Well, the Celtics aren't going to win it all this year. But, hey, with 17 championships they are still the winningest franchise in NBA history by a country mile. Perhaps the biggest reason why is Arnold “Red” Auerbach, the Celtics' legendary cigar-smoking coach, general manager, and team president. As it turns out, the Celtics were bounced from the playoffs this year 50 years to the day that Auerbach lit up his final victory cigar as a coach—fittingly a Game 7 championship win over the Lakers.

I wanted to get a sense of Auerbach's legacy, so I started at Quincy Market, where a bronze statue stands in memory of the late Celtics great. But on a rainy, unseasonably cold morning, there wasn’t much foot traffic. Eventually, a single brave soul ambled to the statue of one of the great basketball minds of all time, or so I thought. Turns out that Federico Bocce, a visitor from Argentina, wasn’t drawn in by the bronze man on the bench, but by a nearby plaque honoring Celtics great Larry Bird. Here's how our chat went down:

Me: So you’ve heard of Larry Bird?
Federico: Yah, of course. I used to play basketball in college so I heard about him.
ME: But this guy here with the big cigar that we’re looking at – Red Auerbach – you’ve never hear of him?
Federico: Never in my life.

We can perhaps forgive our Argentinian friend for not knowing it, but without Auerbach, there would have been no Larry Bird in Boston. Or Bill Russell, John Havlicek, Robert Parish, Kevin McHale…you get the point. In the rafters above the Garden hang 17 NBA championship banners. Auerbach presided over 16 of them.

"He was a presence. The cigar was a presence," said Dan Shaughnessy, who's covered the Celtics for the Boston Globe since the early 1980s. "You could smell him coming. You knew he was in the gym."

Auerbach’s legendary street smarts and unmatched tenacity are qualities Shaughnessy says Auerbach developed early, growing up in Great Depression Brooklyn as the son of an immigrant dry cleaner.

"He bought some socks on the subway. It was a real deal, a bunch of socks for a quarter or some number," Shaughnessy said. "But then when he got home he unraveled them and they didn’t match. And it was like, ‘Well, I’m never gonna get taken again.’ And he really went through life that way. He was going to throw the first punch. He was not going to get sucker punched."

Auerbach’s first years with the Celtics, in the 1950s and '60s, were as a coach. Celtics broadcaster Tommy Heinsohn, who played for Auerbach, points out that in those early NBA days, coaching wasn’t simply coaching.

"He was not just the coach, he was the whole operation," Heinsohn said. "You know, he booked the planes and [was the] road secretary. Every which way he was the boss man."

As the boss man, he transformed modern basketball, from his use of the fast break to his concept of the sixth man. A fierce, aggressive competitor with a seemingly endless bag of tricks, he was as beloved in Boston as he was hated around the league.

"Red always played every possible angle he could to get every possible edge he could," said sportswriter John Feinstein, who wrote the book “Let Me Tell You a Story” with Auerbach.

Shaughnessy elaborated: "You know, grab the other other guy's shorts, talk to the other guy about how he's not getting many shots and his teammates don't like him."

Feinstein says Auerbach even had a policy that you couldn’t eat pancakes on game day because he thought they sat in your stomach and slowed you down.

But Heinsohn says that what truly set Auerbach apart, was how he dealt with his players. In an era of what Heinsohn called “Prussian field general” coaches, Auerbach demanded that his players be partners—and think for themselves.

"In the last two minutes of a ballgame if we were like 10 points down he would call a timeout," he said. "Here’s what would transpire in these huddle: He would say, ‘Has anybody got anything?’"

It instilled, to a man, what Heinsohn calls “pride of authorship,” and an unwavering commitment to winning, to each other, and to their coach.

"That’s why John Thompson, the great Georgetown coach, once said that Red was the greatest leader of men he ever met," said Feinstein. "His loyalty to them inspired loyalty to him from them."

On April 28, 1966, after leading the Celtics to their ninth NBA championship in 10 seasons, Auerbach stepped away from coaching forever. As his hand-picked replacement, he chose the the great Bill Russell. In doing so, he completed a string of groundbreaking moves that Shaughnessy said is an important part of Auerbach’s legacy.

"He goes down in history as the first guy to draft a black player, the first guy to assemble an all-black starting five, the first guy to hire a black coach in North American sports," Shaughnessy said. "Those are things to very proud of."

From the bench, Auerbach stepped into the Celtics front office full time, where he would remain until the day he died in 2006, wheeling, dealing and architecting seven more championship teams.

"The Celtics have won more NBA championships than any franchise. They are the signature franchise of the NBA still," Feinstein said. "And the reason they’ve won 17 titles, and the reason they’re the NBA's signature franchise, and the reason they’re still looked at as one of the great dynasties in the history of sports is Red Auerbach. Period. End of discussion."