Friends and Family Pay Respects to Auerbach

Family and friends gathered today in Northern Virginia to bury Arnold "Red" Auerbach, the legendary coach of the Boston Celtics. Auerbach died Saturday at 89. His funeral drew friends from Auerbach's college days, and players from his powerhouse teams.

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Friends and family gathered today in northern Virginia to bury the late Arnold Red Auerbach, legendary coach of the Boston Celtics. Auerbach died on Saturday. He was 89. At his funeral today were friends from college and players from his powerhouse teams as well as relatives.

As NPR's Phyllis Fletcher reports, the service gave them all one more chance to remember the basketball great.

PHYLLIS FLETCHER: Jim Black was Red Auerbach's roommate when the two men were in college at George Washington University. Black's son helps him up the stairs to the funeral home the night before Auerbach is buried. Black says the Auerbach he knew never said much.

Mr. JIM BLACK: He was not a conversationalist. You know why? When you talk, those wheels are turning. He's going to make a basketball trade while the other guy's talking, those wheels are turning.

FLETCHER: That was Auerbach. Always planning on how to get the best players for his team. How to win. That desire fueled everything. He was the first to draft a black player and the first to play an all black starting line up. Boston sports writer Bob Ryan started covering the Celtics in 1969. He says Auerbach took team unity to another level.

Mr. BOB RYAN (Boston Sports Writer): Red mandated black/white roommates. This is unheard of. Black players assumed when they came to the team they would be rooming with a black player because that's the way it was everywhere else. It was just assumed it would be that way and the Celtics, it was forbidden. Red believed that the game was much more about the human part than the X and O part.

FLETCHER: That human element made Auerbach's players friends for life. Dozens showed up to pay their respects over the past two days, like Larry Bird and Bill Russell. Reports did an awkward dance with the mourners in front of the funeral home. A line of cameraman broke into a run last night in hopes of catching the Bird before he took flight. He got away, but several players were game to share one more story about Red.

Mr. TOM SANDERS: He was, if not the worst, one of the worst drivers in the world.

FLETCHER: Tom Sack Sanders was a forward on Auerbach's Celtics.

Mr. SANDERS: When you came up to play in the first year, all the veterans were smart enough to get out of his car and not ride with we went on exhibition games, and unfortunately rookies didn't have that choice. Therefore we were about scared to death. I was glad when my second year came and I didn't have to ride in his car anymore. But Auerbach was a great man, make no mistake about that. We all liked and respected him. He was fantastic.

Mr. ARNOLD CARR: It's like loosing a third parent.

FLETCHER: Arnold Carr played for Auerbach. Both Carr and Sanders went on to coach the Celtics, just two of the coaches Auerbach mentored in his career.

Mr. CARR: He had such an impact on all our lives. (Unintelligible) you know we sent our kids to college. We feed our families, we built homes. We did everything we do is because of Red Auerbach. You think about those things as you walk off the park here for the last time.

FLETCHER: Carr says the funeral service was solemn and short. At the end, guests were invited to toss dirt onto Auerbach's casket. Carr couldn't bring himself to do it. The Celtics start their NBA season tomorrow. Players will wear a patch in Auerbach's honor and will dedicate the season to his memory.

Phyllis Fletcher, NPR News.

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