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Blowin' Smoke

At 75, Red Auerbach muses on the state of pro basketball, the Celtic mystique and why the Dream Team isn't his dream team

Posted: Saturday October 28, 2006 10:30PM; Updated: Saturday October 28, 2006 10:47PM
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Red Auerbach guided the Celtics to their first championship in 1957 and an unprecedented eight consecutive titles from 1959-66.
Red Auerbach guided the Celtics to their first championship in 1957 and an unprecedented eight consecutive titles from 1959-66.
Manny Millan/SI
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By Leigh Montville

Issue date: Nov. 16, 1992

The words are spoken into a familiar haze of cigar smoke. Times may change, but Arnold (Red) Auerbach does not. It is near the start of his 42nd season with the Boston Celtics, the first day of training camp, Oct. 9, at the Gosman Sports & Convocation Center at Brandeis University. He is supposed to be retired but still is listed as the president of the team and still is a day-to-day presence. About a week earlier his 75th birthday was celebrated at a downtown Boston hotel, where most of the players he had either coached or signed returned for a black-tie gala. He is a professional-basketball eminence, a civic treasure.

The civic treasure uses a plastic foam coffee cup for an ashtray. He is sitting in the trainer's room.

Sports Illustrated: Seventy-five. What do you think when you hear that number?

Red Auerbach: It's not a big deal. I don't think about it. I feel pretty good. I work out a couple times a week, sometimes three times. Racquetball. But I can't do the things I used to do. Instead of running or jogging, I walk. Even that bothers me sometimes.

SI: How many cigars do you smoke a day?

RA: I don't know, maybe eight or 10. But I don't smoke them all the way through all the time.

SI: Do the antismokers ever get after you?

RA: Sure. You can't smoke in restaurants, government buildings, a lot of places. You just keep your mouth shut. Once in a while you get mad because people get unreasonable. I can go someplace, the cigar will be not lit, and as soon as I take it out of the wrapper, some people say, "Boy, does that thing stink." You feel like saying, "I don't like the smell of the perfume or the toilet water you've got on, either," but you don't do that. You walk away. When they get obnoxious, though, you feel like belting them.

SI: After all these years, are you surprised by how successful the NBA has become?

RA: I'd say yes, but I kind of predicted that, if you had the proper management, the public would buy pro basketball. [Commissioner] David Stern's done a great job in marketing the product.

Basically, it all goes back to 46 years ago, when I took the job with the Washington Caps. I gave up the security of being a teacher and a coach at George Washington University to go with the new pro league. What crossed my mind in those days was that unless you had totally poor management, the success of the league would be predicated on the success of college basketball, which was very high in those days. More than any other college sport, including football, the basketball players were readily recognizable. I felt that by being on the cover of so many magazines and by playing without a helmet, without pads, and with the size and ability of these guys, college basketball players would arouse the curiosity of fans around the country concerning how well they would play at the next level.

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