One of Auerbach's great strengths was his natural instinct to treat each player differently.
They are dying off and there is nothing that you, I, or anyone else can do about it.
The numbers of 11 Boston Celtics who played for the team during the greatest of all sports dynasties, 1957-1969, hang from the rafters of TD Garden. With the passing of K. C. Jones on Christmas Day, more than half of them, six in all, have now died. None of them died young and only one, John Havlicek, did not live to see the age of 80 -- and he came close. But time was up for the six who have died and the clock is ticking for the five who are still with us.
These are the six who are now gone:
K. C. Jones (Age 88 -- eight titles, 1959-1966. Hall of Fame, 1989), the most recent to have died, had been dismissed by many as just a fringe player in his early years with the Celtics. He played very little because he was the backup point guard to the incomparable Bob Cousy. But once he got his chance, K. C. proved to be an excellent playmaker who never made a mistake and was a tenacious defender, so good that he was inducted to the Basketball Hall of Fame.
Tom Heinsohn (Age 86 -- eight titles, 1957, 1959-1965. Hall of Fame, 1986), who died just weeks before K. C., was a truly excellent scorer and rebounder. He would be ranked even higher among the all-time greats had he not played in the shadows of both Cousy and Bill Russell. They were the dominant figures on the court, but Heinsohn, with his larger than life personality, dominated in the locker room.
John Havlicek (Age 79 -- eight titles, 1963-1966, 1968, 1969, 1974 and 1976. Hall of Fame, 1984) died in 2019. He was perhaps the most complete player in Celtics history. His ability to come up with the clutch play, either sinking a shot or stealing the ball at just the right moment, was uncanny.
In 2018, death claimed Frank Ramsey (Age 86 -- seven titles, 1957, 1959-1964. Hall of Fame, 1981). He won fame as the original "sixth man" for his ability to come off the bench and inject a spark of new life into the team.
Jim Loscutoff (Age 85 -- seven titles, 1957, 1959-1964), who died in 2015, was a well-muscled, hard-nosed player. He exposed the myth that basketball is not a contact sport. He requested that his number 18 not be retired but be given to another worthy player. Thus, his nickname, Loscy, hangs in the rafters, and #18 honors a Celtic from a later era, Dave Cowens.
Bill Sharman (Age 87 -- four titles, 1957, 1959-1961. Hall of Fame, 1976) was the first of the great Celtics to go. He died in 2013. A deadly sharpshooter, he and Cousy combined to form the best backcourt in basketball.
Celtics from the Great Dynasty who remain with us are:
Bob Cousy (Age 92 -- six titles, 1957, 1959-1963. Hall of Fame, 1971) is still "the Houdini of the Hardwood." He remains the gold standard of point guards.
Bill Russell (Age 86 -- 11 titles, 1957, 1959-1966, 1968 and 1969, Hall of Fame, 1975), the champion of champions, not just in basketball but in all sports.
Sam Jones (Age 87 -- 10 titles, 1959-1966, 1968 and 1969. Hall of Fame, 1984), second only to Russell in titles won. Amazing shooter.
Tom (Satch) Sanders (Age 82 -- eight titles, 1961-1966, 1968 and 1969. Hall of Fame Bunn Award, 2007), was a great defensive player.
Don Nelson (Age 80 -- five titles, 1966, 1968, 1969, 1974 and 1976. Hall of Fame, 2012), gained even greater fame as an NBA coach. He holds the all-time record for regular-season wins by a coach with 1335.
The architect and engineer of the Great Dynasty was, of course, Red Auerbach, who died in 2006 at the age of 89. He is represented in the rafters by #2, which, of course, he never wore, but it wouldn't make sense to raise one of his old sport jackets up there, would it? Red passed along the secrets of how to win as a coach to some of his players. Bill Russell won two championships for the Celtics as player/coach in 1968 and 1969, Tom Heinsohn won as a coach in 1974 and 1976, and K. C. Jones was the Celtics coach when they won in 1984 and 1986. Added to that was Bill Sharman, who coached the Los Angeles Lakers to their first-ever championship in 1972. Sharman later became the Lakers' president and oversaw five more champion teams. Sharman and Tom Heinsohn, both proteges of Auerbach, are two of only four men who have been inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame as both player and coach. Then there was Don Nelson with all his coaching wins.
One of Auerbach's great strengths was his natural instinct to treat each player differently. For example, he knew that Russell was a self-motivator and that to criticize him in front of the other players was to risk turning him off and in the process dilute his effectiveness. So, he left him alone. Cousy was treated as a partner. He was the leader on the floor, and Auerbach knew how important it was for them to be on the same page. On the other hand, he rode Heinsohn hard. He knew that Tommy could take it and that if he got angry he'd channel that anger to the opposing team.
Red, of course, was inducted into the Hall of Fame himself in 1969. He was a generation older than the players of his Great Dynasty, the same age as were the heroes of my young boyhood: Dom DiMaggio, Ted Williams, Bobby Doerr, and Johnny Pesky. When the last of them, Doerr, died in 2017 (he had been, at age 99, the oldest living member in the history of the Baseball Hall of Fame), so, too, did the last vestiges of my boyhood.
Now the Celtics of the Great Dynasty, the team of my young adulthood, are dying off. They represented a beacon of light for me as I struggled to find my own path through the jungle of life. I hope you'll forgive an old guy waxing nostalgic, but each time one of them goes, a little bit of me goes, too.
- Dick Flavin is a New York Times bestselling author; the Boston Red Sox "Poet Laureate" and The Pilot's recently minted Sports' columnist.
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