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In draft, Danny Ainge will try to channel Red Auerbach

Danny Ainge and Red Auerbach came from different worlds, but found a lot of common ground as Celtics.Patricia McDonnell/Associated Press/File 2003

At times like this we need Red Auerbach.

Red always knew what to do. Red was thinking at a higher level than the other guys. Red knew how to pick the pockets of the other general managers. Red knew how to get a better player with a lower selection.

As we sit here on the threshold of the 2016 NBA Draft — with the Celtics in need of help and holding the third overall pick — it is comforting that we have Red’s basketball progeny calling the shots.

Danny Ainge is Red Auerbach’s basketball son.

How could they be related, you ask? Red was Brooklyn-born, a Jewish man who lost his hair at a young age, smoked cigars, swore like a sportswriter, and lived most of his professional career alone in a hotel on Boylston Street. Danny is Mormon, raised in the great outdoors of the Pacific Northwest, doesn’t smoke or swear, and spends all of his free time in the suburbs, surrounded by his wife, six children, and 14 grandchildren.

What could these men possibly have in common?


Bloodlines. Basketball DNA. Celtic green genes. Both are maniacal competitors who are skilled at evaluating basketball players.

For all practical purposes, Auerbach and Ainge have been the only guys calling the shots for the Celtics in the last 65 years. OK, we had Rick Pitino bumping Red from the masthead and messing things up from 1997-2001. Nice guys like Jan Volk, Dave Gavitt, and Chris Wallace held the title of general manager. But Red never went away. He served the Celtics from 1950 until he died in 2006.

Ainge was drafted by Auerbach in 1981, played eight seasons with the Celtics, and came home to run the operation in 2003 while Red was still blowing smoke at team practices.

This is Ainge’s memory of his introduction to Red:


“We didn’t know each other very well, but he was showing me around and we were driving around and I had to pick up my wife, Michelle, at the airport. And he said very delicately — because he didn’t know how to put it — he said, ‘Now, are you like all the other Mormons or do you have just one wife?’

“I laughed my head off. Later, he would always kid me. He used to accuse me of being a closet smoker. He used to tease me all the time. When I’d play cards with the guys, he’d come in and say, ‘Hey, I know for a fact that Mormons are not supposed to gamble.’

“And I’d come back with, ‘Red, be quiet. When I play these guys, it’s not gambling. There’s no risk involved.’ ’’

Auerbach loved his feisty, combative young guard. He rallied to Ainge’s defense when former Bucks coach Don Nelson (a champion as a Celtic) called Ainge a dirty player during the 1983 playoffs.

“I liked the fact that Red always pointed out the little things that are hard to get players and coaches to do,’’ Ainge said. “After a game, he didn’t come and talk about the box score or how many points anybody got. He’d come in and talk about who set a screen or boxed out or got a rebound to win a game. I always appreciated that.’’

Red Auerbach drafted Danny Ainge, and later traded him.1985 globe file

Still, Red was bloodless, a forefather of the Bill Belichick method. When he thought it would help his Celtics, he traded Ainge to the Sacramento Kings in 1989.


When Ainge returned to the Garden for his first game in Boston as a King, he said, “I didn’t really feel much until I was out shooting in warm-ups and saw Red walk in and sit in his seat. Red’s a guy I’ve always idolized. To me, he’s what the Celtics are.’’

According to Celtics owner Wyc Grousbeck, it was Auerbach who urged ownership to hire Ainge in 2003. Auerbach died three years later, and was high above courtside when Ainge’s Celtics hoisted championship banner No. 17 to the Garden rafters in 2008.

Now Ainge is on the spot, hoping to deliver the goods, just as Auerbach did in 1956 (Bill Russell, Tom Heinsohn, K.C. Jones, all Hall of Famers), 1978 (Larry Bird, junior eligible), and 1980 (Robert Parish and Kevin McHale for Joe Barry Carroll in a swap with the Warriors).

“I know the history,’’ Ainge said. “Red was a risk taker.

“But the world of managing NBA teams is completely different now. It’s a whole new world. There are no secrets. There’s no finding someone that the rest of the world doesn’t know about. Now everybody knows everything, even if it’s in Brazil, Croatia, or Lithuania. That’s the difference.

“But Red was very confident. What I learned from him is that if you make a mistake, you don’t let it rattle your confidence.’’

Ainge knows he’s not likely to find an unknown Sam Jones from tiny North Carolina Central or a John Havlicek with the last pick of the first round. Those kinds of things don’t happen anymore. But he’ll have the Power of Red with him when the Celtics go to work Thursday night.


Dan Shaughnessy can be reached at dshaughnessy