Red Auerbach is partially responsible for each of the 16 NBA championship banners hanging above the Boston Celtics' famous parquet floor.
And now there's one because of him alone.
The Celtics raised a golden silhouette of their cigar-smoking patriarch to the rafters on Wednesday night to celebrate his 50th year with the franchise he made the pride of the league.
Bill Russell, his greatest player, ushered the former coach and general manager across the floor. Tommy Heinsohn, who like Russell both played for and coached Celtics champions, introduced the 82-year-old man who came to Boston as a "spirited young coach" and stayed for half a century.
And is still as feisty as ever.
"What's all the fuss about? Like they're putting me out to pasture," Auerbach said at halftime of Boston's 112-101 victory over the Washington Wizards. "... This is no swan song. I'm not going anywhere."
A scoreboard video showed highlights of the Auerbach years an era that covers almost the entire history of the team. There was Red lighting one of his frequent victory cigars, Red being carried off the court, Red being drenched with champagne, Red holding the championship trophy, and Red meeting President Kennedy.
Then there was the banner-raising a quite familiar scene at past home openers.
"I never felt this way when I was on the bench," Auerbach said. "I feel honored."
But he also credited his success to the players he acquired: Russell, Heinsohn and Bob Cousy; Dave Cowens, John Havlicek and Jo Jo White, and later Larry Bird, Robert Parish and Kevin McHale brought titles to Boston in three separate eras.
"All these guys came in, and they personified Celtics pride," Auerbach said.
But he was the only constant.
"It's hard to believe that Red has been around the Celtics for 50 years," Mavericks coach and former Celtic Don Nelson said in Dallas. "He deserves every honor and award he has received during his career. It's been one of the highlights of my career to have been associated with him."
Nelson is one of six former Celtics coaching in the NBA this season. And that's not counting McHale, who is the general manager of the Minnesota Timberwolves.
Ask them, and they'll tell you what it means to be a Celtic.
"A lot of skeptical players over the years have embraced our mystique. They believed in it. And if they didn't when they came, they did when they left," Auerbach said in an afternoon news conference. "There's so many guys out there that when they left, they still bleed green."
The Celtics have already retired the No. 2 for Auerbach No. 1 was for Walter Bown, the team's founder and there is a statue of him and his everpresent cigar greeting tourists at Faneuil Hall. When they auctioned off the remnants of the Boston Garden in 1996, someone paid $500 for one of his half-smoked stogies.
At an afternoon news conference, Russell praised Auerbach for listening to his players and said that he remembers being called for goaltending for the first time. Auerbach drew a technical arguing with the referee.
"From that day on, it was a lifelong friendship with you and the Celtics," Russell said. "I don't think I would have been as successful without him. And I know he wouldn't have been as successful."
But Russell and Auerbach were more than friends. They were simply the most successful coach-player tandem in basketball history, winning eight consecutive championships from 1959-67.
Auerbach turned the coaching over to Russell in 1967 and moved into the front office. Boston won two more titles with Russell as coach, and five more since then as Auerbach twice rebuilt the Celtics into champions.
Auerbach still stops by practices or games when he can and talks to the players about what it means or should mean to wear a Celtics uniform. He's content to have a diminished role now.
"At this age, you worry about getting up in the morning more than you worry about coaching," he said. "I don't even buy green bananas anymore."
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