Before the 1956 NBA draft, Boston Celtics Coach Red Auerbach had already set his sights on defensive rebounding center Bill Russell….when via a draft-day trade that sent Hall of Fame center Macauley and rookie Cliff Hagan to the rival St. Louis Hawks….and he acquired a center in Bill Russell….who would go on to become one of the greatest basketball players of all time…..who was a part of 11 NBA championships….plus, in the same draft, Auerbach picked up forward Tom Heinsohn and guard K.C. Jones….who were also two future Hall of Fame players.
Emphasizing team play rather than individual performances….and stressing that defense was more important than offense….Auerbach drilled his players to play tough defense and force opposing turnovers for easy fast-break points. Forward Tom Sanders recalled that the teams were also regularly among the best-conditioned and toughest squads.
Anchored by defensive stalwart Russell, the tough Celtics forced their opponents to take low-percentage shots from farther distances….as there was no three-point arc at the time…..while missed shots were typically grabbed by perennial rebounding champion Russell….who then either passed it on to elite fast-break distributor Cousy or made the outlet pass himself, providing their sprinting colleagues opportunities for an easy slam dunk or layup. Auerbach also emphasized the need for role players like Frank Ramsey and John Havlicek….who became two of the first legitimate sixth men in NBA history…..which is a role later played by Don Nelson.
Auerbach’s recipe proved devastating to the opposition…..cuz from 1957 to 1966….the Celtics won nine of ten NBA championships….which included eight championships in a row…..a record that still stands as the longest championship streak in North American sports….with six victories over the Los Angeles Lakers….with Hall of Fame players Elgin Baylor and Jerry West in the NBA Finals. The streak also denied perennial scoring and rebounding champion Wilt Chamberlain a title during Auerbach’s coaching reign.
What was also striking about his teams was that they never seemed to have a dominant scorer….which was an extension of Auerbach’s approach to teamwork…evidenced in the 1960–61 NBA season….when the Celtics had six players who scored between 15 and 21 points per game….but none made the Top 10 scoring list. In 1964, he sent out the first-ever NBA starting five consisting of an African-American quintet….including Russell, Willie Naulls, Tom Sanders, Sam Jones and K. C. Jones….as Auerbach would go a step further in the 1966–67 NBA season….when he stepped down after winning nine titles in 11 years….and made Bill Russell player-coach.
Auerbach also popularized smoking a victory cigar whenever he thought a game was already decided….which was a habit that became cult-like in popularity in the Boston area. Furthermore, having acquired a reputation as a fierce competitor, he often got into verbal altercations with officials…..wherein he received more fines and got ejected more often than any other coach in NBA history.
All in all, Auerbach directly coached nine world championship teams…..while mentoring Bill Russell, Bill Sharman, Tom Heinsohn and K.C. Jones….who would go on to win an additional 7 NBA championships as coaches….with two each for Russell, Heinsohn and Jones, all with the Celtics, and one for Sharman with the Lakers. Ten players who played for Auerbach have been inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame including Macauley, Ramsey, Cousy, Sharman, Heinsohn, Russell, K. C. Jones, Havlicek, Sam Jones and Bailey Howell. Although Don Nelson played for Auerbach only during his last year as coach, his influence was profound…..when Nelson would later join Auerbach as one of the 10 Greatest Coaches in NBA history. Sharman and Heinsohn would become two of only four people to be inducted into the Hall of Fame as both a player and a coach.
Few if any coaches can match Auerbach’s record of wins and successful mentorship of his players….which is why we are overjoyed to have the precious footage of the coaching legend and executive extraordinaire that was Red Auerbach in our treasure chest of vintage memories here at ImaSportsphile.