We all know that Red Auerbach was the greatest coach in the history of team sports. Phil Jackson finally surpassed Red in NBA championships but it took him twice as long. He was a great coach but he was nobody’s Red Auerbach. Red won all his championships with one franchise. Phil was an NBA hired gun!
Despite his death in 2006 Red was still coaching. His coaching spirit lived in Danny Ainge, Doc Rivers (LA Clippers), Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett (Brooklyn Nets), Ray Allen (Miami Heat) and the entire Celtics’ organization. The Boston Celtic’s fantastic 2008 run to NBA Championship had the touch of an Angel (Red Auerbach).
Red was not only a great basketball coach but his won-lost record in Human and Civil Rights in pro sports is unmatched. Thanks to Red and Celtic owner Walter Brown the NBA is now the most integrated franchise in professional team sports.
I met Red and Dotie Auerbach on a Chevy Chase playground in a Maryland suburb of DC in the late 60’s. They were hanging out watching Summer League Basketball.
I found Dotie sitting alone outside the fence watching the action. We struck up a conversation about one of the players. I thought to myself, “This little white lady sure knows a lot about the game of basketball.” We would talk basketball for the next 30 minutes when suddenly her husband shows up with cold drinks. Her husband was the one and only Red Auerbach.
Dotie introduced us and Red growled something sarcastic and she said, “Arnold, stop acting up.” Red had a demeanor of a tiger when he didn’t want someone getting too close, but in reality he was nothing but a pussycat.
For the next 30 plus years Red and Dotie Auerbach would become a fixture and supporters of “Kids In Trouble, Inc and Inside Sports.” During that relationship my wife Hattie and I would visit their home on Mass. Ave. in upper NW DC. We would often have lunch with Dotie. She would show off her antiques and art collection next door to an adjacent apartment that they had also brought. The walls of the next door apartment had been knocked down to accommodate the collection.
Red, would usually be out playing cards or tennis at Woodmont Country Club in Bethesda, Md. Dotie was a classy down to earth lady and we fell in love with her. We were benefactors of their generosity and kindness. Their spirit lives in us today.
I remember the first time Red invited me to have lunch with him. He asked me to meet him on the corner of 9th and F Streets in NW DC. I am thinking we are going to have lunch at some fancy restaurant downtown. I was in for a surprise. He treated me to a kosher hotdog with sauerkraut and a RC cola from a vendor’s stand on a downtown street corner.
We would later walk around the corner to Ophenhimer’s jewelry store where his brother the late Zang was the manager. Zang had been a cartoonist for the defunct Washington Star newspaper before his retirement. He would later draw a cartoon of Hattie playing a guitar for her 40th birthday portraying the legendary and late comedian Jack Benny saying “I am 39 years old and not a day older.” He also drew a picture of me celebrating my 51st birthday and twenty-five years of Community Service.
Much like Red, Zang and his son Johnny who also worked in the store were rare jewels themselves. The jewelry store would become my downtown hangout.
I remember one day walking into the store and there was Red, Zang, Sam Jones and the late great Hymie Perlo joking around. Before I could get through the door, Hymie was asking Red, “What does Harold Bell have on you, every time I turn on the dam radio you are on his show?” Without hesitation Red responded ‘My wife loves him.’
I would later be invited to the VIP luncheons in Chinatown on Tuesdays where Red would play “King for a Day.” He would hold court and listen to friends; media and sports personalities tell him how great he was. I really enjoyed the outings when his friend the late Hymie was in attendance. Hymie was the Community Relations and PR man for his friend Abe Polin’s Washington Bullets/Wizards. He kept us laughing and he made Red keep it real with his down to earth humor. With the exception of a few most of the guys in attendance were a bunch of wannabees and being around Red made them feel like they were important.
The last time I saw Red was in 2006 at one of those Tuesday luncheons in China Town. I made a surprise visit and you could hear a pin drop at the table where he was holding court. Seeing me walking toward the table everyone suddenly stopped laughing and talking. Red had his back to me and could not see me. I stood directly behind him. He had to turn to see who in the hell was interrupting his lunch and when he did he said, “Who in the hell invited you?” My response was ‘Now I need an invitation to eat with you?’
He suddenly started to laugh and got up and hugged me. I whispered ‘You are out of sight but never out of mind and I love you.’ He understood exactly what I was trying to say to him. We had talked by telephone but this was my first time seeing him since his wife Dotie died in 2000 and his brother Zang in 2003. I hugged him again and I walked away.
Red and Dotie’s friendship reminds me of what Muhammad Ali once told me about his definition of a “Friend.” He said, ‘A friend is someone who is always doing something for others and never expecting anything in return.’ Ali, meet—–Red and Dotie Auerbach.
Red reminded me a lot of Ali when he made his entrance into a crowded room all activity came to an abrupt end. He would be the center of attention. When I called the house to talk with Dotie and once he found out it was me he would shout “Hey Dotie its that nuisance Harold Bell or Dotie its your boyfriend Harold Bell.” Red and Dotie treated me and Hattie like we were family.
Red Auerbach was a rare “Superstar.” His telephone number was listed and he answered his own telephone. I don’t ever remember them having an answering service or maybe I just never left a message.
2008 marked 40 years for Christmas Toy Parties sponsored by Kids In Trouble, Inc. Before Dotie took ill and died in 2000 there was always a check for toys coming from the home of the Auerbachs. They were members of the Board of Directors of Kids In Trouble, Inc. Red co-hosted several of my Inside Sports Celebrity Tennis Tournaments. He was a frequent guest speaker for my Kids In Trouble, Inc. forums. He co-hosted “Inside Sports.” In 1990 along with NBA legends Sam Jones, Connie Hawkins, Al Attles and Winston-Salem legendary coach Bighouse Gaines as our guest he co-hosted a show with me titled ‘Celebrity Sports Calls.’
