The deaths of three major sports figures hit the news today. Red Auerbach, the legendary coach of the Boston Celtics, died at the age of 89. He won nine NBA Championships, including eight in a row from 1959-1966. He also retired with more wins than any other coach (a record which was surpassed by Lenny Wilkens in the 1994-95 season). Auerbach enraged opponents with his habit of lighting a cigar at courtside when he felt his team had ensured their victory.
Joe Niekro, who spent 21-years pitching in the majors, died suddenly after suffering a brain aneurysm. The knuckleballer won 221 games with seven teams, but I’ll always remember him best for an incident when he was with the Twins in 1987. While pitching in a game against the Angels, Niekro was accused of doctoring the ball with an emery board. When umpire Steve Palermo came to the mound and asked the pitcher to empty his pockets, Niekro pulled the board from his pocket and tossed it to the ground in a futile attempt to conceal the evidence of his crime. Needless to say, it didn’t work, and Niekro ended up with a ten-game suspension.
Finally, we have the sad case of former heavyweight champion Trevor Berbick. His body was found in a church courtyard in Kingston , Jamaica, in what police believe was a homicide. Berbick won the heavyweight title in 1986, holding it for just eight months before losing it to 20-year old Mike Tyson. Berbick first came to the public spotlight in 1981 when he beat Muhammad Ali in what would be the last fight of Ali’s career.