In Part 4 of our look at Red Auerbach On and Off the Court, we looked at some of Red's thoughts about the Celtics' owners. Here is the story about the owner who almost drove Red out of Boston.
John Y. was one of those guys who fancied himself as a real slick wheeler dealer. He was also the best example I've ever seen of a little knowledge being a dangerous thing. Take the Earl Tatum deal. I said, "John, you're active on the phone," I'm figuring maybe I can get him off my back here. "Why don't you see if you can find us a backcourtman?" He asked, "Who's available?" I said, "I hear Indiana's trying to get rid of Earl Tatum. Maybe we could pick him up for a late draft choice. If we move before they put him on waivers, anything they get is a plus, so maybe they'll go along with it." I get a call from him later: "I think I can get Tatum for a second round pick. How's that sound?" I said is sounded pretty good but that I wanted to blow it by Satch Sanders - he was coaching for us then - to see what he thought. Satch liked the idea, too, so I told John to go ahead and make the deal. He came back later on, laughing. "Well I did it." "Did what?" "Made the Tatum deal." "What'd you give them?" "I gave them $50,000." I just looked at him. I couldn't believe it. There wasn't any mention of money in our discussion. Then he says, "we worked out something on a draft choice too." No, I'm figuring maybe because of the dough, they agreed to a late round choice like third, fourth, or even fifth. "Yep," he says, "I gave 'em a first round choice!" I was horrified. "You didn't. You couldn't have done something like that." "Yes, I did." I wanted to hit him. "Look," I told him, "it's your ballclub so you can do anything you want with it. I can't stop you. But I want you to know, I don't like it. I don't like it at all." I think that was the moment when I made up my mind that if he was going to own the team, I didn't want anything to do with it. That was July 1978. He'd been with us only a couple of months, but I'd seen all I wanted to see. When you give your life to something - and I'd given mine to the Celtics - you just don't get up and walk away from it lightly. Oh, there were times when I could have left. Lots of them. Back when I retired from coaching, before Ted Turner bought the Hawks, Ted Cousins, the owner in Atlanta, offered me a five year deal that included a piece of the franchise if I'd coach for him and become his GM. And there were plenty of other flattering offers. But before most of them were even on the table I'd say, "Look. Forget it. I'm not interested. There's no sense even discussing it." The thought of leaving never really entered my mind, not even in the worst of times when some of our ownersips bled us dry. We were winning championships without a nickel in the bank. No one would ever believe how bad things got at times. We had airline companies shutting off our credit. One time I had to put up $9,000 of my own money in order to get the club onto a flight. When the phone company threatened to shut us down I personally visited the business office to ask for an extension of our credit. Embarrassing? You bet it was. It was an indignity whe didn't deserve. But what could we do about it? There were times when we didn't even know who our owners were; all we knew was that we'd been purchased by some faceless corporation. Again. There are names on our payroll that I'd never heard of; everything was handled out of New York. During one of those ownerships a messenger arrived on the shuttle every Monday morning to pick up the gate receipts and bring them back to New York with him on the next shuttle. They took the money and never paid the bills. Believe me, we had some hard times, even while we were hanging all those flags. Yet I never really thought of leaving. There was just something about the name Celtics that wouldn't let me go. And money had nothing to do with it. You simply can't buy what this team has given me over the years. It's like I've often pointed out, there are owners in sports today who'd gladly fork over millions of dollars to be able to wear a championship ring, but those rings aren't for sale. You can't buy them. You've got to earn them. But John Y. Brown was more than I could take. Sonny Werblin's a good friend of mine, and he'd always told me I could have a job with his organization any time I wanted one. Now I wanted one. Or so I kept telling myself. Mike Burke was retiring as president of basketball for he Madison Square Garden Corporation, and Sonny told me he wanted me to take the job. I was more than intrigued. New York and me? It would have been interesting. He said, "Red, I'll give you anything you want: Apartments, whatever." He was just super to me. I told him I wanted to think about it. And I did think about it. My wife Dot was the first to get to me. "Arnold," she said, "if you're going to quit, then come home. Don't go to New York. I just can't imagine you not a Celtic." I couldn't imagine it either. Still my mind wasn't really made up the morning I met my personal attorney, Bob Richards, and headed to Logan Airport for a flight to New York and another meeting with Werblin. I was going to give him my answer. I told him I would, and he was waiting to hear it. I was walking to get a cab when I heard it the first time: "Red, don't go!" It was some guy working on the street. Then I heard it again. And again. I must have heard it 20 times. Then the cabbie told me the same thing. As we walked onto the plane the pilot stopped me. Same thing: "Don't go." I was touched. Bob was touched. It was a very emotional experience. They were all telling me what