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10 Greatest Boston Celtics Players Of All Time

10 Greatest Boston Celtics Players Of All Time

The Boston Celtics feature one of the most legendary histories of any franchise in the NBA. The Celtics are tied with the Lakers for the most championships with 17. In their heyday, the Celtics won the title each season from 1959 to 1966. In the 1960s alone, the Celtics won every year except in 1967.

After that, their status as the top in the league continued into the 70s and 80s with top players like Dave Cowens, Robert Parish, Kevin McHale, and Larry Bird leading the way. After winning the title in 1986, the team had a long layoff until the team won their next title in 2008. The offseason of 2007 remains a historic one in team history. Today, the combination of Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown are trying to make their indention in the record books.

Each player’s bio includes their tenure with the team. Their stats feature numbers from their time with Boston as well as their overall career. As for the awards, these were won exclusively with the Celtics. As you will see, many of these all-time greats spent nearly their whole career with Boston.


Honorable Mentions


Tom Heinsohn

Tom Heinsohn

Years in Boston: 9 (1956-1965)

Boston: 18.6 PPG, 8.8 RPG, 2.0 APG

Career: 18.6 PPG, 8.8 RPG, 2.0 APG

Honors: 8x NBA Champion (1957, 1959-1965), 6x All-Star (1957, 1961-1965), 4x All-NBA Second Team (1961-1964), Rookie of the Year (1957), No. 15 retired by Celtics

In 1956, Heinsohn was taken as a territorial draft pick. In his first season, he went from no-name to All-Star and Rookie of the Year, where he was chosen over his teammate Bill Russell. He finished his rookie season winning a championship, where he recorded 37 points and 23 rebounds in a double-overtime Game 7 in the NBA Finals.

During Heinsohn’s nine years, he helped the team win eight championships in nine years, including seven in a row from 1959 to 1965. Heinsohn was forced to retire early because of a foot injury. During his career, he was known for his leadership in the NBA Player’s Association and was helpful in negotiating pension plans for players.


Kevin Garnett

Kevin Garnett

Years in Boston: 6 (2007-2013)

Boston: 15.7 PPG, 8.3 RPG, 2.7 APG, 1.0 SPG, 1.7 BPG

Career: 17.8 PPG, 10.0 RPG, 3.7 APG, 1.3 SPG, 1.4 BPG

Honors: NBA Champion (2008), 6x All-Star (2008-2011, 2013), 1x All-NBA First Team (2008), 1x All-NBA Third Team (2007), Defensive Player of the Year (2008), 3x All-Defensive First Team (2008, 2009, 2011), 1x All-Defensive Second Team (2012)

On July 31, 2007, Garnett was traded to the Celtics for Al Jefferson, Ryan Gomes, Sebastian Telfair, Gerald Green, Theo Ratliff, two first-round picks, and cash. It goes down as one of the greatest trades in team history. In Garnett’s first year, he was instrumental on both sides of the floor and helped the Celtics win their first championship in 2008 since 1986. Garnett won Defensive Player of the Year, while critics believe he should have won Finals MVP.

Garnett also helped the Celtics make the NBA Finals in 2010 despite the team falling to the Lakers in seven games. After that, he helped the Celtics contend with the Miami Heat, led by LeBron James. The team nearly made the NBA Finals in 2012 but fell to the Heat in the Conference Finals in seven games.


10. Robert Parish

Mandatory Credit: Tim DeFrisco/ALLSPORT

Mandatory Credit: Tim DeFrisco/ALLSPORT

Years in Boston: 14 (1980-1993)

Boston: 16.5 PPG, 10.0 RPG, 1.5 APG, 0.8 SPG, 1.5 BPG

Career: 14.5 PPG, 9.1 RPG, 1.4 APG, 0.8 SPG, 1.5 BPG

Honors: 4x NBA Champion (1981, 1984, 1986, 1997), 9x All-Star (1981-1987, 1990, 1991), 1x All-NBA Second Team (1982), 1x All-NBA Third Team (1989), NBA 50th Anniversary Team, NBA 75th Anniversary Team, No. 00 retired by Celtics

At the time of the 1980 NBA Draft, the Celtics lost Dave Cowens to retirement and Larry Bird was entering his second season. The Celtics made a trade with the Warriors to acquire Parish and their first-round pick, which the team used on Kevin McHale, while the Warriors selected Joe Barry Carroll. This was another great trade-in team history as both Parish and McHale were instrumental pieces in the team’s championship contention in the 80s.

