Red Auerbach goes down as one of the greatest NBA coaches of all time. He guided the Boston Celtics to nine championships, including eight straight from 1959-66. Auerbach later became one of the best executives in the league with the Celtics.
He was also a very competitive coach and GM. Sometimes the fiery Auerbach got himself into trouble, but he was never afraid of a confrontation, even if it turned physical.
Red Auerbach punched St. Louis Hawks owner Ben Kerner during the 1957 NBA Finals
It was Game 3 of the 1957 NBA Finals, and Auerbach’s Celtics headed into the game tied 1-1 with the St. Louis Hawks in the series. The game was being held in St. Louis, and Auerbach took issue with Hawks owner Ben Kerner a few minutes before the game.
According to The New York Times, the Celtics coach had a problem with the basketball hoops. He asked for them to be measured as his players believed they were set too high. As the measuring was taking place, Auerbach and Kerner got into a heated exchange.
“I just called him a bush-leaguer, and what else is he?” Kerner said. “That’s a real bush stunt.”
During the argument, Auerbach landed a punch on Kerner that eventually cost him $300. Maurice Podoloff, president of the NBA, fined Auerbach for “unbecoming conduct.”
Podoloff was in attendance and announced the fine after receiving a report from the game officials. The Hawks won the game 100-98 to take a 2-1 series lead. Boston eventually won the championship in seven games.
Red Auerbach stepped on the court as GM and challenged Moses Malone during preseason brawl
In an October 1983 preseason game at the Boston Garden, the Celtics and their rival Philadelphia 76ers played as if the NBA title was on the line. It only took four minutes of game time before all hell broke loose.
Referees tossed Larry Bird and Gerald Henderson of the Celtics. Marc Iavoroni of the Sixers was also ejected. Henderson was thrown out after throwing a punch at Sixers guard Sedale Threatt during the melee, while Bird and Iavaroni were ejected for fighting.
Bird refused to comment after the game, according to United Press International. Iavaroni said things escalated between the two over a pushing incident.
Auerbach, Boston’s GM at the time, somehow found his way into the mess. The 65-year-old stormed the court and found himself taunting Moses Malone, the Sixers’ 6-foot-10 center.
“Hit me, you big SOB,” Auerbach said to Malone. “Go ahead. I’m not big. Hit me you SOB.”
After the incident, Auerbach tried to explain what happened.
“First, they knock (Cedric) Maxwell down, and then that other guy (Iavaroni) is doing a job on Bird and all that kind of stuff is going on,” he said. “I couldn’t help it. I just got mad.”
Sixers owner Harold Katz blamed Auerbach and the Celtics for all the ugliness
Harold Katz, then the owner of the Sixers, couldn’t believe he saw Auerbach run onto the court during the fight.
“I’ve never seen it done before,” Katz said, according to UPI. “I mean, the man was sitting in the stands, and he ran onto the court.
“Those incidents were uncalled for. You can’t touch the Celtics players in Boston Garden. Apparently, that’s the new rule.”
Maxwell, a forward with the Celtics, said he wasn’t surprised to see the two intense teams going at each other, even before the regular season started.
“I thought it might be the first game in NBA history to be called because of violence,” said Maxwell. “With our two teams, it’s possible for anything to happen once we step onto the floor.
“I wouldn’t be surprised if something happens in warmups one day.”