Basketball world pays respects to Auerbach at wake

Updated: November 1, 2006, 12:00 AM ET
Associated Press

WASHINGTON -- Celtics legends Larry Bird and Bob Cousy were among several basketball luminaries who paid their respects Monday night to Red Auerbach, the NBA coach, executive and pioneer.

John Thompson and his son, John III, who brought his whole Georgetown University team, also came to the funeral home to honor Auerbach, the Hall of Famer who guided the Celtics to 16 championships -- first as a coach and later as general manager. He died near his home in Washington at age 89 Saturday night.

"The world thought he was tough and mean and gruff and all that -- and underneath he was really a pussycat, if you knew him well," said Cousy, a Hall of Fame point guard who played for Auerbach. "He'd be mad at me if he knew I said that."

Auerbach's nine titles as a coach came in the 1950s and 1960s -- including eight in a row from 1959-66 -- and he was the architect of Celtics teams that won seven more championships in the 1970s and 1980s.

Those whose lives were touched by Auerbach spoke about not just his success with the Celtics and his forward thinking, but also Auerbach the person.

"When you take the Celtic job and you get a relationship with Red, you realize why he won," current Boston coach Doc Rivers said. "No. 1, he taught family, but he taught it in an intense way, and he had great love and intensity for the game and toughness."

Auerbach was born in Brooklyn, N.Y., but he went to George Washington University, where the court is named in his honor, and lived in Washington.

"I know our guys have a feel for his importance to our sport, to the game of basketball, and to this city as well as Boston," said the younger coach Thompson, whose father played for Auerbach on the Celtics before coaching at Georgetown.

There will be a private funeral in Falls Church, Va., on Tuesday.

Copyright 2006 by The Associated Press