and learned that I’d just lost a big, half-million dollar insurance case,” Heinsohn told McClellan. “I went to my car and drove down to the radio station in Worcester to do my radio show, and when I came out afterwards, I had a parking ticket on my windshield.  Then I hopped in the car to go to practice and ended up getting a speeding ticket. I end up late for practice because of the ticket, and I got fined by Red. 

“By this time, I’m in a bad mood, and I don’t have a particularly good practice.  I go downstairs to get dressed afterwards, and when I reach into my pocket, I realize that somebody had stolen my wallet.”

That’s when Auerbach stepped in and tried to help. He did so in the form of a prank.

“He reaches into his pocket and says, ‘On the way home, here, take this cigar and smoke it.  You’ll feel better,'” Heinsohn recalled. “I said, ‘Red, I’m not a cigar smoker.’  He said, ‘Take it anyway and try it.’ 

“So I’m driving home, and about halfway, I say to myself, ‘What a nice gesture on Red’s part to give me the cigar and calm me down a little bit.’  So I unwrap the cigar, and I put it in my mouth. I get the cigarette lighter going, I take two puffs, and the damn thing explodes in my face (laughs).” 

Heinsohn got Auerbach back with his own little prank

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Auerbach may have given Heinsohn a laugh during a time when he needed one, but it also set him up for payback. When Auerbach asked him if he smoked the cigar, Heinsohn made him sweat it out.

“I wasn’t going to let him know what happened,” Heinsohn said. “I said, ‘No, you know that I don’t smoke cigars, and I had to go speak at a thing last night, and I gave it to the monsignor.’ Red said, ‘You gave it to the monsignor?’  And I said, ‘Yes, I did.’  Well, he looked at me dumbfounded, but he didn’t say anything.”

Heinsohn then paid him back in the form of his own prank and didn’t care who witnessed it. He started by giving Auerbach a cigarette every so often.

“I’d say something like, ‘Red, I was just at this thing, and they gave me a couple of cigars. Here, you have them,’ Heinsohn said. “And I’d buy the cigars. I’d feed him the cigars like that, every couple of weeks.  The first few, he kept looking at them to see if they were loaded. He’d inspect either end. 

“Finally, I’d given him so many cigars, that he stops looking to see if they’re loaded. Now we’re going into the playoffs. We had practice, and I give him this loaded cigar. All of the newspaper guys are standing around, waiting to hear his pearls of wisdom. He used to sit there, at the bench, and unwrap a cigar, light it up and talk to the press. 

“On this particular occasion, he didn’t have a match. I had a cigarette lighter, so I went over, and I lit it for him.  And he took two puffs, right in front of the press, and it exploded right in his face.  Let me tell you, he literally chased me out of that place — up the stairs, on the court, everywhere.”