A legend left us Saturday night.
No, legend is too small a word for what Red Auerbach was. Not only for the Boston Celtics, but for the NBA as a whole.
But as I sit here and reflect, all I can think is, what would the NBA be without Red? Or the game of basketball?
Itís hard to imagine.
With todayís NBA full of international players, many people point to the Dream Team of 1992 as bringing big-time basketball outside the US borders.
But in reality, Red was the original ambassador of the game for the world. When the NBA was barely making a dent in the US market, scraping the bottom of the barrel in the consciousness of American sports, Red was not only doing everything and anything to increase the sportís popularity stateside (his duties as Celts GM would encompass about 85 different jobs today), but he was also regularly taking players overseas to introduce the game to countries that had never even known the game.
There are no shortage of books written about Red that recount such trips, and they are a true testament to the manís commitment not only to the Celtics, but to the game of basketball. I sit here late on a Saturday night/Sunday morning watching old footage of Red breaking down the intricacies of the game, with the NBA stars of yore, on NBATV. The insights that Red provided are not anything youíd ever get from a postgame analysis of the NBA Finals, or even one of those seven-disc DVD sets they sell on TV. Redís lessons are infinitely more informative, valuable and entertaining. Red knew basketball inside and out, and made the complexities simple for everyone to understand. He was the ultimate teacher.
As for the Celtics Ö well, Red was the Celtics. Red is the Celtics. No other team in any other sport in the history of American sports is so universally identified with one man as the Celtics are with Red Auerbach. He was the ultimate Boston legend. I never saw him coach, and I was much too young to remember much of him as a GM. But I always knew who Red Auerbach was growing up as a Celtics fan. He was bigger than life.
The only two things I remember about my trips to Boston as a little kid were Fenway Park and the statue of Red in Faneuil Hall. That was it.
You saw Fenway. You saw Red. That was Boston.
And maybe thatís the reason I feel such a loss, even though I knew it was coming eventually. On those rare occasions in the past few years when you were in the Garden for a Celtics game, and Red Auerbach showed up and slowly made his way to his seat, it was like being in the presence of royalty. I couldnít believe we were sitting together in the same building. A god among men.
The father of the Celtics.
He was the best coach of all time, and the best GM as well. A true genius that built one of the greatest franchises in US sports history out of absolutely nothing.
What he did was unbelievable.
Iím going to be at the Celticsí opening game on Nov. 1 against the Hornets, sitting high up in the cheap seats, and all of a sudden winning the game seems like the last thing that will be on my mind. I will look up at the banners painting the ceiling green and white, and I will reflect on how one man had a bigger role than anyone else in raising them to the rafters. I will be thankful for each and every thing Red did for this franchise, and for the game.
And even though I donít smoke them, I will have a cigar in my pocket. Iím sure many others will as well.