Sign up now to receive our regular news briefs.

NBA Finals a Time to Remember Legendary Jewish Coach Red Auerbach

June 18, 2013 7:58 am 0 comments

Legendary Jewish basketball coach Red Auerbach, a nine-time champion with the Boston Celtics, after being honored with the 2006 Lone Sailor Award by the United States Navy. The NBA Finals broadcasts on ABC are preceded by a film-clip montage that includes Auerbach. Photo: U.S. Navy.

JNS.org – At the start of each nationally televised game of the 2013 NBA Finals between the San Antonio Spurs and the Miami Heat, ABChas 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 Celtics.

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 JNS.org. “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 told JNS.org.

Vyorst—whose interview of Auerbach for “The First Basket” was the first time Auerbach spoke on the record about his Jewish background—explained how Auerbach was a brilliant psychologist behind the bench and knew how to get under the skin of his opponents.

“The phrase ‘working the refs’ comes from Red,” Vyorst said. “He was famous for arguing with the referees. This wasn’t accidental, it was calculated.”

Narrated by Peter Riegert, “The First Basket” begins with the statement, “Basketball. Before going global it rebounded off of a few Jewish neighborhoods. Who knew?” Ozzie Shectman, the Jewish basketball player who made the first field goal in what evolved into the NBA, inspired the title of the film.

“The film is about the cultural history of Jewish basketball players, not only of how they contributed to the evolution of the NBA, but how basketball is an essential part of American Jewish history,” Vyorst said.

Auerbach paved the way for other Jews to become successful in basketball, including the current owner of the 2013 NBA Finals-participant Heat, Micky Arison. Born in Israel but brought to America by his father, the late Ted Arison, in the early 1950s, Micky attended the University of Miami. He went on to join his father in his multifaceted Carnival Corporation, eventually taking the role of CEO and helping to build the company into the world’s largest cruise operator. In 1995 he acquired the Heat. Arison’s wealth is calculated to be in the region of $6 billion, placing him among the 200 wealthiest people in the world.

Auerbach’s road to glory was a bit different than Arison’s. Auerbach grew up in a Jewish community in Brooklyn where basketball was extremely popular, and being a competitive person, he excelled at the sport, Vyorst said.

“Red grew up amidst the culture where basketball was the biggest thing socially and culturally,” Vyorst said. “One of the main places basketball spread was in New York. It was one of the most prominent institutions in Jewish communities and it’s never been given due credit for the way it shaped Jewish culture. Basketball took off like wildfire among the first generation of Jewish kids. Now it’s everywhere. They wanted to play an American sport, basketball, to assimilate.”

Auerbach is “the greatest coach ever in any sport,” and his influence on the game of basketball is still felt today, socially and strategically, Vyorst said.

In a clip near the end of Vyorst’s film, sitting in his office full of trophies and awards, Auerbach says there is no secret to winning.

“Be prepared and work hard,” Auerbach says. “Play hard and play harder than the other guy and you’ll win.”

That sentiment encapsulates Auerbach’s legacy, Vyorst said.

“He’s the greatest coach ever in any sport,” Vyorst told JNS.org. “The main thing I got from Red, and I like to think this is a Jewish value, was his secret to winning, which was his work ethic. Practice harder and be smarter than the other guys.”

Leave a Reply

Please note: comments may be published in the Algemeiner print edition.


Current day month ye@r *

More...

  • Blogs Book Reviews Can ‘Islamic Reformation’ Work? (REVIEW)

    Can ‘Islamic Reformation’ Work? (REVIEW)

    It is cocktail hour on an April afternoon in 2004. The sun is hot on Amsterdam’s canals, and I am sitting at Café den Leeuw on the Herengracht with Ayaan Hirsi Ali. Hirsi Ali is still a member of the Dutch Parliament, and we talk about Islam. Specifically, we talk about the concept of “moderate Islam,” or what she calls “liberal Islam.” And she has one word for it. “It’s absurd,” she says. “It’s complete nonsense. There is no ‘liberal […]

    Read more →
  • Food Jewish Identity A Look at the Vilna Vegetarian Cookbook (REVIEW)

    A Look at the Vilna Vegetarian Cookbook (REVIEW)

