November 06, 2006

Seeing Red

Thought I’d share my personal story on the passing of Red Auerbach last week:

I was 16 years old and the sports editor on my high school newspaper.
> That same year, Red came out with his autobiography Red Auerbach: On
> and Off the Court. Red and I were both residents of Montgomery
> County, Maryland, and somehow I learned that he would be speaking at
> our local JCC as part of their annual book fair. So I made a few
> calls, and the head of the book fair arranged for me to attend the
> talk and sit down with Red afterward for a one-on-one interview.
> Pretty big stuff for a young Jewish reporter, though Red and Sandy
> Koufax have always inspired highly conflicted feelings for me; I am a
> Yankees and Bullets fan (born in Bronx, raised in Maryland) just as
> much as I am a Jew. I HATED the Celtics. The fact that Koufax and
> Auerbach played for my biggest rivals was twistedly b'shert.*
> I arrive at the talk with notepad and handheld tape recorder. There
> are about 20-30 people in attendance. So I'm sitting there, listening
> to and recording the talk and taking notes, just hoping Red didn't
> talk longer than 60 minutes because I didn't have a backup tape. Red
> is regaling everyone and smoking a cigar in a public building (ahhh,
> the
> 80's) and people are enjoying his talk, though I would say he was less
> than a Clinton-esque public speaker. So now it's Q&A time and some
> people are asking questions. I figure I'll get a head start on the
> interview, so in one of a lifelong series of fateful mistakes, I raise
> my hand.
> Red pointed his cigar at me and said "Okay, this kid, he's dressed
> nice." (gray crewneck sweater over dress shirt tucked inside sweater
> collar, tan
> slacks) I stood up and squeakily asked "what was the single most
> important thing that separated your Celtics from Wilt's 76ers in the
> 60's?" Red paused, took a big puff on his cigar, paused again, and
> was about to answer my question when he said "son, is that a tape
> recorder in your hand?"
> "Uh, yes. School newspaper."
> Red shook his head, muttered "next question" and turned his attention
> elsewhere. I didn't sit down as much as I dissolved into my chair.
> Another guy started asking him a question but Red interrupted him,
> turned back to me and said "son, what you did tonight was a terrible
> thing. I might say something I don't want to be repeated, and you
> would have it on tape, and that's illegal." Then he went back to the
> other guy. Hey, thanks for the advice Red!
> Three things:
> 1) it is legal to tape any public speaking engagement in Maryland, and
> practically anywhere else in the 50 states;
> 2) I had received permission to tape his talk from the book chair
> woman beforehand, and
> 3) can I have my soul back?
> I sat there until the end of the talk, picked my heart up off the
> floor and headed out the doors, too mortified to show up for the
> post-talk interview (big mistake, and in fact a friend of mine
> interviewed Red instead. But at the time I was way too nervous and
> intimidated to recover). I stood catatonically outside the auditorium
> while some friends consoled me, then I went home to tell my eagerly
> expectant family that Red took all 16 NBA title trophies, melted them
> down into one large blunt object and used it to teach me the meaning
> of the word respect. It was a somber eggplant casserole I ate that
> night in the Kranz household.
> The next morning I am walking around school, still in shock, when I
> get a call to come to the front office. It's the book fair lady on
> the phone, telling me that Mrs. Auerbach (who died in 2000) was
> standing outside the waiting to drive home with her husband and
> overheard what happened to me, and on the way home she gave Red an
> earful for being such a lout to a young reporter, and that Red called
> and wanted to do "something to make it up to that kid."
> Wow. So that's what brought me back to the JCC 2-3 days later, at
> which time the book fair lady bestowed upon me an autographed copy of
> Red's autobiography, and an inscription. "To Joshua Kranz:
> You were doing a job. I apologize for getting on you. You didn't
> know what you were doing - Red Auerbach."

A prick to the end, and the greatest Jewish sports figure of all time. F__ the Celtics

- JK

* “meant to be” in Yiddish

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