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...

  • Jewish Identity Sports Cycling the Desert: New Israel Bike Trail Connects Mitzpe Ramon to Eilat

    Cycling the Desert: New Israel Bike Trail Connects Mitzpe Ramon to Eilat

    As the popularity of cycling continues to increase across the world, Israel is working to develop cycling trails that make the country’s spectacular desert accessible to cyclists. The southern segment of the Israel Bike Trail was inaugurated on Feb. 24 and offers for the first time a unique, uninterrupted 8-day cycling experience after six years of planning and development. The southern section of the Israel Bike Trail stretches over 300 kilometers in length and is divided into eight segments for mountain biking, [...]

    Read more →
  • Jewish Identity Theater Forthcoming Major Action Movies Inspired by Jewish Comic Artist Jack Kirby

    Forthcoming Major Action Movies Inspired by Jewish Comic Artist Jack Kirby

    JNS.org – With the recent Oscars in the rearview mirror, Hollywood’s attention now shifts to the rest of this year’s big-screen lineup. Two of the major action films coming up in 2015—Avengers: Age of Ultron, which hits theaters in May, and the third film in the Fantastic Four series, slated for an August release—have Jewish roots that the average moviegoer might be unaware of. As it turns out, it took a tough Jewish kid from New York City’s Lower East [...]

    Read more →
  • Book Reviews Jewish Identity When Torah Teaches Life and Life Teaches Torah (REVIEW)

    When Torah Teaches Life and Life Teaches Torah (REVIEW)

    JNS.org – Rabbi Gordon Tucker spent the first 20 years of his career teaching at the Conservative movement’s Jewish Theological Seminary (JTS) and the next 20 years as the rabbi of Temple Israel Center in White Plains, N.Y. I confess that when I heard about the order of those events, I thought that Tucker’s move from academia to the pulpit was strange. Firstly, I could not imagine anyone filling the place of my friend, Arnold Turetsky, who was such a talented [...]

    Read more →
  • Arts and Culture Blogs Oscars 2015: Reflecting on Love at First Sight

    Oscars 2015: Reflecting on Love at First Sight

    JNS.org – I’m in love, and have been for a long time. It’s a relationship filled with laughter, tears, intrigue, and surprise. It was love at first sight, back when I was a little girl—with an extra-terrestrial that longed to go home. From then on, that love has never wavered, and isn’t reserved for one, but for oh so many—Ferris Bueller, Annie Hall, Tootsie, Harry and Sally, Marty McFly, Atticus Finch, Danny Zuko, Yentl, that little dog Toto, Mrs. Doubtfire, [...]

    Read more →
  • Blogs Book Reviews Examining America’s First Foray into the Middle East (REVIEW)

    Examining America’s First Foray into the Middle East (REVIEW)

    At the turn of the 21st century through today, American involvement in Middle Eastern politics runs through the Central Intelligence Agency. In America’s Great Game: The CIA’s Secret Arabists and the Shaping of the Modern Middle East, historian Hugh Wilford shows this has always been the case. Wilford methodically traces the lives and work of the agency’s three most prominent officers in the Middle East: Kermit “Kim” Roosevelt was the grandson of president Theodore Roosevelt, and the first head of [...]

    Read more →
  • Relationships US & Canada Seniors at Los Angeles Jewish Home Give Witty Dating Advice Ahead of Valentine’s Day (VIDEO)

    Seniors at Los Angeles Jewish Home Give Witty Dating Advice Ahead of Valentine’s Day (VIDEO)

    Residents of the Los Angeles Jewish Home give dating advice to a young Jewish man in a comedic video posted Monday on YouTube just in time for Valentine’s Day. Jonathan, an associate at the Jewish home, quizzes the senior citizens on an array of topics including having sex on the first date, kissing a girl, who should pay for dinner and whether online dating is a good idea. When the 28-year-old asks a male resident named Lee about his experiences [...]

    Read more →
  • Arts and Culture Jewish History Kutsher’s Documentary an Amazing, and Tragic, Look at the Past (REVIEW)

    Kutsher’s Documentary an Amazing, and Tragic, Look at the Past (REVIEW)

    Anyone who spent time in the Jewish Catskills hotels – especially those like me, who returned for decades – must see the new documentary,”Welcome to Kutsher’s: The Last Catskills Resort.” Not only will the film transport you back to the glory days of your youth and thousands of memories, but it will also make you long for a world that is now lost forever. I returned to Kutsher’s one last time in the summer of 2009, but by then, the [...]

    Read more →
  • Education Jewish Identity Lifestyle Riding the Wave of Change in Part-Time Jewish Education

    Riding the Wave of Change in Part-Time Jewish Education

    JNS.org – Amid the numerous studies and analyses regarding Jewish American life, a simple fact remains: part-time Jewish education is the most popular vehicle for Jewish education in North America. Whenever and wherever parents choose Jewish education for their children, we have a communal responsibility to devote the necessary time and resources to deliver dynamic, effective learning experiences. The only way we can do this is by creating space for conversations and knowledge-sharing around innovative new education models. That also [...]

    Read more →



Sign up now to receive our regular news briefs.