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...

  • Arts and Culture Blogs 10 New Hollywood Movies That Aim to Show Support for Israel (SATIRE)

    10 New Hollywood Movies That Aim to Show Support for Israel (SATIRE)

    Ten major film studios are currently in production on projects that promote a decidedly pro-Israeli narrative. In famously liberal Hollywood, such a development has left mouths agape and set tongues a wagging. Since the Jewish State began defending itself from the thousands of rockets that Hamas has hurled at it – as well as ongoing terror attacks and murders, the overwhelming number of Tinseltown’s producers, directors, actors, and studio moguls have remained indifferent to the plight of millions of Israeli [...]

    Read more →
  • Featured Israel Sports So Close: Israeli Judoka Loses Crown in World Cup Final, Finishes With Silver (VIDEO)

    So Close: Israeli Judoka Loses Crown in World Cup Final, Finishes With Silver (VIDEO)

    Israeli Judoka Yarden Gerbi (63kg), 25, of Netanya, on Thursday lost the final round at the Judo World Cup, and her world title to Clarisse Agbegnenou of France, at a match held in Russia. “I have mixed feelings,” Gerbi told Israeli Army radio. But, “I shouldn’t assume that I’d win the world Judo championship twice in a row,” she admitted. Gerbi won gold in Rio De Janeiro last year. “When I made my decision, I knew it was going to [...]

    Read more →
  • Book Reviews Jewish Identity Surviving the Holocaust by Hiding Their Faith (REVIEW)

    Surviving the Holocaust by Hiding Their Faith (REVIEW)

    “Jews Out!” was just the name of a child’s game that three little girls played in World War II Europe. But all is not as it seems because the three girls were Jewish, but hiding their true identities. In award-winning author R. D. Rosen’s riveting non-fiction work, Such Good Girls, “Jews Out!” wasn’t a game; it was a struggle for survival. The girls, Sophie, Flora, and Carla, grew up at a time and a place that did not allow them [...]

    Read more →
  • Music Personalities Twenty Years On, the Real and Radical Legacy of Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach

    Twenty Years On, the Real and Radical Legacy of Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach

    JNS.org – “He was part hippie, part yippie, part beatnik, and part New Age,” wrote Elli Wohlgelernter in a Jerusalem Post eulogy in 1994, following the Oct. 20 passing of Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach. Twenty years later, more robust accounts of Carlebach’s life have come to the surface. Earlier this year, Natan Ophir published the book Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach: Life, Mission & Legacy. This past summer, Rabbi Shlomo Katz’s The Soul of Jerusalem hit the shelves. But even the authors will admit [...]

    Read more →
  • Blogs Music Beatlemania Invades the Gaza Strip (SATIRE)

    Beatlemania Invades the Gaza Strip (SATIRE)

    As Hamas loses its grip on power in the Gaza Strip as a result of war, poverty and disillusionment, the Islamist terrorist group has developed an ingenious way to raise the morale of the 1.7 million Palestinian Arabs it was elected to serve. While currently focused on delivering a rocket into every Israeli home, Hamas has not left its own people behind. To gently wipe away the tears of children strategically placed inside kindergartens as human shields, the Hamas Interior Ministry [...]

    Read more →
  • Arts and Culture Spirituality/Tradition Removing Jesus’ Jewish Identity From Artwork

    Removing Jesus’ Jewish Identity From Artwork

    In a strong statement that challenges the historic divide between Christianity and Judaism, Pope Francis recently proclaimed, “Inside every Christian is a Jew.” But if you look at Renaissance artworks that depict Jesus, you will not find any evidence of a Jew inside the Christianized Jesus — even though the Gospels in the New Testament tell us that Jesus was Jewish to the core. Getting that point across to the public is a daunting task, as I learned in interviews I [...]

    Read more →
  • Music Personalities Recycling His Roots

    Recycling His Roots

    JNS.org – Having started his career playing on his family’s pots and pans, Jewish musician Billy Jonas has maintained this homemade performance ethic while spreading his messages of simple living and environmentalism to a shared home throughout the world. After beginning in the kitchen, Jonas soon moved to the music room, where he picked up the piano, guitar, and trombone. These days, the multi-talented multi-instrumentalist plays on with pretty much anything he can find, including cans, bottles buckets, and other recycled-object [...]

    Read more →
  • Book Reviews Personalities Jewish Renewal Movement Founder’s Insights Form a New Guide for Senior Living

    Jewish Renewal Movement Founder’s Insights Form a New Guide for Senior Living

    JNS.org – Sara Davidson’s The December Project is a new book that should be read by all senior citizens, and by those who hope to live a long life, for it raises a question that most of us have not been taught how to answer: What should we do in that final stage of our lives? Many of us continue working past the traditional retirement age of 65, not because we need the money and not because we find the [...]

    Read more →



Sign up now to receive our regular news briefs.