An era without the cigar
The cigar went out for good Saturday. You can be sure there won't be another one.
There will never be another Red Auerbach. Even if he hadn't died Saturday at age 89, even if they somehow could have restored his bad heart and made him 29 again, it would have been hard for even Auerbach to be Auerbach.
But it sure would have been fun watching him try.
The world changed, but Auerbach didn't. He remained the crusty, opinionated, chauvinistic cigar-smoker until the end.
Oh, yeah, Auerbach also knew basketball better than most general managers one-third his age. If there is a heaven, you can imagine the first thing he did was work a trade that duped St. Peter into giving up a prime angel or two.
You don't have to be a hip-hopper to wonder if Auerbach could do now what he did then. The easy answer is no. Nobody ever again will oversee a team that won 11 titles in 13 years.
It was in the 1950s and '60s, but that doesn't mean everybody else wasn't trying just as hard. Auerbach was the product of a completely different time, and he took advantage of it better than anyone.
Imagine trading the Ice Capades for a No. 1 pick. That's how the Celtics got Bill Russell.
Auerbach traded up for the No. 2 pick in the 1956 draft, but Rochester had the No. 1 spot. So he had Celtics owner Walter Brown, the chairman of Ice Capades, offer to send the show to Rochester for a week if it would pass on Russell.
The NBA got a little wiser over the years, but Auerbach still landed players such as Robert Parish, Kevin McHale and Larry Bird with crafty deals.
Something about Auerbach made his players believe things would work out. Or it made opposing players feel jinxed. Boston Garden was either haunted, or the parquet floor had dead spots that only killed visiting teams.
Auerbach had a way of getting inside people's heads. The reason he started lighting cigars was because he didn't like coaches who put on a show.
"I used to hate these college coaches or any coach that was 25 points ahead with three minutes left to go, and they're up yellin' and coachin' because they're on TV," he said. "To me, the game is over. The day's work is done."
So he did what a lot of hard-working men did in the '50s. He fired up a stogie. Cincinnati once gave out 5,000 cigars to fans to light up if the Royals beat Boston.
"If you lose this one, I'll kill you," Auerbach told his team.
The Celtics didn't lose.
These days the NBA gets freaked out over dress-code violations. Imagine if Gregg Popovich fired up a victory cigar on the bench after every win.
Of course, Auerbach's players were making about $8,000 a year at the start and wearing black high-tops because they didn't show dirt.
Auerbach eventually retired after constructing teams that won seven titles into the late 1980s. He held mainly ceremonial posts, but some things he wouldn't budge on.
It was no coincidence that Boston was the lone NBA team without scantily clad women as sideline entertainment. To Auerbach, it was the game.
He once said he'd drop dead if the Celtics got cheerleaders. They finally did a couple of years ago, and old Red survived.
This season, Boston is coming out with a dance squad. They also announced Saturday that they would play this season in honor of Auerbach.
If they really want to make him smile, they'll make the cheerleaders smoke cigars.
Source: Albany Times Union