Monday, October 30, 2006

R.I.P. Red Auerbach
(Or, An All-Time "What If?")

It's been 36 hours of memories and meaning as analysts, experts, fans and others discuss the life and impact of the late Red Auerbach.

I have a different angle:

If things had gone a little differently more than seven decades ago, perhaps I would be the scion of the Celtics. Let me tell you a story...

My grandmother grew up in the old Brooklyn neighborhood with Auerbach. He was 89 and she is now 88, so they were contemporaries.

Anyway, one time my gram and I were hanging out, and Auerbach's name came up. I must have read that he grew up in Brooklyn, because I asked her if she knew him. She said she knew him pretty well, that they had hung around in the same Williamsburg social circles, even though back then he was an athletic big-shot.

Then, she told me that not only did she know him, but he had pestered her for a date. (This was a few years ago; when I reminded her about that detail this morning, she kind of laughed it off and said he wasn't her type, "but a nice enough kid." I think I regret never tracking down Auerbach in my hometown of D.C., where he lived, to ask if he remembered her.)

Anyway, at the time she told me about this proffered date (or, perhaps, what I had projected to be a proffered date), my mind raced with the possibilities: What if?!

What if my grandma had married Red Auerbach and I had ended up being the scion of the Celtics basketball empire? Would I be in charge right now, getting ripped by local media and Bill Simmons?

Would I have been consulted on the hire of Rick Pitino? Or about draft strategies? Would I have been a part of the team's management -- some sort of DNA inheritance? Would I have picked them apart as an outsider? I can't imagine that I would have NOT had a huge career in basketball.

That's where this dovetails with the obitu-analysis of Auerbach's life and career: Correctly asserted, there will never be (or, more accurately, CAN never be) be another Auerbach.

An "heir to Auerbach's legacy?" Whether you're talking about the Celtics or the NBA as a whole, there simply can't be.

There will never be a sports-team owner who gives up the first pick in the draft (hello, Bill Russell!) in exchange for a week's worth of gate receipts from the Ice Capades. Or being the only one to see the draft loophole that netted the C's Larry Bird. Or the sociological moment of the impact of being the first basketball GM to draft a black player -- or the first coach to field an all-black starting five.

In the "post-Red" era of the NBA, coaches are at the whim of their personnel limitations; rare is the innovator like Mike D'Antoni. In the "post-Red" era, GMs are -- optimally -- technocrats who effectively balance budgets with statistically enabled scouting. Think of the new gold standard: Toronto's Bryan Colangelo, hardly an NBA celebrity.

The Celtics' dominance of the late 1950s and 19060s was intriguing far more for the brains behind the team than simply the team's skill or success. That's what made Auerbach so unique in basketball.

Anyway, back to my story: It ended all for the best that my gram was merely friendly with Auerbach and not, say, his spouse for a half-century.

As it turned out, my grandma married my grandfather, whose 40-year career as a newspaper reporter and editor and the New York Times was a -- and perhaps THE -- profound influence on my decision-making about having a career in journalism.

And so instead of running the Celtics, I'm writing about the Celtics. Instead of getting ripped by local media and Bill Simmons, I have gotten tweaked by bloggers (uh, and Bill Simmons).

But it remains one of the more intriguing (if far-far-fetched) sports-related "What If" hypotheticals of my life. R.I.P., Mr. Auerbach.

-- D.S.

Update: Here are a few links to Red-related content. I'm partial to the WashPost sports section (the one I grew up on), but that's not the only reason I'd point you to John Feinstein's take in today's paper. He also wrote a book with/about Auerbach and is quite his expert.

*John Feinstein's take
*Boston Globe's Blog
(lots of links)
*'s links


Awful Announcing- said...

Great Story. My mom dated William Shultz (Murdock from the A-Team) in college......What if?????

Anonymous said...

Now Mark Cuban is the leading "larger than life" non-player in the NBA. Need I say, "yuck?"

Christian Thoma said...

It's a shame Skip Bayless is no longer writing for Page 2, because I was looking forward to 600 words on why Red Auerbach was the worse coach in NBA History. Ah well.

Brian in Oxford said...

Anyone remember that cheesy "Light one up for Red" song they did about a decade ago? Was it when the Garden was demolished?

mark said...

Given all the general cheese that surrounded the death of the Garden, that wouldn't surprise me.

(That era coincided with my first year in Boston, while I still hadn't gotten used to the place and was still actually studying, so I can't say I was paying close attention.)

Mega said...

Skip Clueless? Yup, Worst. Sportswriter. Ever.

By the way, 86 Celtics versus 96 Bulls?

Bulls 110
Celtics 81

Book it!

EPorvaznik said...

RIP, Red, the name on the first pair of sneakers I remember owning, age 4. Ugly ass green on white stripes and a Celtics fan until Basketball Jesus (sorry, Simmons is 100% right on that call) left town to go back to Indy.

Shanoff has NY Times in the blood, too, eh? Explains so much.

Mega said...

father of logan-

But it would be one hell of a series wouldn't it?

If you look at roster breakdown between the 2 teams there are difference, but there are questions too.

Who would guard Bird (Pippen?)
Who would guard Jordan (McHale?)