Sunday, October 29, 2006

Shouler on Auerbach

Ken Shouler has a great piece on about the legacy of Red Auerbach entitled "The Consumate Coach." While our first thoughts of the late Celtics great are about all his records, Shouler reminds us of the coaching style that made all of those wins possible.

Time and again you hear Celtics describing Red as "a player's coach." To the world outside his own huddles and locker room he was ornery and miserable, a boisterous dynamo who peered at you through cigar smoke after his troops had impaled yours.

But not with his own players. He supported them. He had their backs. They knew it, so they did everything to please him. He emphasized people far more than X's and O's.

"Red Auerbach convinced his players that he loved them," said Earl Lloyd, the NBA's first African-American player. "So all they wanted to do was please him."

It was the best way of getting the maximum from his squad. He did it to squeeze even the slightest of advantages from situations. Sure, he could be the consummate actor on the sidelines --waving his arms, stomping his feet, tearing at his hair. He received more fines and was thrown out of more games than any other NBA coach. He was even tossed out while coaching the All-Star Game in San Francisco's Cow Palace in 1967, Rick Barry
recalled with a laugh.

What does Lloyd remember most about Auerbach's teams?

"That they won more than anybody else," he laughs. "That about sums it up."

Ken is one of my favorite basketball writers -- heck, one of my favorite writers, period. I had the pleasure of working with him on "Total Basketball: The Ultimate Basketball Encyclopedia" about five years ago. We also worked together on a boxing encyclopedia with the late Phil Berger and the inimitable Bert Randolph Sugar. What I like about Shouler's writing is that he understands that good sports stories aren't about numbers or big plays; they are about complex characters and their strength of will.