With all the recent talk of basketball history regarding the NBA’s 75th anniversary team, I thought it was a good time to compile a similar all-time team for the fabled Celtics franchise.
The Boston Celtics are one of eight teams who have existed since the Basketball Association of America was formed for its inaugural campaign in 1946-47. Only Boston and the New York Knicks have remained in their original city since the league’s inception.
The Celtics have gone on to win a league-best 17 championships, the rival Knicks two (none since 1973). The Lakers also have won 17 crowns, but the first five came when the franchise was located in Minneapolis.
Incidentally, future actor Chuck Connors accidentally broke a glass backboard in pre-game warmups for the Celtics in their very first game at the Boston Arena on November 5, 1946, almost cancelling it.
Another backboard was located across town at the Boston Garden, which was hosting a rodeo. After traversing a room full of Brahman bulls at the rodeo to reach the backboard, it was finally transported and installed after a wait of over two hours, narrowly avoiding a major embarrassment for the fledgling league and team.
The Celtics eventually lost that first home game 57-55 to the Chicago Stags before 6,000 fans. Connors scored eight points, almost double his season scoring average. Boston compiled a 22-38 record in their first season, tying them for last in the six-team Eastern Division of the BAA with Toronto.
After three seasons, the BAA merged with the older National Basketball League (born in 1935) to form the newly-named National Basketball Association for the 1949-50 season.
The NBL featured good teams in smaller market franchises like the Ft. Wayne (Detroit) Pistons, Minneapolis (Los Angeles) Lakers, Syracuse Nationals (now the 76ers), Tri-Cities Blackhawks (now Atlanta), Rochester Royals (forerunner of the Kings) and defunct franchises like the Sheboygan Redskins, Anderson (In.) Duffey Packers, Indianapolis Jets and Oshkosh All-Stars.
The BAA had the big-city teams and bigger arenas in Boston, New York, Washington (Capitols), Chicago (Stags), Philadelphia (Warriors), Detroit (Falcons), Cleveland (Rebels), St. Louis (Bombers) and Toronto (Huskies), who folded after one year. The BAA’s Providence Steamrollers and Pittsburgh Ironmen, along with the Bombers, followed Toronto’s lead within two years after hemorrhaging money.
Able to pay higher salaries, the better-heeled big-market BAA began to take some of the best players and eventually teams from the NBL. From a 17-team league in 1949-50, the new NBA was pared down to 11 clubs for the 1950-51 season, and 10 the following year.
It is worth noting that of the first seven league champions after the merger from 1950-56, only the 1956 Warriors were originally a BAA club. The ex-NBL Royals, Lakers and Nationals combined to win the other titles.
Criteria for making my 76-man, all-time Celtic team are quality of play and longevity with the team (only with Boston), awards earned while a member of Gang Green and any other special contributions made to the club’s success, especially titles.
Reflecting today’s enlarged NBA 15-man rosters comprised of 12 players and three sliding roster spots, I decided to go with five 15-man teams with first, second and third strings of five players apiece on each team with a coach.
Since the NBA added a 76th player to its all-time list, I did too, with the famed sixth man role Boston popularized as the extra man on the A or first team first string.
As for an example of my player selection and ranking, even though Kings two-time All-Star Scott Wedman and Hall of Famer Bailey Howell were better players than Don Nelson over the course of their NBA careers, their Celtic contributions were lesser than Nellie’s – mostly due to a lack of playing time and/or a much shorter tenure in Boston. Thus Nelson is ranked higher than the other two standout forwards.
Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown are headed for higher status assuming they continue on their current pace with Boston, but so far they have not played long enough to be ranked higher.
Antoine Walker may have been more talented than Tom “Satch” Sanders but didn’t play as long or win any rings, compared to eight for Satch, who was a top defender. In the two campaigns from 2000-02, Walker launched just under eight – 8! – treys per game and made just 35 percent of his often ill-advised launches. Comparatively, Sanders only averaged 8.7 total shots per game over his career, but made more intangible contributions to championship clubs.
Paul Silas also was not as offensively-skilled as Walker, but he was a far better rebounder, defender and team player who was a very key contributor on two title teams. Likewise, Nate Archibald and Charlie Scott were better, particularly on offense, than Don Chaney. But Duck played 10 years for Boston, won two titles and was a top defender on four other teams that lost in the conference finals. In an interesting piece of trivia as well, he is the only Celtic to play with both Bill Russell and Larry Bird. His rookie campaign was Russell’s swansong, and Chaney’s last season was Bird’s first.
