Early in my sales career, I had the fortune of meeting with and introducing Red Auerbach at a McCormack & Dodge User Conference in Boston, MA, in 1985.  This turned out to be a seminal moment in my career.  I will explain.

For those unfamiliar with the legendary Red Auerbach, here are some highlights of his career in the National Basketball Association.

Red Auerbach’s tenure as the head coach for the Boston Celtics from 1950 through 1966 was a golden era for the team. Under his leadership, the Celtics achieved unprecedented success, winning over 1,400 games, eleven Eastern Division titles (including nine in a row from 1957–65), eleven appearances in the NBA finals (including ten in a row from 1957–66), and nine NBA championships. Auerbach’s total of sixteen NBA championships in a span of 29 years (1957-86) as the Celtics coach, general manager, and team president, solidifies his position as the most successful team official in NBA history.

Red was also known for emphasizing civil rights and bringing African American players into the NBA. He was elected to the Basketball Hall of Fame in 1969 and authored seven books. Red died in 2006.

Red was known as a cigar smoker. He would light his cigar when he thought the Celtics had won the game.

In 1982, McCormack & Dodge was acquired by Dun & Bradstreet.  The D & B executive that Frank Dodge, the M & D CEO, reported to was David S. Fehr.  Dave was a very accomplished information technology executive who was physically large.  I would estimate that he was over 6 feet tall and at approximately 250 pounds. He was also the most avid NBA and Boston Celtics fan I ever met.  Dave could easily recall any fact or statistic about the Celtics (and his alma mater Williams College.)  This would include their annual draft choices, and annual performances of each year’s team.

When I learned that the company had booked Red Auerbach as a luncheon speaker for our meeting, I reached out to Dave Fehr and invited him to attend and meet Red Auerbach.  Dave initially told me he had a conflict with the date but was able to change his schedule so that he could attend.

When Red arrived at the Cambridge Hyatt, I met him and briefed him on the people who would be sitting with him at the head table.  I told him that my boss, Frank Dodge, reported to Dave Fehr and that he was a very important person at Dun & Bradstreet.  I also told Red that Dave was an encyclopedia of facts about the Boston Celtics and may know as much about the team as he did.  Red grinned and chomped on his unlit cigar.

When Dave Fehr walked into the room, I immediately introduced him to Red Auerbach, who removed the cigar from his mouth and said, “So you’re the fat guy that Steve told me about.”) I had never mentioned Dave’s size or weight to Red.) Dave responded, “I guess I am.”  Then we sat down and enjoyed our lunch before Red addressed the audience.

When we were eating, I asked Red about the rumor being discussed in newspapers about the Celtics acquiring NBA star Bill Walton.  Although we had a mixed-gender group at the table Red began a x rated filled-tirade that went something like this:

“Here we go again.  The MF sportswriters are at it again.  They don’t know what they’re doing.  They don’t know what they are saying.  They are some of the stupidest sob’s that are on earth.  I can’t stand how they say and print this garbage.” And on and on.

I responded, “So, Red, you are saying that the rumors are all false!”  Red responded to me: (and to the mixed group of customers) “Steve, are you f***king hard of hearing?”

The very next day, September 6, 1985, I received a copy of USA Today in my hotel room.  The sports page headline was “The Boston Celtics have traded for Bill Walton.” Walton went on to play his final two years in the NBA with the Celtics before becoming a very successful broadcaster.

The lesson I learned was that sometimes people lie directly to your face and others if they need to keep certain matters confidential. Up until that point, I don’t think I had ever encountered anything so blatant and was naïve. I was also taught a lesson by one of the greatest minds that ever lived.