Red loved to attend Double Dutch jump rope tournaments in the inner-city. I would call him and we would go and sit up in a far corner of a gym and enjoy the contest. He would swear the kids participating were some of the greatest athletes in the city.
He was definitely the “God Father” of the NBA. I remember in Houston, Texas somewhere in the 1980s I attended my first NBA All-Star game. I would have a problem acquiring press credentials. I went to pick up my credentials with my hotel roommate CBS TV analyst Sonny Hill. I was told by NBA Media Director Brian McIntye that my credential request had not been received.
I asked Mr. McIntye, “Why would I fly all the way from DC to Houston without applying for press credentials in advance?” He did not budge. I then remembered talking to Red before I left DC and he said ‘Harold I don’t think I am going to make this one.’ It was then I realized I had an ace in the hole, Red Auerbach.
I returned to the pressroom without Sonny and asked Mr. McIntye if he knew Red Auerbach? His response was “Yes do you?” I then asked him if I could use his telephone and he said ‘sure go ahead.’ I dialed Red and Dotie’s number in DC knowing Red was probably out at the club playing tennis or cards. My only hope was that Dotie would be home.
The telephone rang several times and Dotie answers and I said ‘Hi Dotie this is Harold Bell I am at the NBA All-Star game in Houston, would you please speak to Mr. McIntye he needs verification of who I am.’ I then gave the phone to Mr. McIntye and the look on his face said it all. The look said, Dotie had told him exactly who I was. I wished I had a camera at that moment, the look on Brian’s face was ‘Priceless.’ He hung up the telephone and was speechless for about 10 seconds. He finally said, ‘No problem Mr. Bell.’
In 1950 Chuck Cooper of Duquesne University and a second team All-American would be drafted by Red Auerbach making him the first black player drafted and signed by an NBA team.
Earl Lloyd of West Virginia State (CIAA) was the first black to play in a game, beating Chuck Cooper by one day (Lloyd was discharged from the Army one day before Cooper). For years basketball historians were under the impression that Cooper was the first to play in a NBA game. I had Red address the issue in 1974 on my sports talk show “Inside Sports.” Red made it perfectly clear that Lloyd was the first to play in an NBA game. For years the NBA had forgotten that it was Earl Lloyd who broke its color barrier or ignored the fact. They left him on the outside looking into the Hall of Fame.
While growing up I had watched Earl shoot hoops on the playgrounds of DC. He was born and raised in nearby Alexandria, Virginia. I asked Red went to remind the NBA of Earl’s historical accomplishment. With Red’s support I started a media campaign on Inside Sports in the 90s to get Earl inducted into the NBA Hall of Fame. In 2000 Washington, DC would host the NBA All-Star game. I would coordinate a salute and reception for Earl Lloyd in the Nation’s Capitol and in his hometown of Alexandria.
During the NBA All-Star weekend the salute and reception were the only NBA related events Red Auerbach attended. The final vote came 50 years later. In 2002 Earl Lloyd was finally inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame joining DC’s Elgin Baylor and Dave Bing as a part of this area’s rich basketball heritage. Adrian Dantley was inducted in 2007.
During the Kids In Trouble, Inc. celebration in December 2008 we honored TNT NBA play-off basketball sideline reporter Dave Aldridge (Inside Sportd benefactor) with the Red Auerbach Kids In Trouble, Inc Life Time Achievement Award. Beijing Olympic Volleyball paraplegic Silver Medal winner Karri Miller was honored with the Dotie Auerbach Kids In Trouble, Inc Life Time Achievement Award.
There were three NBA awards handed out that year, Ray Allen of the Celtics was honored with the Player of the Year, Dwight Howard of Orlando was named the Defensive Player of the Year and Coach Mike Brown of the Cleveland Cavaliers was named the Coach of the Year. The common denominator, all three awards were in the name of Red Auerbach. Rookie of the Year was Chicago Bulls’ Derrick Rose and Sixth Man of the Year was Dallas Mavrick’s, Jason Terry. The NBA’s leading scorer, Rebounder, and Assist leader were all black. The footprints in the sand left by Red Auerbach and Walter Brown were still being seen all over the league.
2008 found me trying to complete my book “Inside and Outside of Sports: From the Outhouse to the White House.” I was also editing a CD and DVD titled ‘The Greatest’ interview gems with Red and Muhammad Ali. I missed the entire NBA regular season. In March as the NBA regular season was coming to an end I decided to check out the Washington Wizards. They were having one of their worst seasons in their history.
I placed a call to the press relations office requesting press credentials. The Wizards were one of the worst teams in the league. They were playing the best team in the league, the Cleveland Cavaliers. Gilbert “Have Gun Will Travel” Arenas the Wizards’ best player had missed the entire season as a result of knee surgery. There were rumors he would test his knee against who some consider the best player in the league, LaBron James.
I left several messages for the Director of PR Matt Williams for press credentials without a response. I then called Brian McIntye in the NBA office in New York City. He graciously accepted my call and made sure my request was honored. I have Red Auerbach to thank for the kind and professional gesture on the part of Mr. McIntye. Red was gone but he still was working his magic. The Wizards led by Arenas beat James and his Cavaliers.
When Wizards owner Abe Polin died the new owner Ted Leonis kicked Matt Williams to the curve along with several other do nothing employees.
The Auerbachs’ acts of kindness is just not my story, there are probably hundreds more like mine in the inner-cities of America. Red and Dotie Auerbach are gone but never should be forgotten they cared long before the NBA.