Keep in mind too that blocked shots were not kept as an official NBA statistic until 1973, four years after supreme swatter Bill Russell retired, and that the All-Defense teams were not recognized until the 1968-69 season.
Otherwise, great defenders like Russell, Satch Sanders, K.C. Jones and John Havlicek would have many more All-Defense team honors on their respective resumes. Hondo and Frank Ramsey also starred off the bench well before the NBA began naming its Sixth Man of the Year award in 1983, or both would have won that honor multiple times.
Also, the Finals MVP award also began in Russell’s final season of 1969, before the first 10 championships his teams won. Certainly he would have won several playoff MVP awards, with Cousy and perhaps Havlicek (1968) garnering a few or more as well.
Celtic skippers Red Auerbach, who retired as the league’s all-time winningest coach, and Bill Fitch were also named to the NBA’s “10 Greatest Coaches List” back in 1997. Coaching records below only reflect wins and losses amassed with Boston in regular season and the playoffs.
All-time Celtics are noted below with years played for Boston, jersey number, number of championships won, and other key career stats and honors compiled while playing only for the Celtics.
As for who the greatest Celtic of them all is, it comes down to Russell, Havlicek and Bird. My vote goes to Larry Legend even though he won less rings because he was the best all-around and played in a tougher era in many senses.
Russell was a poor shooter and dribbler, and Hondo did not become a good shooter until a few years into his long career. Even though Bird was nit-picked unfairly for his defense, he was a second team All-NBA choice on defense by the coaches three times. He had superbly quick hands, great positioning and anticipation, and was great at stealing the ball. Later on, he became a master at swiping the ball off the head of unsuspecting opponents. Bird also was the premier defensive rebounding forward of the 1980’s, and took more charges than anyone. Bird also excelled at getting back on transition defense and stopping fast breaks often single-handedly, a thankless and unquantified but key contribution on defense.
All-time Laker great player and talent evaluator Jerry West even called Bird “very nearly perfect in all aspects of the game.” Pretty high praise from a basketball savant on a rival franchise.
Wilt Chamberlain called Bird the greatest all-around player ever. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar has said in several interviews recently that Bird was the best all-around player he ever faced off against. Even LeBron James has said Bird is the greatest small forward ever, not him.
As early as 1981 then-Bulls coach Jerry Sloan called Bird the “best all-around player I have ever seen” after Boston swept Chicago 4-0 en route to Larry’s first NBA crown. And Sloan was a perennial all-defense pick, a hard-nosed All-Star swingman who hounded the likes of Robertson, West, Havlicek, Frazier, Barry and others in their primes.
Not only was Bird arguably the best all-around shooter of his era, he was a great rebounder, the best passing forward ever, and a great clutch player who played very hurt the last half of his career at a very high level. He was arguably the smartest player ever as well.
C-#6 BILL RUSSELL 1956-69, 11 titles, 5 MVPs, 22.5 rebounds & 15.1 points per game, 12 All-Stars, All-NBA 1st team 3 times, 2nd team 8 times, 1963 All-Star Game MVP, All-defense 2nd team in first year of award 1968-69.
F-#33 LARRY BIRD 1979-92, 3 titles, 3 MVPs, 1984/86 Finals MVP, 12 All-Stars, All-NBA 1st team first 9 seasons (1980-88), All-NBA 2nd team once (1990), franchise ppg leader (24.3 ppg), avg. 10.0 rebs and 6.3 assists a game, All-defense 2nd team 3 times (1982-84), 1982 All-Star Game MVP, 3-time NBA 3-point shootout champ (1986-88), Celtic career playoff points leader (3,897), career 49.6 FG%, 88.6 FT%, 37.6 3-pt%, 4 time FT pct. champ.
F/G-#17 JOHN HAVLICEK 1962-78, 8 titles, 1974 Finals MVP, All-NBA 1st team 5 times (1970-74), All-NBA 2nd team 7 times, 13 All-Stars, franchise leader in points, 2nd in Celtic playoff points, 1st in games played, All-defense 1st team 5 times, 2nd team 3 times, 20.8 career ppg.
