Arnold “Red” Auerbach was well-known as the coach and later the general manager of the Boston Celtics in the National Basketball Association (NBA). His teams, featuring the likes of Bill Russell, Bob Cousy, and several more hands full of Hall of Famers, were the most dominant of his era, the 1950s and 1960s, winning nine NBA championships as a coach and later another seven as an executive. Phil Jackson has surpassed his coaching records, but there is no doubt he was the iconic coach of his era. The NBA’s Coach of the Year award gets its name from him. More than fifty years later, we best remember Red Auerbach for his trademark “Victory Cigars.”
Red Auerbach’s Victory Cigars Ritual
When the Celtics were up late in the game, Red lit a cigar on the bench. It would signal that the game was effectively over.
“It all boils down to this. I used to hate these college coaches or any coach that was 25 points ahead with three minutes left to go, and they’re up there yellin’ and coachin’ because they’re on TV, and they want their picture on, and they get recognition. To me, the game was over. The day’s work is done. Worry about the next game. This game is over. So I would light a cigar, sit on the bench, and watch it. The game was over, for all intents and purposes. I didn’t want to rub anything in or show anybody what a great coach I was when I was 25 points ahead. Why? I gotta win by 30? What the hell difference does it make?” — Red Auerbach (as reported by Cigar Aficionado, Summer 1994)
Was it Obnoxious, and Did it Piss Off the Opposition?
Well, of course, it was obnoxious. Opposing players hated it. One, Paul Seymour of the Syracuse Nationals, is said to have remarked that his ambition in life was not to win an NBA Championship but to come back and beat Red and his Celtics after lighting the cigar.
The Cincinnati Royals had a promotion that gave 5000 fans a complimentary cigar as they entered the arena one evening in hopes that they’d be able to light them up and celebrate a Royals win over the Celtics. It didn’t work out, and the fans left with unlit cigars in hand. (Dan Shaughnessy, Evergreen, 1990)
Some of his players didn’t care for it, either. Bob Cousy, his Hall of Fame guard, was on record as not being a fan. It fired up the other team. They also didn’t care for them in the locker room. The ventilation system could have been better. Everybody had a Red story about him firing up a stick here or there (including in a car) with no regard for the people around him. (Yeah, he was a lout)
Let’s face it, though. The guy was a winner. When you win, you get to make your own rules.
What Kind of Victory Cigars did Red Auerbach Smoke?
“A little bit of everything,” according to Red. In this way, he was much like many of us. But, he acknowledged early in his life, he was a pipe smoker primarily because it was more economical than a premium cigar.
At one point, he had an endorsement deal with King Edwards, a cigar manufacturer of the era. He also acknowledged receiving many cigars as gifts from his many Celtics fans. Of course, he smoked those too. If there is one cigar he is linked to by brand as being a favorite, it is probably the Hoyo de Monterrey.
Will There Ever Be Another Red Auerbach?
Probably not. Things change. Heck, you can’t even smoke inside anymore. Today’s victory celebrations involve some dance or posts on social media. Let’s face it; the world is different now. But as a cigar enthusiast, even if you don’t like the Celtics, you must have some respect for a guy whose statue holds a cigar in his hand. That same statue sits outside his former workplace, the building formally known as the Boston Garden. Now, his statue gets its name from some tech company or bank as part of a naming rights deal. Things were simpler in Red’s day.
Win something, light one up, and enjoy a victory cigar of your own!
Photo credit: “Bill Russell and Red Auerbach 1966 Champions,” by Fred Keenan, Wikimedia Commons license Public Domain CC0 1.0