When one thinks about the Boston Celtics, among the first images that should come to mind is Red Auerbach smoking his iconic victory cigar.
Arnold "Red" Auerbach led the Celtics to nine NBA championships as a head coach and seven more as an executive in a 29-year span. He spent 56 years with the organization before passing away in 2006 at the age of 89.
Auerbach's impact went beyond basketball and was felt throughout the NBA. He was instrumental in breaking down the color barriers in the league during the 1950s and '60s.
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With it being Auerbach's birthday week -- he was born Sept. 20, 1917 -- it's a perfect time to look back at the defining moments of his remarkable Celtics tenure. Learn more about Auerbach's legacy below, presented by VA New England.
On April 27, 1950, then-Celtics owner Walter Brown hired Auerbach as head coach in an effort to turn around the struggling franchise.
Although Auerbach's arrival revitalized the C's, they failed to find any playoff success for his first half-decade with the organization. Everything changed in 1956 after Auerbach completed what eventually became known as one of the greatest trades in NBA history. During the 1956 NBA Draft, Auerbach sent Ed Macauley and Cliff Hagan to St. Louis for their first-round pick and drafted a big man named Bill Russell.
With Auerbach as head coach, the Celtics went on to win nine NBA championships including eight in a row from 1959-66. Boston had a .667 regular-season winning percentage under Auerbach's regime. His 938 wins as head coach stood as an NBA record until Lenny Wilkens broke it 29 years later with the Atlanta Hawks in 1995.
Auerbach and the Celtics' eight-year streak of titles remains the longest championship streak in North American sports history.
As an executive
Auerbach ended his head coaching career on a high note, defeating the Los Angeles Lakers in the 1966 NBA Finals. After that season, he named Russell as Celtics player-coach to officially make him the first African-American head coach ever in the four major North American professional sports.
Auerbach and Russell led the C's to two more championships in 1968 and 1969. Following the 1969 title victory, Tom Heinsohn was named Boston's next head coach and won two championships in that role in 1974 and 1976.
Altogether, Auerbach was the architect of seven Celtics championships during his tenure as general manager/president and vice chairman. His most memorable stretch in Boston's front office came from 1979-86.
Auerbach selected Indiana State standout Larry Bird in the 1978 NBA Draft despite him still having a year of college eligibility remaining. A year later, Bird signed a $650,000-per-year deal to become the highest-paid Celtic as a rookie.
In 1980, Auerbach pulled off another one of the greatest trades in NBA history sending 1980 first overall pick Joe Barry Carroll and No. 13 pick Rickey Brown to the Golden State Warriors for the No. 3 pick and future Hall-of-Fame center Robert Parish. That No. 3 pick turned into another future Hall of Famer in Kevin McHale.
The trio of Bird-Parish-McHale led another golden era in Celtics history through the 1980s. Boston appeared in five NBA Finals (four straight) during the decade and won three of them (1981, 1984, 1986).
Breaking down barriers
Auerbach was responsible for breaking down the color barriers in the NBA. Immediately after taking the Celtics head coaching job in 1950, he drafted Chuck Cooper, who became the first Black player to be drafted by an NBA team.
In 1964, Auerbach started the NBA's first African-American starting five. He hired Bill Russell as the first Black head coach in North American sports in 1966.