G-#24 SAM JONES 1957-69, 10 titles, All-NBA 2nd team 3 times, 5 All-Star Games, 17.7 ppg, 4.9 rebs, 80.3 FT%
G-#14 BOB COUSY 1950-63, 6 titles, 1957 MVP, All-NBA 1st team 10 times, 2nd team 2 times, 13 All-Stars, franchise assist leader,18.5 ppg, 7.6 apg, 80.3 FG%, 2-time All-Star Game MVP
6TH MAN-F/C #32 KEVIN McHALE, 1980-93, 3 titles, 1987 1st team NBA, All-defense 1st team 3 times, 2nd team 3 times, 7 All-Stars, 6th Man of Year 1984, 17.9 ppg, 7.9 rebs, 55.4 FG%, 79.8 FT%
Coach-#2 ARNOLD “RED” AUERBACH, 1950-66, 9 titles, 795-397, 90-58 playoffs
C-#18 DAVE COWENS 1970-80, 2 titles, 1973 MVP, 1971 Co-Rookie of Year, 8 All-Star Games, 18 ppg, 14 rebs & 4 apg, All-NBA 2nd team 2 times, All-defense 1st team 1 time, 3 times 2nd team, 1973 All-Star Game MVP
F-#34 PAUL PIERCE 1998-2013, 1 title, 2008 Finals MVP, All-Star 10 times, #2 franchise point scorer (21.4 ppg), 2nd team NBA 1 time, 3rd team 3 times
F-#15 TOM HEINSOHN 1956-65, 8 titles, 18.6 ppg, 8.2 rebs, 6 All-Stars, 19.8 ppg & 9.2 rebs in 104 playoff games, All-NBA 2nd team 4 times
G-#21 BILL SHARMAN 1951-61, 4 titles, 8 All-Stars, 7 FT% titles, 18 ppg, 4 rebs, 4 apg, All-NBA 1st team 4 times, 2nd team 3 times
G-#10 JO JO WHITE 1969-78, 2 titles, 1976 Finals MVP, 18 ppg, 4 rebs, 5 apg, 83.4 FT%, 7 All-Stars (71-77), All-NBA 2nd team 2 times
C-#00 ROBERT PARISH 1980-94, 3 titles, 9 All-Stars, 15 ppg, 10 rebs, 54 FG%. All-NBA 2nd team 1 time, 3rd time 1 time
F/C-#22 ED MACAULEY 1950-56, 6 All-Stars, 19 ppg, 8 rebs, All-NBA 1st team 3 times, 2nd team 1 time, 1951 All-Star Game MVP
F-#16 TOM SANDERS 1960-73, 8 titles, 9.6 ppg, 6.3 rebs, All-defense 2nd team 1969
G/F-#23 FRANK RAMSEY 1954-64, 7 titles, 1st great 6th man, 13.4 ppg, 80.4 FT%
G-#44 DANNY AINGE 1982-89, 2 titles, 1 All-Star, 12 ppg, 4.5 apg, 86 FT%, 39 3-pt%
G-#3 DENNIS JOHNSON 1983-90, 2 titles, All-defense 1st team 1 time, 2nd team 3 times, 13 ppg, All-Star 1 time, 84 FT%
F/C-#5 KEVIN GARNETT 2007-13, 1 title, 15.5 ppg, 8.5 rebs, 2008 NBA Defensive Player of Year, 5 All-Stars, All-defense 1st team 3 times, 2nd team 1 time
F-#19 DON NELSON 1965-76, 5 titles, 11.5 ppg mostly as top reserve, 1974 NBA FG% Champ
F-#31 CEDRIC MAXWELL 1977-85, 2 titles, 1981 Finals MVP, 13.5 ppg, 6.5 rebs, 2-time FG% champ
G-#20 RAY ALLEN 2007-12, 1 title, 16 ppg, 91 FT%, 41 3-pt %
G-#9 RAJON RONDO 2006-13, 1 title, 11.1 ppg, 8.3 apg, 2-time assist leader, 4 All-Star Games, All-NBA 3rd team 1 time, All-defense 1st/2nd team 2 times each
Coach-Tom Heinsohn, 1969-78, 2 titles, 5 ECF, 427-263, 47-33 playoffs
C-#43 KENDRICK PERKINS 2003-10, 1 title, 7 ppg, 6 rebs
F-#18 BAILEY HOWELL 1965-69, 2 titles, 18 ppg, 8.4 rpg, Hall of Famer
