League greats react to loss of 'basketball royalty'

Updated: October 29, 2006, 10:22 PM ET
ESPN.com news services

Reaction to the death of Boston Celtics Hall of Fame coach Red Auerbach of a heart attack Saturday at the age of 89:

"Going back to the old Celtics days -- when they first started winning -- I think only Red had the foresight to envision what impact Bill Russell could have on a team. Red worked Russell into the unit that he had established there. They just needed what Red saw as the ultimate ingredient ... the defensive, shot-blocking, rebounding center. I don't know if anyone else could have foreseen that this would or could happen. And then once established, Red kept that team going. And although free agency did not exist ... he kept Russell there for his entire career and they won all those championships. That's remark. No team has ever equaled that in pro sports. Red's impact on the game and on his players was unparalleled." -- Fellow Hall of Fame coach and ESPN NBA analyst Dr. Jack Ramsay.

"Red was the Celtics. I was just a little squirt, but you always felt his presence, even sitting there on wives' row. Everyone knew when he was around. When you walked into his office, it was like you could hardly breathe. He just had a presence that's hard to put into words. I've never been around anyone else with that kind of presence, not to that extent. He was just an off-the-charts human being." -- Dallas Mavericks president of basketball operations Donnie Nelson, whose father Don played for Auerbach.

"I used to go into his office before every game. I remember him saying, 'Paul, we've been on top for a long time, but we're going to stay on top because somebody else is always going to make a mistake to give me the players that will keep us up there.' And it always happened. He was just a brilliant man. When I got to Boston, I was amazed by some of the things the Celtics were doing. Anybody that came to the Celtics had to be a smart player or you just wouldn't survive."-- Ex-Celtics forward Paul Silas, who was acquired by Auerbach, by then Boston's GM.

"The game of basketball has lost its greatest champion. He indelibly left his mark on pro basketball. He truly loved the sport. As a coach he developed a style of play that emphasized team play, was fun for the fan to watch and won championships. He's the epitome of what you would want [running a franchise]. Nobody [to] my knowledge has been with one team as many years [as Auerbach] without being an owner of the team. … In fact, he never wanted to own any of the team. But for him to last that many years [with the Celtics] he must've had something special. And he truly did. … In my playing days he once gave me a loaded cigar and six months later I gave him one -- that was our relationship. We had a tremendous amount of fun and the game of basketball will never see anyone else like him." -- Former Celtics player and coach Tom Heinsohn, now a broadcaster for the team.

"Basketball royalty has passed away. It's just a sad night for anybody who loves the NBA. Boston has always had a rep of being racist [as a town], but they had the first black player, they had the first black head coach in the NBA and they had the first black starting five. And that was all because of Red Auerbach. One of my heroes is Bill Russell, and he speaks so glowingly about Mr. Auerbach. And that's all I needed. If Bill Russell tells me Mr. Auerbach was a great man, that's good enough for me." -- Former player and current broadcaster Charles Barkley.

"I think Arnold was an absolute giant in the field. I have been around a lot of competitive people, but his commitment to winning was absolute -- nothing was more important. He was relentless and produced the greatest basketball dynasty so far that this country has ever seen and certainly that the NBA has ever seen. This is a personal loss for me, Arnold and I have been together since 1950. I was fortunate that I was able to attend a function with him Wednesday night when he was honored by the United States Naval Memorial Foundation in Washington, and I am so glad now that I took the time to be there and spend a few more moments with him." -- Bob Cousy, the Hall of Fame guard who played for Auerbach.

"Beyond his incomparable achievements, Red had come to be our basketball soul and our basketball conscience. The void left by his death will never be filled." -- NBA commissioner David Stern.

"Red was a true champion and one whose legacy transcends the Celtics and basketball. He was the gold standard in coaching and in civic leadership, and he set an example that continues today. We all knew and loved Red in the Kennedy family. He joined my first campaign for Senate, and President Kennedy tried never to miss a game. We were so fortunate to be able to go to the Boston Garden in its heyday and watch Red make magic, but more than being a legendary coach and Boston institution, Red was a person of the highest caliber with a heart and generosity that knew no bounds. When my son Teddy was receiving treatment, Red always made the time to stop by and visit him, which meant the world to all of us. With every whistle that blows for the Boston Celtics, Red's spirit is celebrated and his memory cherished. He was loved and never will be forgotten." -- Sen. Ted Kennedy of Massachusetts.

"Red Auerbach was one of the greatest coaches in NBA history. He did so many things to help improve the game. I believe he was responsible for making the NBA as popular as it is today by introducing the fast break and making the game more exciting. He was a coach who went out of his way to help his players and it was a privilege to play for him for 10 years and win four championships together. Besides being such a great coach, he was also a great friend and he will be truly missed." -- Bill Sharman, the former Boston guard who went on to become coach and GM of the Los Angeles Lakers.

"I was very fortunate to have known Red. He traded for me and brought me to Boston as a player, then hired me as an assistant and head coach. I have a lot of fond memories working with Red from all our lunches in Chinese restaurants listening to him share his stories and experiences. He is the godfather of all the Celtics." -- Philadelphia 76ers pro personnel scout Chris Ford, who played and coached for the Celtics.

"He really was a pioneer, coach, executive, ambassador and leader, all in one -- not just for the Celtics but for the entire NBA." -- Seattle SuperSonics general manager Rick Sund, who knew Auerbach since entering the league in 1974 with Milwaukee.

"I was fortunate to be invited to the China Doll restaurant to talk basketball with Red and his basketball buddies. He presided like he was the Speaker of the House -- everyone deferred to his superior basketball judgment. He was a wise man, and he would have been Speaker of the House if he had decided to be a politician. He was a good Democrat who liked talking about politics as much as he liked talking about basketball. He was a natural leader, he was strong, and he knew how to build individuals into teams. It was my honor to be his friend for 30 years. He was one of the greatest men I have ever met." -- Rep. Edward J. Markey, senior member of Massachusetts' congressional delegation.

"It's a sad day not only for the Auerbach family, the Celtics family, but also for Red's legion of friends and admirers worldwide. ... He was the greatest of all time at what he did. Red was absolutely a genius. By far the smartest and most intuitive person I've ever met in or out of the game of basketball. In terms of human relations, I mean he absolutely could get to the core of what made anybody tick, motivate them to succeed." -- Chris Wallace, Celtics general manager in interview on Fox TV.

Information from ESPN.com's Marc Stein, ESPNEWS and The Associated Press was used in this report.