The Curse of Len Bias

By BILL SIMMONS  |  December 14, 2011

Nobody Like Auerbach

If anyone epitomized Celtic pride, it was Auerbach, the guy who coached the first nine championship teams and created the other seven from scratch. Red was the guy who traded for Russell, McHale, and Parish. He was the guy who picked Bird sixth in the 1978 draft under an old loophole called the "junior eligible" and waited one season for Bird to finish college at Indiana State. He was the guy who traded for supposedly washed-up veterans like Paul Silas, Tiny Archibald, Dennis Johnson, and Don Nelson. He was the guy who picked draft-day sleepers like John Havlicek, Charlie Scott and Danny Ainge.

"People used to joke about the Celtics thinking they were the league," says Vecsey, "but, I mean, they were the league. It was all Auerbach. There was nobody like him for years and years. The fact of the matter is the Celtics earned every bit of respect they got. They were a step ahead of everybody."

Auerbach was a genius, an arrogant, hard-driving, relentless winner who molded the Celtics into a close-knit family, one in which winning prevailed and retired stars remained in Boston for life. But, inevitably, the fire began to fade in Red, and the organization hadn't had the foresight to prepare for the vacuum courtside he would leave. The man who stepped up was Volk - a solid front-office guy. Boston Herald's Mark Murphy compares Volk to Robert Duvall's "consigliere" in The Godfather, a brilliant numbers man and lawyer.

"Red was preparing a new level of commitment anyway, but after Bias he really just passed the torch," remembers Ryan. "At certain levels, the idea that something negative would affect the team and him was a shock to Red. It brought home to him that there was a new world out there, one he wasn't prepared for. He felt an ongoing loyalty with Bias, like he was drafting a member of the family, and he never recovered. I mean, Christ, he was talking about Bias last week when he came up here to see the team play!"

As for passing the torch, the new regime never worked out. It was never clear who had the final say among Volk, the still-influential Auerbach, and majority owners Gaston and Cohen - whose relationship eventually deteriorated so far that Cohen simply sold his share of the team. On court, after Boston lost in the '88 semifinals, the team "moved" coach K.C. Jones to another position and promoted assistant Jimmy Rodgers. Mistake. The Celtics never advanced past the first round in Rodgers's two seasons. And the front office wasn't helping. During the '89 season, with Bird on the sidelines, the team clearly needed to get younger and gear the franchise around fledgling stars Brian Shaw and Reggie Lewis. McHale seemed the logical trade bait - he would have put a contending team over the top and reaped Boston a harvest of draft picks and players - but the Celtics instead dealt all-star Danny Ainge to Sacramento for big men Joe Kleine and Ed Pinckney, neither of whom really succeeded in Boston.

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