F-#0 JAYSON TATUM 2017-present 19.3 ppg, 6.4 rpg
G-#20 LARRY SIEGFRIED 1963-70, 5 titles, 2 FT crowns, 12 ppg, 85 FT%, 4 apg
G-#25/27 K.C. JONES 1958-67, 8 titles, great defender, 7.4 ppg, 4.3 apg
C-#5 BILL WALTON 1985-87, 1 title, 6th man of Year 1985-86
F-#35 PAUL SILAS 1972-76, 2 titles, 12 ppg, 12 rebs
F-#8/88 ANTOINE WALKER 1997-2003, 2005, 19 ppg, 8 rebs, 4 assists, 3 All-Stars
G-#35 REGGIE LEWIS 1987-93 17.6 ppg 4.3 rpg. 1 All-Star
G #12/42 DON CHANEY 1969-75 & 77-80, 2 titles, 9 ppg, All-defense 2nd team 5 times
C-#19 ARNIE RISEN 1955-58, 1 title, 7.5 ppg. 7 rebs
F-#18 JIM LOSCUTOFF 1955-64, 7 titles, 6.2 ppg, 5.6 rebs
G/F-#7 JAYLEN BROWN 2018-present 15.2 ppg
G-#4 ISAIAH THOMAS 2014—17, 24.7 ppg, 6 apg (28.9 ppg 2016-17)
G-#7 NATE ARCHIBALD 1978-83, 1 title, 1981 All-Star Game MVP, 12.5 ppg. 7.5 apg, 3 All-Stars
Head coach-BILL FITCH, 1979-83, 1 title, 3 ECF, 242-86, 26-19 playoffs
Assistant coach-K.C. Jones, 1983-88, 308-102 (75.1 win%, record in 5 seasons, 65-37 playoffs; 2 NBA titles 1984/86; 4 Eastern Conference titles 1984-87 5 Atlantic Div. crowns 1984-88
C-F-#42 AL HORFORD 2015-19, 2021-present 13.5 ppg, 7 rpg, 4.6 apg
F-#20 GORDON HAYWARD 2017-20, 13.9 ppg, 5.4 rpg, 4.5 apg
F-#8/20 SCOTT WEDMAN 1983-87, 2 titles, key sharpshooting, underused reserve, 11-11 FG (4-4 3’s) G1 1985 Finals vs. LA
G-#11 CHARLIE SCOTT 1975-78, 1 title, 16.5 ppg, 4.5 rebs
G-#42 CHRIS FORD 1978-82, 1 title, 10.5 ppg, 38% 3-pters
C-#53 RICK ROBEY, 1979-83
F-#40 DINO RADJA, 1993-97 16 ppg 8 rpg
G/F-#30 M.L. CARR 1979-85, 2 titles, 7 ppg
G-#36 MARCUS SMART
G-#20 AVERY BRADLEY
C-#45 RAEF LaFRENTZ 2003-06, 9.2 ppg, 5.8 rpg
F/C-#27 DANIEL THEIS
F-#12 WILLIE NAULLS 1963-66, 3 titles, 10 ppg
G-#44 PAUL WESTPHAL 1972-75, 1 title, top reserve
G-#12 JERRY SICHTING 1985-88, 1 title, 88. FT%
Head coach-Glenn “Doc” Rivers, 2004-13, 1 title, 2 EC titles, 416-305, 64-57 playoffs
C-#50 GREG KITE
F-#41 KELLY OLYNYK
F-#8 JEFF GREEN
G-#42 TONY ALLEN
G-#43 GERALD HENDERSON
C-#50 TONY BATTIE
F-#11/33 STEVE KUBERSKI
F-#54 RODNEY ROGERS
G/F-#34 KEVIN GAMBLE
G-#28 QUINN BUCKNER
C-#29 HANK FINKEL
F-#11 GLEN DAVIS
F-#31 FRED ROBERTS
G-#7 DEE BROWN
G-#12 TERRY ROZIER
Head coach-#6 Bill Russell 1966-69, 2 titles (as player-coach), 162-83, 28-18 playoffs.
Assistant coaches-Brad Stevens, 2013-21 8 seasons: 354-282 record, 38-40 playoffs; Chris Ford 1990-95 222-188, 13-16 playoffs.
C/F-#8 LEON POWE
F-#54 ED PINCKNEY
F-#44 BRIAN SCALABRINE
G-#4 JIM PAXSON
G-#27 KEVIN STACOM
C-#11 MEL COUNTS
F-#17 GENE CONLEY
F-#12 SIDNEY WICKS
G-#32 JEFF JUDKINS
G-#5 JOHN BAGLEY
To contact author Cort Reynolds directly, you can email him at cdrada24332yyahoo.com.