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NBA Finals a time to remember legendary Jewish coach Red Auerbach

By Robert Gluck/ –

At the start of each nationally televised
game of the 2013 NBA Finals between the San Antonio Spurs and the Miami Heat, ABC has aired a film-clip montage of
basketball’s great players and coaches—a montage that includes Jewish coach Arnold
“Red” Auerbach, the mastermind behind nine championship teams for the Boston

Red was one of four children of Marie and
Hyman Auerbach. Hyman was a Russian-Jewish immigrant who left Belarus when he
was 13. The couple owned a deli and later went into the dry-cleaning business. Red
spent his whole childhood in the Williamsburg section of Brooklyn, mostly
playing basketball.

If the Spurs win the title—they can clinch
the series in either Game 6 on Tuesday or in Game 7 on Thursday if Miami wins
Game 6—their coach, Gregg Popovich, will join Auerbach, Phil Jackson, and John
Kundla as the only coaches in NBA history to win five championships with the
same team.

Auerbach died in 2006 at age 89. What made
him so great? Some say his toughness and his background.

“Growing up in Brooklyn, Red always put a
high value on toughness,” David Vyorst, executive producer of the 2008 Jewish
basketball documentary “The First Basket,” for which Auerbach was interviewed,
told “He always stood up for
himself. His daughter got into a fight in school one day and she came home and
told Red. He was ecstatic, smiling ear to ear.”

After his playing days were over, Auerbach
coached and worked in the Celtics’ front office, and always carefully crafted a
competitive team. After he acquired Bill Russell, the Celtics became the most
dominant franchise in pro basketball history. From 1950-1966, Auerbach coached
the Celtics to nine titles, including eight in succession from 1959-1966. His career
record was 938-479 (.662 winning percentage) in the regular season play and 99-69
(.589) in the postseason.

Remembered as a pioneer of modern basketball,
Auerbach redefined the sport as a game dominated by team play and defense. The
Spurs, already winners of four titles in the Popovich era, are a team whose
success has rested on these two values. The defending-champion Heat, meanwhile,
with their quick and athletic roster headlined by four-time NBA Most Valuable
Player Lebron James, are among the league’s best teams at executing the fast
break—an offensive strategy Auerbach introduced to the game.

Auerbach was also vital in breaking down
color barriers in the NBA. He made history in 1950 by drafting Chuck Cooper,
the first black NBA player, introduced the first all-black starting five in
1964, and in 1966 made Russell the first black NBA coach.

Vyorst said Auerbach had a color-blind
attitude about building his teams—an attitude through which his signature
toughness was also apparent.

“Red’s attitude was, this guy was the better
player, I’m drafting him. You want to start a fight about it? I’m right here,” Vyorst

Vyorst—whose interview of Auerbach for “The
First Basket” was the first time Auerbach spoke on …read more

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Posted by on June 17, 2013. Filed under Jewish News. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. Both comments and pings are currently closed.