The cigar was in a back pocket in Mike Lynch's black pants. He brought it with him from home because he was a referee on this afternoon of basketball nostalgia and figured it might be a good stage prop somehwere along the way.
A cigar? Red Auerbach? Perfect, huh? Mike Lynch waited and waited and, sure enough, the moment for the presentation naturally arrived.
He blew a whistle in the middle of this pleasant charity exhibition between two basketball teams of old-time Boston Celtics at Matthews Arena. Red Auerbach immediately stood a few feet from Mike Lynch's face.
"What kind of foul was that?" the venerable coach asked, no, demanded, yesterday afternoon.
"Foul," the part-time referee, full-time local sports broacaster from Channel 5 replied with a smile. "Foul on Scott. Havlicek shoots two. What can I say? John Havlicek was my idol when I was a kid."
A glower was the venerable coach's answer. Years peeled away in sci-fi hurry. Mike Lynch was Sid Borgia. Mike Lynch was Mendy Rudolph. Mike Lynch was Jack Madden and Jake O'Donnell and all the nefarious cads who have tried to cheat, bamboozle and flim-flam the Celtics from their expected place in the end-of-the-winter sun. Red Auerbach was . . . Red Auerbach.
He was the sometimes-petulant, always-canny stalker of the sidelines. He was the always-serious, never-give-up grumper. He was the angle-player, the shrewdest of the shrewdies. He was the same. In the middle of this weekend of wall-to-wall tributes, of official proclamations and black-tie dinners, he was at his best on the painted edge of this hardwood floor.
This was where he was the character who earned the honors.
"Have a cigar," Mike Lynch said, making his move.
"Shove it up your . . . " Red Auerbach suggested anatomically, leaving Lynch with the cigar. "Be serious, huh? Be serious."
Forget the passes that didn't bounce far enough, the bellies that bounced too much. Cut through the smiles and the horsing around, old friends seeing old friends, running in slow motion through a time warp for a little taste of how it was. Go to the heart of this matter. Feel the pulse.
The pulse belonged to Red.
"It was a tough situation for him," said Bob Cousy, one of the starting guards on the old coach's White team in this Green-vs.-White exhibition before a capacity crowd of 5000. "No one's taking the game that seriously, but at the same time everyone expects him to win. He didn't know what kind of hat to wear. Half the time he was layghing. Half the time he was grouching. When it got down to the end, though, he was pretty much wearing that same hat. Old hard-nosed Red."
The game was supposed to be an afternoon lark. The matchups were YMCA- style, older guys guarding older guys, younger guys against younger guys. The past performance charts meant nothing - a Cousy, a Pete Maravich, a Tom Heinsohn, even a Havlicek no match against a Kevin Stacom or Chris Ford who was younger and still involved with basketball daily on a coaching basis.
The legs and bodies of youth are everything in this sport. Talent seems to be vaporized at the end of a pell-mell career through the NBA. Sure Jo Jo White still could hit the jumper and Charlie Scott looked as if he could play five helter-skelter minutes for someone, but there was no flying here, no skying here, no rolling on the floor. This was supposed to be a good-time ramble, even Bill Russell laughing and clowning at the other coach's bench.
"My problem," Cousy said, "is that I worked out for a month at Assumption for this game. I got feeling pretty good. I tried to make a fancy move. I tried to tip the ball over K.C. Jones' head and catch it on the other side . . . "
"So what did the doctor say?" he was asked.
"Just a pulled hamstring," Cousy said.
The teams were divided evenly. The game was even. If there weren't the perfect moments off the grainy film that the old-time Celtics-watcher wanted - that impossible pass by Cousy, that high-beam stare from Dave Cowens as he pulled away another rebound, that on-the-move bank shot by Sam - there were some glimpses.
Heinsohn hit a long hook shot to open the game. Cowens hit one of those top-of-the-key jobs that drove Kareem crazy. Paul Silas, packing an extra suitcase of weight, slid under the basket and spun in a hook, picking up the traditional foul shot. Bailey Howell hit that strange jumper from the corner. Satch Sanders - "Where are the agents when I need them?" - even hit four straight one-handers to make you wonder why he never shot when he played.
And Red . . . was Red.
The game was close as it reached the end. Red had argued at the end of the third period to have a basket by Heinsohn disallowed. (Heinsohn had gone off the court during a foul shot, sneaked down an aisle and retured under the other basket to catch a court-long pass from Sanders for the score.) Red's team had taken a three-point lead into the fourth period. Red had kept the lead by keeping his younger bodies on the floor.
Three seconds were left, Red's team ahead, 92-90, with Pete Maravich on the foul line for two shots. Red called a timeout.
"Make the first shot," Red said. "Then miss the second, so time will run out."
"Miss the second?" Maravich said.
"Miss the second," Red said.
Maravich made the first. Maravich missed the second. Time ran out as the other team tried to move the ball up the floor and Red pulled the cellophane wrapper from a cigar. Red's team 93, other team 90.
The cigar was his own.