The frontcourt of Bird, Parish, Cedric Maxwell, and McHale gave the Celtics a championship core. The trio of Bird, Parish and McHale remains, regarded as one of the greatest frontcourts in NBA history. Parish is the franchise’s all-time leader in blocked shots, offensive rebounds, and defensive rebounds. Bill Russell is the all-time rebound leader as both defensive and offensive rebounds were not a statistic during Russell’s time.


9. Dave Cowens

Dave Cowens

Years in Boston: 10 (1970-1979)

Boston: 18.2 PPG, 14.0 PPG, 3.9 APG, 1.2 SPG, 1.0 BPG

Career: 17.6 PPG, 7.1 RPG, 3.8 APG, 0.8 SPG, 0.6 BPG

Honors: 2x NBA Champion (1974, 1976), Most Valuable Player (1973), 8x All-Star (1972-1978, 1980), All-Star Game MVP (1973), 3x All-NBA Second Team (1973, 1975, 1976), 1x All-Defensive First Team (1976), 2x All-Defensive Second Team (1975, 1980), Rookie of the Year (1971), NBA 50th Anniversary Team, NBA 75th Anniversary Team, No. 18 retired by the Celtics

Cowens owns a distinction that only Bill Russell has. Both Cowens and Russell are MVP and All-Star Game MVP winners, but not selections on the All-NBA First Team. Cowens was a big part of the Celtics being a playoff contender each season. He helped the Celtics win as many as 68 games during his time playing.

Cowens’ best performance likely came in the 1974 Eastern Conference Finals against the Milwaukee Bucks. The Celtics and Bucks played Game 7, where Cowens scored 28 points and 14 rebounds to lead the team to the NBA Finals. Cowens won his second title in 1976 by beating the Suns in six games.


8. Kevin McHale

Kevin McHale

Years in Boston: 13 (1980-1992)

Boston: 17.9 PPG, 7.3 RPG, 1.7 APG, 0.4 SPG, 1.7 BPG

Career: 17.9 PPG, 7.3 RPG, 1.7 APG, 0.4 SPG, 1.7 BPG

Honors: 3x NBA Champion (1981, 1984, 1986), 7x All-Star (1984, 1986-1991), 1x All-NBA First Team (1987), 3x All-Defensive First Team (1986-1988), 3x All-Defensive Second Team (1983, 1989, 1990), 2x Sixth Man of the Year (1984, 1985), NBA 50th Anniversary Team, NBA 75th Anniversary Team, No. 32 retired by the Celtics

McHale is regarded as one of the best players coming off the bench in team history. McHale was a former back-to-back Sixth Man of the Year, who eventually gained a starting role towards the later part of his career. McHale was also regarded highly for his toughness, most notably when he delivered a hard foul on Kurt Rambis in the NBA Finals that sparked a bench-clearing brawl.

The 1985-1986 team is regarded as one of the best teams in team history. McHale joined starters Bird, Parish, Johnson, and Danny Ainge as the team steamrolled the NBA with a league-best 67 wins. With their championship finish, the team finished 82-18 with the playoffs, which broke the previous record of the 1971-1972 Lakers. Boston also set the NBA mark for the most home victories in one season, finishing 50-1 with the playoffs included.


