The lack of a sense of history in sports – and in real life – is one of my pet gripes.
Everything that happens today is always the greatest or the best ever. The past tends to be overlooked or forgotten.
That brings me to the firing of Phil Jackson by the New York Knicks after a three-year reign of error.
Jackson showed that, for all his coaching skills when he had Hall of Fame players and won 11 titles, he wasn’t cut out to run a team.
To put it bluntly, Jackson is no Red Auerbach.
And the Golden State Warriors, who are being hailed as the best ever, can’t begin to be compared to what Auerbach’s Celtics teams accomplished. They need more than two titles to be in the conversation.
Auerbach tends to be forgotten, but he remains a towering figure in the history of pro basketball.
He last coached in 1966, stepped down as general manager in 1986 and died in 2006, so the younger generation doesn’t know who he is.
But I would argue he was the best coach and general manager in the history of the game.
The coach of the year trophy is named for him even though he won it only once because his success was taken for granted.
He was voted the greatest NBA coach ever by the basketball writers in 1980, the same year he was named executive of the year for the only time.
He won nine titles as a coach and seven more as a general manager.
He drafted the first black player (Chuck Cooper) in 1950, put the first all black starting five on the floor (Bill Russell, K.C. Jones, Sam Jones, Tom Sanders and Willie Naulls) in 1964 and hired the first black coach (Russell) in 1967.
In 1956, he traded up to get Russell and also drafted two more Hall of Famers, Tom Heinsohn and Jones, who was a teammate of Russell’s at USF.
The Celtics went through a down period before he drafted Larry Bird as a junior eligible in 1978 and waited for him to play his senior year. He also traded for Robert Parish and drafted Kevin McHale to put together another great team.
Auerbach thought he was going to make Len Bias the core of another great team when he made him the second pick of the 1986 draft, but Bias died of a cocaine overdose before playing a game for the Celtics. And then Reggie Lewis died suddenly in 1993, and the Celtics didn’t win again in Auerbach’s lifetime.
Auerbach was also a colorful figure, infuriating opponents by smoking a cigar when victory was in hand.
I only covered one of his games in 1963 against the then-woeful Detroit Pistons, and he was energetic on the sidelines even in a meaningless game.
Auerbach left a legacy that will never be matched, and any conversation of the greatest in the history of the NBA starts with him.