When asked about naming his All-Time team, Red Auerbach immediately said, “Can’t do it.” He continued to explain there are too many great players to pick just 5. The only way you can do it, in Red’s opinion back in 1990, was to pick 12. So who made the list?
Red Auerbach’s top 12
No man has had the same impact and influence on an NBA team as Auerbach had for the Boston Celtics. Auerbach coached the C’s from ’50 to ’66, was the GM from ’66 to ’84, and was president/vice-chairman from ’84 to ’06. Even in his coaching days, Red was heavily involved in building the team, from drafting to trading players. Think of any legendary Celtics player, and Red was the guy that gave the final OK to bring them in.
Back in 1990, the legendary coach/GM was asked to name his top 12 players of all time. Auerbach chose Bill Russell and Kareem Abdul Jabbar for the center position and Julius Erving, Larry Bird, Elgin Baylor, and Bob Pettit at the forward position. With six guys left, Red went with John Havlicek, Bob Cousy, Magic Johnson, Michael Jordan, Oscar Robertson, and Jerry West.
How Auerbach made his picks
Auerbach obviously selected guys from different eras but did not pick them because they were good in their time. To make Red’s list, your game had to be timeless. He stressed that the players on his list could play in any era. (Keep in mind he made the list in 1990)
“Bob Pettit was a big 6’9”, Elgin Baylor was a quick strong forward. He was only 6’5”, but he played like 6’8” – 6’9”. Oscar Robertson 6’5”, Jerry West 6’4”, Cousy 6’2”. They were not little people.”Red Auerbach, CLNS
Charles Barkley and Karl Malone were Red’s honorable mentions. For Auerbach, these superstars put up great numbers but also sold tickets. The rivalry of Bird-Magic and the arrival of MJ as the league’s next superstar helped the NBA reach popularity worldwide.
The only thing that is different from the 1960s, 70s, and 80s to the current NBA is the level of athleticism of your average player. What makes the best guys the best is the fact their athleticism combined with their skill and IQ made them transcendent – that’s what all 12 on Red’s list are.