7. Sam Jones

Sam Jones

Years in Boston: 12 (1957-1968)

Boston: 17.7 PPG, 4.9 RPG, 2.5 APG

Career: 17.7 PPG, 4.9 RPG, 2.5 APG

Honors: 10x NBA Champion (1959-1966, 1968, 1969), 5x All-Star (1962, 1964-1966, 1968), 3x All-NBA Second Team (1965-1967), NBA 25th Anniversary Team, NBA 50th Anniversary Team, NBA 75th Anniversary Team, No. 24 retired by the Celtics

Jones nearly never joined the Celtics. He was originally drafted by the Lakers but opted to return to college to earn his degree upon completion of military service. That voided the Lakers’ rights. Former Celtics coach Red Auerback took a trip to scout players at North Carolina, but former Wake Forest Coach Bones McKinney told him that Jones was the best player in the state. Ultimately, the Celtics drafted Jones without Auerback ever meeting him.

Jones was one of only six Celtics players to ever score 50 points in a game. Jones scored 15,411 points to go with 2,209 assists and 4,305 rebounds. When he retired, he was the team’s all-time leading scorer. Among his 10 championships, one of his best performances was in Game 7 of the 1966 Finals, when he scored 22 points and added five rebounds.


6. Bill Sharman

1382730010000-XXX-Bill-Sharman-21-portraits-S1970-Bill-Sharman-NBA006jpg-sd

Years in Boston: 10 (1950-1959)

Boston: 18.1 PPG, 3.9 RPG, 3.0 APG

Career: 17.8 PPG, 3.9 RPG, 3.0 APG

Honors: 4x NBA Champion (1957, 1959-1961), 8x All-Star (1953-1960), All-Star Game MVP (1955), 4x All-NBA First Team (1956-1959), 3x All-NBA Second Team (1953, 1955, 1960), NBA 25th Anniversary Team, NBA 50th Anniversary Team, NBA 75th Anniversary Team, No. 21 retired by the Celtics

Sharman was drafted by the Washington Capitols, acquired by the Fort Wayne Pistons in the dispersal draft after the disbanding of the Capitols, and then eventually traded to the Celtics for Chuck Share before the 1951-1952 season. Sharman played 10 seasons for the Celtics and led the team in scoring between 1956 to 1959, where he averaged over 20 points per game during three of the seasons.

Sharman was one of the better shooters in his time. He led the NBA in free throw percentage a record seven times, including five consecutive seasons. His mark of 93.2% was an NBA record until Ernie DiGregorio bested the mark in 1977. Today, Sharman still holds the record for consecutive free throws made in the playoffs with 56.


5. Paul Pierce

Paul Pierce

Years in Boston: 15 (1998-2012)

Boston: 21.8 PPG, 6.0 RPG, 3.9 APG, 1.4 SPG, 0.6 BPG

Career: 19.7 PPG, 4.6 RPG, 3.5 APG, 1.3 SPG, 0.6 BPG

Honors: NBA Champion (2008), Finals MVP (2008), 10x All-Star (2002-2006, 2008-2012), All-NBA Second Team (2009), 3x All-NBA Third Team (2002, 2003, 2008), NBA 75th Anniversary Team, No. 34 retired by the Celtics

From 2002 to 2006, Pierce made the All-Star team each season and led the league in total points in 2002 with 2,144. He was an All-NBA Third Team Selection in 2002 and 2003 as well. Around this time, Pierce grew into a role where he was the true number one option on the team. When the Celtics acquired Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen, it formed a big three that was good enough to make a run to the NBA Finals, where the Celtics bested the Lakers.

That season was truly special. The Celtics won 42 more games than their previous season and overcame a seven-game series against the Hawks and Cavaliers before beating the Pistons in the Conference Finals in six games. Pierce was named the Finals MVP after averaging 22.0 points per game in the series. Regarding his legacy, Pierce finished second all-time in points, scoring over 24,000 career points.