    Everybody knows that cooking varies from country to country. There are Italian restaurants, Chinese restaurants, etc. We associate different styles of cuisine with different languages. Do we also think of the association of different cuisines with different dialects? We should, because cooking also varies from region to region. Litvaks and Galitsyaners have their own traditions of preparing gefilte fish. Marvin I. Herzog, in his book The Yiddish Language in Northern Poland: Its Geography and History (Indiana University, Bloomington, and Mouton & Co., The […]

    Read more →
  • Relationships US & Canada Analysis: Jewish Women Less Likely Than Catholics to Take Husband’s Name

    Analysis: Jewish Women Less Likely Than Catholics to Take Husband’s Name

    An analysis of New York Times wedding announcements showed that women married in Jewish ceremonies were less likely to take their husband’s last names than those married in Roman Catholic ceremonies, the Times reported on Saturday. The largest gap between the two groups was in 1995 when 66 percent of Catholic women took their husband’s names and 33 percent of Jewish women did the same. Nearly half of the women featured in the publication’s wedding pages since 1985 took their husband’s name after marriage, while about […]

    Read more →
  • Arts and Culture Blogs Jerry Lewis, Legendary Jewish Comic and Humanitarian, Stays Relevant at 89

    Jerry Lewis, Legendary Jewish Comic and Humanitarian, Stays Relevant at 89

    JNS.org – Through appreciation of both his comedy and humanitarian work, legendary Jewish entertainer Jerry Lewis is staying relevant at age 89. The only comic to ever be nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize, Lewis added another award to his trophy case in April, when he received the 2015 Distinguished Service Award from the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB). Gordon Smith, NAB’s president and CEO, said the organization was “honored to recognize not only [Lewis’s] comedic innovation, but also his remarkable […]

    Read more →
  • Europe Sports Israeli Gymnasts Win Bronze, Silver Medals at 2015 European Games in Baku

    Israeli Gymnasts Win Bronze, Silver Medals at 2015 European Games in Baku

    Israeli athletes marked a successful day on Sunday, as gymnasts won multiple bronze and silver medals in the 2015 European Games in Baku. The Gymnastics team won two silver medals and one bronze in group events, while Neta Rivkin, an Israeli Olympic gymnast, won bronze for the Solo Hoops event. Sunday’s gymnastics wins follow Sergey Richter’s bronze on June 16 for the Men’s 10 meter air-rifle, and Ilana Kratysh’s silver for women’s freestyle wrestling. The 2015 European Games in Baku are […]

    Read more →
  • Theater Report Highlights Success of Russian-Jewish-American Ballroom Dancers

    Report Highlights Success of Russian-Jewish-American Ballroom Dancers

    Russian-American Jews are some of the most successful ballroom dancing competitors in the U.S., South Dakota Public Broadcasting (SDPB) Radio reported on Thursday. Jonathan Sarna, a professor of Jewish history at Brandeis University, said their success can be traced back to Jewish discrimination in the former Soviet Union. Because of the prejudice they faced, Russian Jews had to perform better than their peers in every field, including dancing, in order to have a chance of getting ahead. “They knew that if they […]

    Read more →
  • Arts and Culture US & Canada Israeli Dancer With Shofar, Prayer Shawl Wows ‘So You Think You Can Dance’ Judges (VIDEO)

    Israeli Dancer With Shofar, Prayer Shawl Wows ‘So You Think You Can Dance’ Judges (VIDEO)

    An Israeli dancer made use of Jewish props in an extraordinary routine that left judges amazed when he auditioned for season 12 of TV dance competition So You Think You Can Dance on Monday. At first, the panel of judges appeared confused when Asaf Goren, 23, began his audition in Los Angeles with a tallit (prayer shawl) over his head and the blowing of a shofar, which he explained “opens the sky” for people’s prayers. However, as soon as he started his “Hebrew breaking” performance, […]

    Read more →
  • Sports US & Canada Jewish Hoops Fairytale Falls Short as David Blatt’s Cavaliers Drop Game 6

    Jewish Hoops Fairytale Falls Short as David Blatt’s Cavaliers Drop Game 6

    JNS.org – A fairytale ending to Jewish basketball coach David Blatt’s first season in the National Basketball Association (NBA) was not meant to be, as the Blatt-led Cleveland Cavaliers on Tuesday night dropped Game 6 of the NBA Finals to the Golden State Warriors, 105-97, to lose the best-of-seven series 4-2. Blatt, who just last year coached Israel’s Maccabi Tel Aviv franchise to a European basketball championship, failed to finish a second straight hoops season on top. But after the Cavaliers began the NBA […]

    Read more →