NBA's 72 "Greatest" Moments: Red Auerbach v. Ben Kerner
This qualifies as one of the 72 “Greatest” Moments in NBA History
“I remember St. Louis, of course, for a punch I did throw,” Red Auerbach wrote in 1966. “It is a punch I still regret.” That punch was thrown in the 1957 NBA Finals, as Auerbach’s Boston Celtics played the Hawks. The owner of the Hawks, Ben Kerner, was the victim of Red’s temper.
That’s the end of this story, but how did we get to the point where an NBA coach would give an NBA owner five across the lip like he was Redd Foxx instead of Red Auerbach?
The story begins, as so many do, in Moline, Illinois…
The year was 1949 and the NBA had just inaugurated its first season. The Tri-Cities Blackhawks had joined the new league from the old NBL. Even played in the first NBA game. But after a mere seven contests the mercurial Kerner fired Roger Potter as head coach, who was 1-6.
Potter was replaced with Auerbach. Over the previous three years Auerbach had guided the BAA’s Washington Capitols to an overall record of 115-53, good for a .685 win percentage. Not bad!
Auerbach quickly got the Blackhawks in order as they finished the 1949-50 season with a 28-29 record. In the playoffs, they lost to the far superior Anderson Packers, but a good season, I’d say. Nonetheless, Auerbach resigned as coach of Tri-Cities in April 1950. As Auerbach explained in his book, Red Auerbach: Winning the Hard Way, Kerner had unnecessarily meddled with the roster throughout the year. The moves left ole Red with the impression that “Ben Kerner didn’t believe in me, that he had no faith in me as a coach. I was crushed.”