Red Auerbach and Team Leadership

May 17, 2016

Russ Ewell

“After a certain amount of money, it don’t make a damn bit of difference. (A player) makes a million dollars, anything after that, it’s just numbers. So you have to appeal to his pride, his wanting to win, and you disregard the money. The only thing I did years ago was tell them, ‘Your salary is dependent solely on what I see with my eyes.’ Statistics don’t matter, contributions matter. Winning matters.’ You rewarded people that way. Today, you can’t do that — it’s all about stats and who’s getting theirs. So I would have had to change my approach. You adapt.”

Red Auerbach (Seeing Red After All These Years)

The business world appears to have discovered team leadership around 1992, when Jon R. Katzenbach and Douglas K. Smith published “The Wisdom of Teams.”

This is a good book, but it has never made my pulse race as much as Pat Riley’s “The Winner Within,” or the sound of Red Auerbach’s voice saying anything about team leadership.

I spent the eighties in Boston as a Lakers fan, which explains the Riley reference (inspired by my favorite player of all-time Magic Johnson). Despite my affinity for the team from the west, it was the team-building of the Celtic’s which shadowed my young existence.

I can still remember attending my first Celtics game in 1980, and experiencing the magical moment of watching Larry Bird against Dr. J (I can also remember the extreme racism in the stands by some unruly fans, a factor any Celtic attendee of color had to deal with).

Nothing could keep me from watching the Celtics even though I wanted the Lakers to destroy them, because the Celtics personified team. The fans and even the city personified team.

This spirit and culture of team was built by Red Auerbach. The words of Bill Simmons explain it best.

Growing up in Boston in the ’70s and ’80s, we possessed three treasures that nobody else had: Fenway, the Garden and Red. He was our trump card. He had mystical powers. He made things happen. He fleeced other teams. He found diamonds in the rough. He intimidated officials. He stamped his winning imprint on everyone and everything. He was the Celtics. Sixteen championships in 30 years … and they all happened because of him.

Bill Simmons, Seeing Red After All These Years