Aided by a cane and wearing a light pink shirt and dark glasses, legendary former Boston Celtics coach Red Auerbach stood in front of a podium at the Smith Center Monday night. An attentive group of people, including University employees, athletic department officials, family members and longtime fans, gathered to celebrate the release of “Let Me Tell You a Story: a Lifetime in the Game” a book he co-wrote with author John Feinstein.
“Whether you know it or not,” he said, addressing the crowd, “I’m a grouch and a little bit of an introvert.”
The 87-year-old Auerbach, a 1940 GW graduate, appeared as sharp as his wit. In his five-minute speech, he pleased admirers with his larger-than-life persona most GW students have only seen on ESPN Classic.
“I don’t really like too many people,” he said, “There’s too much nonsense with people today.”
Feinstein is definitely not one of those people. And besides, Auerbach said he isn’t concerned about how the book will be received.
“What the hell are (people) going to say to me?” he said, smiling. “‘Hey Red, I hated your book?'”
If the line of people getting their copy signed Monday night was any indication, the book will be as popular as many of Feinstein’s 16 best-sellers. The author is best known for “Season on the Brink,” which follows a controversial season of hoops at the University of Indiana under coach Bobby Knight.
Feinstein also knew he had something special when he began working with Auerbach.
“I didn’t work with Red,” Feinstein said. “I just listened. When Red talks, there’s a reason why people listen.”
Auerbach is known as an excellent storyteller. And the book, which revolves around weekly lunches at the China Doll, a District restaurant, is chock full of stories. Every Tuesday at 11 a.m., Auerbach and his invitees – which often include GW Director of Athletics Jack Kvancz, women’s basketball coach Joe McKeown and men’s coach Karl Hobbs – meet, trade stories and talk about a variety of topics.
Feinstein considers former Kentucky basketball coach Adolph Rupp as one of the most interesting figures in the book. To this day, Auerbach defends the fellow coaching legend, a man many considered to be racist.
Here is Auerbach on Rupp, as told by Feinstein:
“Rupp hated blacks,” he said. “And whites, and blues and reds and greens if they couldn’t play.”
But Feinstein said Auerbach did not consider Rupp to be perfect. He was one of the cheapest men the Celtics coach had ever met. When Auerbach once left a 50-cent tip at a New York deli years ago, Rupp argued that it was too much.
In 2004, Auerbach is unconcerned with trivial matters such as leaving big tips. He is still an active member of the GW community. Kvancz , University President Stephen Joel Trachtenberg and Robert Chernak, senior vice president of Student and Academic Support Services, are three people the former coach considers his friends.
“They are exceptional people,” Auerbach said of the administrators. “And very sports minded.”
But, he mused, there is one thing that still irks him about Chernak.
“Ten or 12 years ago,” Auerbach said, “Bob Chernak broke two of my ribs playing racquetball.”
Chernak confirmed the story, saying that Auerbach, even in his 70s, was a fierce competitor on the court. In a heated match, Auerbach ran into the wall running for a ball – breaking two ribs.
“I made the Boston Globe because of that,” Chernak said.
As the night drew to a close, Auerbach spoke a bit about the team he remembers so well, the Celtics. He is almost 90, but his colors are still green.
“We’re young and inexperienced,” he said of the current Celts. “It’s going to take a while.”