Saturday, April 19, 2014
Inquirer Daily News

Letter to a Demon

A long-dead Celtics coach could make smoke come out of opponents' ears.

Letter to a Demon

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Dear Red Auerbach:

  I thought I’d write because I wasn’t sure if they had wireless in hell.

 First of all, please don’t hesitate to let me know if I can make things any more miserable for you down there. Can I get you a Super Pretzel? Season tickets to the Soul? A Phanatic hat?

 You might remember me. I’m the kid you and your Celtics tortured in the ‘50s and ‘60s. You always found ways – some of them legitimate, some not – to beat my Philadelphia Warriors.  

 They were painful losses for a young kid to swallow -- late rallies, fight-marred contests, bad calls. Lots of bad calls. Havlicek might have stolen the ball but, as I recall, you helped Mendy Rudolph and his refereeing colleagues steal quite a few meaningful games.

 And it wasn’t just me. Anyone who ever lost sleep, hair, money, or years off his life vainly rooting for the Warriors or later the 76ers against the Celtics, or for Wilt Chamberlain against Bill Russell, must feel the same.

 Unfortunately, by the time Philly finally vanquished the Celtics in 1966-67’s Eastern Conference finals, you had left coaching for the front office. It made that memorable night in Convention Hall, when we all chanted “Boston is dead!” with such glee -- so much less sweet.

 Anyway, I thought you were through tormenting me. Then, not long after watching the 76ers edge the Celtics in Game 2 of their playoff series Monday night, I had a nightmare.

  In it, you were coaching the Celtics. (By the way, if you ever do get the job again, how about banning headbands?) As usual, you’d spent all of Game 2 berating the officials. So when there were 10 seconds left, referee Michael Smith never called that illegal-pick foul on Kevin Garnett. Somebody hit a three, the Celtics won and you lit one of those foul victory cigars.

 I awoke in a cold sweat, though my wife blames it on the crab fries I had at midnight.

 You were smarter than the rest of your cohorts in the NBA back then, which I realize is a little like saying Randy Jackson is the smartest “American Idol” judge.

 You drafted and traded well. You knew the game. You understood how to get under an opponent’s skin and into a referee’s head.

 But let’s be honest, if you hadn’t had Russell at center, you’d have been selling shoes by 1957.

 Still, you did coach the Celtics to nine NBA championships, many of them at the expense of my Warriors and 76ers. And that brings me to the real reason I’m writing.

 Why did you feel the need to be history’s worst winner? You enjoyed unprecedented success. Was it really necessary to be an obnoxious jerk too?

 I never understand how you could be so arrogant, how every time Boston  won, you lit a fat victory cigar, a gesture that signified nothing but that you enjoyed rubbing it in the faces of opposing players and fans.

 I like to think I’m a student of sports history, but I can’t recall any other prominent figure who acted so childishly, so cruelly. I never saw John McGraw, but I doubt even he wouldn have stooped so low.

 When you had every reason in the world to exhibit class, you chose crass. Perhaps in the end, your greatest accomplishment will be the fact that no 6-8 power-forward ever rammed one of those cigars down your throat.

 You once tried to explain the maddening custom. You said that in your early days with the Celtics, you had no assistant coaches. When victory was finally assured, you were so exhausted and eager to relax that you sat down and lit a cigar.

 Sure.

 And the only reason you manipulated the heat in Boston Garden’s visiting dressing room, I guess, was because you were concerned about owner Walter Brown’s utility bills.

 I don’t know how the eternal-damnation works, but if you ever get a day off from the brimstone and suffering, please reply. I’m not expecting you too, though. I hear the mail service is horrible in hell, even though the place is teeming with disgruntled postal workers.

Frank Fitzpatrick Inquirer Sports Columnist
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About this blog
Reporter Frank Fitzpatrick, a 2001 Pulitzer Prize finalist, is covering his eighth Olympic Games and has yet to win a medal in anything except caffeine consumption. He has also been the beat writer for the Phillies, Eagles and Penn State football.

Frank Fitzpatrick Inquirer Sports Columnist
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