I already knew: I owed it to the team and I owed it to myself to give it one last shot in Boston. That's what I told Sonny when we got to New York and he was great about it. He's a class act. I like him, I respect him. I'd have no problems at all working for him. I doubt that we spent more than 30 seconds discussing money, that was never the big issue from my point of view or his. Or discussions just centered on the job. I came back to Boston and held a press conference. I said, "It wasn't a matter of money. It was just a matter of where I wanted to be." The headline in one of the papers the next morning read: The Pride of the Celtics: Red let his heart overrule his head. No question about it. I did. Things quieted down for awhile, but with John Y. it was only a matter of time before the next bomb went off. The Earl Tatum thing really bothered me, but it couldn't hold a candle to the Bob McAdoo deal seven months later. That one took the cake. We were having a terrible season. Havlicek was gone. The Archibald-Barnes-Knight thing never worked out. We ended up losing 53 games that year, the worst record in the history of our franchise. The Boston press was starting to climb all over Brown, and this really upset him; he was extremely sensitive to criticism. We had a home and home series with the Knicks that February: down there Saturday night, back to our place Sunday afternoon. We won the Saturday game, and when we arrived home Sunday morning the papers were filled with rumors of a big trade involving McAdoo. Brown had gone to PJ Clarke's with Sonny Werblin, and I guess he wanted to show everyone what a big wheel he was. That's what I figure he had bought the team for: The prestige, the ego gratification of being associated with the Celtics. Later on, word had it that it was his wife, Phyllis George, who came up with the bright idea of having McAdoo come to Boston. I don't know if that was true or not. All I know is that it wasn't my idea. Sonny was smart. He went along with Brown: "Let's make a deal!" He wanted to get rid of McAdoo anyway, so he started bringing up the guy's stats. There they are, talking a big deal, and nobody's got any contracts in front of him so there's no way of verifying any of the essential information. Brown calls me up. I tell him, "No way. I don't like it. I don't approve of it." All right, he finally agreed, no deal. He'd back off. I left the Garden that night believing it wouldn't happen. But it did happen. The deal was officially announced the next morning; apparently it had been consummated over the phone the previous afternoon, sometime after Brown told me he wouldn't do it. How crazy had the situation become? Get this: When Jan Volk, my legal aide who's now our general manager, got into the office that morning he began going over the paperwork and discovered there was major issue involving $1 million of deferred compensation that had been assumed by the Knicks when they acquired McAdoo from Buffalo in 1976. Now it was up in the air as to whose responsibility that would become. When Jan brought this to Brown's attention, Brown told him "Don't worry about that. You stay out of it, I'll take care of it." Meanwhile Brown's partner, Harry Mangurian, who kept a pretty low profile, called the office and wanted to know what the hell was going on. Jan told him about the $1 million question and also told him how Brown had ordered him to keep his nose out of it. Harry became very concerned and told Jan, "I don't care what he said, I want you to straighten that out." It did get straightened out, and the obligation went back to the Knicks where it belonged. But if it had been left up to Brown - who was very poor on details - we'd have eaten that mistake. That was it; that was enough for me. There was just no living with the situation any longer. The man was just so hyper, so adamant, so unwilling to listen to suggestions, so certain that he knew it all, when in reality he didn't know a damn thing about what he was doing. So I put it to him, "John," I said, "if you don't sell this team, I'm going to leave." There had been rumors that he was thinking of selling to Mangurian, who, as his partner, had first option to purchase Brown's interest in the club. So I went to Harry, too. I told him if he didn't own the team within two weeks from that day, a Tuesday, I'd be gone. Werblin told me he'd keep that job offer alive for three years, a great gesture on his part. But I made up my mind that I wasn't going to jerk him around again. Therefore, I was very firm in my remarks to Mangurian. "Harry," I told him, "you're a nice guy, a good businessman. I'd have no trouble working for you. But I'm not interested in offers that have been tendered or any of that crap. Those things can be kicked around for months, and meanwhile I'm still dealing with John Y. So as far as I'm concerned, if you don't own this team outright - that means 100 percent - two weeks from now, then you can count me out. I don't want to be here. You can run it yourself. I'm not going to sit around cooling my heels while lawyers go through tons of paper. I won't hang around for that. I'll release myself from the situation." Well, it took two weeks, but Harry did it. He bought out John Y. Brown. Then weeks later we signed Larry Bird, whom I'd drafted the previous spring as a junior eligible at Indiana State, and two years after that, we were world champions again. The nine month siege was over. That's how long Brown owned the Celtics. Nine months. But it was long enough to nearly destroy what we'd spent 30 years putting together. And you wonder why I say a little knowledge is a dangerous thing?