Oct. 26, 2012
Six years after his passing on Oct. 28, 2006, GWsports.com remembers GW and NBA legend Red Auerbach through the eyes of Aubre Jones, GW Director of Recreational Sports
Remember the days of your youth? The days when your parents' friends and coworkers made special note of you when they saw you - asking about school, homework, summer plans and what not, trying to forge a relationship with the next generation. Now, imagine if one of those people was a basketball titan, head coach of the Boston Celtics, for whom statues would later be erected. Such was the life of a young Aubre Jones, son of Celtics guard Sam Jones, who had GW legend Arnold `Red' Auerbach doting on him from before he can remember.
"Coach Auerbach knew me before I was even born," said Jones, reflecting on the man he still calls `Coach' years after Auerbach passed and despite never actually having him as a coach. "I didn't have grandfathers because both of my grandfathers died when I was young so Coach Auerbach was almost like a grandfather to me. I go to his gravesite every year on his birthday and on the day he died. When you've known a guy since you can remember it's different. He's known me for as long as anybody."
From the time that Jones would go to historic Boston Garden to watch his father carve out a championship legacy in professional basketball topped only by Bill Russell, to decades later when he was reunited with Auerbach in Foggy Bottom, the relationship between Aubre Jones and Red Auerbach was special.
Jones, who works today as Director of Recreational Sports at GW, reflects with great emotion on his time spent with Auerbach, not just those from his youth, but the special times shared at George Washington watching their beloved Colonials play, competing in racquetball, and of course, over countless of Red's legendary weekly lunches at the China Doll in northwest Washington, D.C.
"Every Tuesday," Jones said of the lunches. "Granted it has been six years since Coach Auerbach passed away, but we still continue to meet. Coach is missed, but I am sure that he is up there and he is still listening to our lunches. There is still a big part of him in all of us."
The `us' that Jones speaks of is a who's who of Washington area basketball coaches, media members, businessmen and politicians - who gathered weekly to talk hoops with a basketball god and his late brother, Zang. Former GW AD Jack Kvancz, radio host and writer John Feinstein, Fox News' Chris Wallace, former Washington Post Sports Editor George Solomon, CBS' Reid Collins, former Washington Bullets owner Arnold Heft, GW Hall of Fame women's basketball coach Joe McKeown, and the list goes on and on.
"Over the years we had politicians that would come in, Congressmen and Senators from Massachusetts who wanted to be a part of the lunch," noted Jones. "Tip O'Neill and Ed Markey came to lunch. I wouldn't doubt that Ted Kennedy or Mitt Romney made a lunch in the day. It was always pretty special."
Recalling the lunches over the years, Jones seems like he's experiencing the best of times shared with Red all over again. It wasn't just Auerbach's inner-circle of basketball cognoscente that would attend lunch either, as the living legend had no shortage of fans that would give anything for an invite to the mystical lunches.
"There was a person that makes cakes that was always a big Celtics fan and a big Coach Auerbach fan and he wanted to come to lunch," recalls Jones. "I am not sure exactly the person to invite him but he became known as `the cake man.' Most people came to lunch for the first time and just sat back and let everybody talk. Well, the cake man came to lunch and the cake man took over the lunch it was the cake man's show. He just kept asking questions and kept talking and he was so unlike any other first timer that came. Tip O'Neill can come to lunch and he can just talk because Tip O'Neill was bigger than life, but the cake man is the cake man. We don't even remember the cake man's name we just know of him as the cake man."
It is stories like that that light up Jones, just like the days of his boyhood watching his Dad win 10 NBA Championships for the Celtics.
"When you tell the stories now, it's amazing," he notes. "When I tell the story it baffles people, but Bill Russell won 11 Championships. My father has 10 - the second-most of anyone that's played in the NBA."
Still, the lunches and his time shared with Red many years later were what seemed most special to Jones. "When I was growing up my life was no different than my next door neighbor whose father was a doctor. I always thought that was pretty darn impressive."
Lunch with Red, however, is the stuff of legend.
"One time coach Auerbach drove me and Jack Kvancz over to the restaurant. He had a new Lexus. He parked the car, and we went in and ate lunch. He would usually park in a No Parking zone and never get a ticket. Well, after a 90 minute lunch we came out of the restaurant and Coach was trying to feel around his pants and saying `where are my keys?' It turns out that Coach forgot to turn the car off when he parked. He had left his keys in the Lexus with the car running, but the car ran so smoothly that no one could hear it. I said `Coach, the car is on and the keys are in the car.' Everybody came out of the restaurant at the same time, and there were about 15 guys on the sidewalk just laughing like crazy about what had happened."
"His driving was legendary too because he would make turns like nobody was on the road even though there was somebody barreling at us," recalls Jones. "Jack (Kvancz) and Joe (McKeown) and I would just give a sign of the cross and just hope we made it in one piece."
The luck of the (Celtics) Irish, perhaps.
In a lifetime full of memories - with recollections of growing up as the son of one of the NBA's 50 greatest players of all time, and memories of two men probably well past their physical prime not giving an inch on the racquetball court - it seems difficult for Jones to pick a favorite memory.
There were fun times spent in the company of Wilt Chamberlain, a good friend of his father's, who despite his status as the star of a rival team became one of Jones' favorite players. "There was a story written one year when the Celtics were playing the Lakers," remembers Jones. "My father told the Boston press `hey my son is rooting for Wilt to win,' so there was this big article, me rooting for Wilt. That ran in the Boston Herald, the Boston Globe, my parents still have the clippings of that. I didn't know any better. I was just rooting for a guy I really liked."
And of those racquetball games in Foggy Bottom, Jones thinks back to the competition from a man that he thought of like a grandfather with awe. "He was a competitor. He stopped playing at 79 years old but he was still a good racquetball player then. To this day I will tell you he is the best 79 year old racquetball player I ever saw play. He still had that same competitive fire that he had when he won an NBA title. It made him happy, the competition made him happy. We should all be so lucky to be moving like that at 79."
Still, nothing beat the weekly lunches - that special time at 11 am (to beat the crowds) every Tuesday when Red's group gathered to talk hoops. They did, and still do, hold tremendous meaning to all of the lunch-goers, albeit with something amiss these days. Asked about who picked up the check, Jones lovingly remembers.
"Coach Auerbach paid every time. We had some heavy hitters that would come to lunch, but the only time he would let people pay was on his birthday. He had the Celtics corporate card, and to this day we still joke we wish he had that corporate card."
Jones speaks for the entire GW community who remember a legend, and who all wish that Red was still around.