Here is our third installment of stories from the book Red Auerbach On and Off the Court by Red Auerbach. Red had a hand in drafting both Larry Bird and Bill Russell. He has a chapter in the book in which he discusses both players in depth and then discusses who he would pick if he had just one pick to begin a team. Here is the last part of that chapter where he makes his pick and tells us why:
So draft day comes tomorrow and I've got the number one pick of all time. I can have my choice of any player who ever wore an NBA uniform. I can's pick three. I can't pick two. I can pick only one. So who do I pick: Russell or Bird? They're both my guys. The only way to go about it is coldly and logically. Let's say I take Bird. The next guy takes Russell, and after him it's Walton, Jabbar, Malone and Chamberlain. In that first round, all the top centers go, and then they start in with the greatest forwards and guards. Meanwhile, I'm left with no center, which means I've got a big problem, assuming I can't win in a league like that with Bird as my center. See, when I build a ballclub - again, realizing Bird's an exception - my number one priority is my center. My second priority is my guard, the one who's going to be handling the ball most of the time, like Cousy or an Isiah Thomas. Those are the guys you're going to win or lose with. Then come your forwards. So, let's say I have Russell as my center: Since everyone else is taking centers, there are still some great forwards around when I get my second pick, through none are quite the same as Bird. Now let's say I've got Bird as my forward, and I team him with an average center, say a Rich Kelley or a James Edwards. Would I be better off with the first combination? Or the second? That's what you've got to ask yourself: How am I going to round out my team? In other words, if I can pair a Russell with a Havlicek, am I going to be better off than I would be with a Bird and some other center? The answer's got to be yes. So when they call my name I've got to say: "Boston takes Bill Russell. And then I've got to start working on a trade.
Red also has a chapter on dealing with agents and how they approach negotiations for contracts for their clients. There have been several times recently where a player will fake an injury or tank it to try to get a new contract or to get traded. Vince Carter in Toronto comes to mind. Here is how Red would have dealt with that kind of player.
I know of a case where a player signed a long term contract, then went out that first year and had a hell of a season, so he asked management to renegotiate the deal. Well, the team didn't want to, but it felt forced to because he'd become an all star player. Next year, the same damn thing happened. He wanted to renegotiate again and the team capitulated again. Then he went in a third time the following season, but now, the club put its foot down. Nothing doing. So he said, "Ouch, I just hurt my back." What did the team do? It figured for another $50,000 or $100,000 it could make his back well in a hurry, so again it capitulated. What would I have done? It's difficult to speak for someone else's problems, especially when they involve a player as important as this guy was. Nevertheless, I'd have put him and his "bad back" into a hospital immediately. Bad back? Let's see. And then have the doctors stick him so full of needles he'd think he was a pincushion! That might change his mind in a hurry. And, of course, if they discovered there was nothing wrong with his back, you might have a pretty good case against him. I wouldn't accuse him of faking it, mind you. I'd just tell him, as I walked away from his bedside, "I want you to stay here until you're all better. When you're ready to play you can put your clothes on."
Red never liked cheerleaders for NBA teams and held the line against them longer than any team in the NBA. I always wondered if Red's passing 6 days before the Celtics cheerleaders were to make their very first appearance was just his way of letting them know one final time that he didn't like the idea. Here is a section from the book where he discusses cheerleaders.
I'll tell you another thing I don't like today: Cheerleaders. You don't need them at the professional level. They don't contribute anything. They're nothing more than a poor attempt to emulate the freshness of the college atmosphere. Whether it's football or basketball, they don't belong at the professional level, and I've been fighting that for years. They belong in high school. They belong in college. They don't belong in the professional game. First, you've got enough problems in basketball without having girls hanging around the gym. Before you know it, they're making eyes at some of the guys, and some of the guys are going to stray. It happens. But the main point is, they're running up and down the court, cheering their brains out, and nobody's cheering along with them. All they're really doing is entertaining themselves. You can't take professional fans to a pep rally, like they do in college and hand out leaflets telling them: "These are the songs and these are the cheers, so memorize them; then, when we bang the thing and have the horn, you come in and do this..." It can't be done. So the idea of cheerleading is a facade, a joke, just and excuse to have some scantily clad girls running around, turning your game into a Broadway show. I don't like it. And I don't like cheerleading organists either. I'd much rather have high school tumblers and gymnasts doing routines for the crowd's enjoyment. And I love that double dutch jump roping kids are doing now. Of all the entertainments you see at basketball games today, that's my favorite.
I hope you enjoyed this look into the mind of Red Auerbach. Next up, Red's thoughts on team owners.