WASHINGTON (AP) - Red Auerbach, the Hall of Fame coach who led the Boston Celtics to nine NBA championships in the 1950s and 1960s, died Saturday. He was 89.
Auerbach won 938 games with the Celtics and was the winningest coach in NBA history until Lenny Wilkens overtook him in the 1994-95 season. As general manager, the straight-talking Auerbach, who celebrated victories with a postgame cigar, was also the architect of Celtics teams that won seven more titles in the 1970s and 1980s.
He died of a heart attack near his home in Washington, according to an NBA official, who didn't want to be identified. His last public appearance was on Wednesday, when he received the U.S. Navy's Lone Sailor Award in front of family and friends in ceremonies in Washington.
"Red was a guy who always introduced new things," Steve Pagliuca, a Celtics managing partner, told The Associated Press in an interview this month. "He had some of the first black players in the league and some people didn't like that, but you've got to do what's right for the fans. So I think we tried to do things thoughtfully. We didn't come in here and change everything overnight."
Auerbach's death was announced by the Celtics, for whom he still served as team president. The team said the upcoming season would be dedicated in his honor.
"I never thought he'd die," said author John Feinstein, who last year collaborated on a book with Auerbach on the coach's reflections of more than 70 years in basketball. "He was a unique personality, a combination of toughness and great, great caring about people. He cared about people much more than it showed in his public face, and that's why people cared about him."
Born Arnold Auerbach in Brooklyn, N.Y. on Sept. 20, 1917, Auerbach was inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame in 1968.
With the Celtics, he made deals that brought Bill Russell, Robert Parish and Kevin McHale to Boston. He drafted Larry Bird a year early when the Indiana State star was a junior to make sure Bird would come to Boston. The jersey No. 2 was retired in Auerbach's honor during the 1984-85 season.
He coached championship teams that featured players such as Russell, Bob Cousy, Tom Heinsohn, Bill Sharman, K.C. Jones and Sam Jones, all inducted into the Hall of Fame.
After stepping down as general manager in 1984, Auerbach served as president of the Celtics and occasionally attended team practices into the mid-1990s, although his role in the draft and personnel decisions had diminished.
When Rick Pitino became coach in 1997, he also took the president's title and Auerbach became vice chairman of the board. After Pitino resigned on Jan. 8, 2001, Auerbach regained the title of president and remained vice chairman.
The team was sold on Dec. 31, 2002, to a group headed by Wyc Grousbeck and Auerbach stayed on as president.
Through all those titles, Auerbach didn't lose his direct manner of speaking, such as when he discussed the parquet floor of the Boston Garden shortly before the Celtics' longtime home closed in September 1995.
"The whole thing was a myth," Auerbach said. "People thought not only that there were dead spots, but that we knew where every one was and we could play accordingly.
"Now, did you ever watch a ballplayer go up and down the court at that speed and pick out a dead spot?" he asked. "If our players worried about that, thinking that's going to help them win, they're out of their cotton-picking mind. But if the other team thought that: Hey, good for us."