4. Bob Cousy

Bob Cousy

Years in Boston: 13 (1950-1962)

Boston: 18.5 PPG, 5.3 RPG, 7.5 APG

Career: 18.4 PPG, 5.3 RPG, 7.6 APG

Honors: 6x NBA Champion (1957, 1959-1963), MVP (1957), 13x All-Star (1951-1963), 2x All-Star Game MVP (1954, 1957), 10x All-NBA First Team (1952-1961), 2x All-NBA Second Team (1962, 1963), NBA 25th Anniversary Team, NBA 35th Anniversary Team, NBA 50th Anniversary Team, NBA 75th Anniversary Team, No. 14 retired by the Celtics

In the 1950 NBA Draft, the Celtics had the No. 1 overall pick and were expected to draft the highly coveted Bob Cousy. Instead, they selected center Charlie Share, which led to Cousy being drafted by the Tri-Cities Blackhawks. With that said, Cousy was not enthusiastic about being drafted and did not report. He was then picked up by the Chicago Stags, but when they folded, he was put in a dispersal draft. The Celtics drew Cousy despite team owner Walter A. Brown did not want him, but it ended up being the best draw they could have.

Cousy developed into the league’s best overall point guard. Cousy once set an NBA record with 28 assists in one game, including once recording 19 assists in a single half. In the 1959 Finals, Cousy recorded 51 total assists in a 4-0 sweep over the Lakers. That remains a record for a four-game NBA Finals series. In the end, Cousy nearly won a championship in half of the seasons he played in the league.


3. John Havlicek

john havlicek

Years in Boston: 16 (1962-1977)

Boston: 20.8 PPG, 6.3 RPG, 4.8 RPG, 1.2 SPG, 0.3 BPG

Career: 20.8 PPG, 6.3 RPG, 4.8 RPG, 1.2 SPG, 0.3 BPG

Honors: 8x NBA Champion (1963-1966, 1968, 1969, 1974, 1976), Finals MVP (1974), 13x All-Star (1966-1978), 4x All-NBA First Team (1971-1974), 7x All-NBA Second Team (1964, 1966, 1968-1970, 1975, 1976), 5x All-Defensive First Team (1972-1976), 3x All-Defensive Second Team (1969-1971), NBA 35th Anniversary Team, NBA 50th Anniversary Team, NBA 75th Anniversary Team, No. 17 retired by the Celtics

The greatest scorer in team history nearly played football. In 1962, Havlicek was drafted by the Celtics and the Cleveland Browns as a wide receiver. After briefly playing in training camp for the Browns, he decided to focus his energy on playing for the Celtics. Havlicek revolutionized the sixth man role early in his career and often closed out games for the Celtics.

In the 1968 Eastern Division Finals, Havlicek led the Celtics over the 76ers, which became the first NBA team to overcome a 3-1 playoff series deficit. In Game 7, Havlicek recorded 21 points, 12 rebounds, and eight assists in a 100-96 win. In 1974, Havlicek was named Finals MVP and helped the 1976 team steal a game in triple overtime. When he retired in 1978, he was the all-time scorer with 26,395 career points, which was 16th all-time in points scored in the NBA.


2. Larry Bird

larry-bird

Years in Boston: 13 (1979-1981)

Boston: 24.3 PPG, 10.0 RPG, 6.3 APG, 1.7 SPG, 0.8 BPG

Career: 24.3 PPG, 10.0 RPG, 6.3 APG, 1.7 SPG, 0.8 BPG

Honors: 3x NBA Champion (1981, 1984, 1986), 2x Finals MVP (1984, 1986), 3x MVP (1984-1986), 12x All-Star (1980-1988, 1990-1992), All-Star Game MVP (1982), 9x All-NBA First Team (1980-1988), All-NBA Second Team (1990), 3x All-Defensive Second Team (1982-1984), Rookie of the Year (1980), 2x 50-40-90 Club (1987, 1988), AP Athlete of the Year (1986), 50 Greatest Player in NBA History, NBA 75th Anniversary Team, No. 33 retired by the Celtics

Bird helped the Celtics turn into a championship contender right from his rookie season. While winning Rookie of the Year, the Celtics made the Conference Finals in 1980 but were eliminated by the 76ers. Once Kevin McHale was drafted and Robert Parish joined the team, the Celtics were typically a contender for the Conference Finals or the NBA Finals. In 1981, Bird averaged 21.9 points, 14.0 rebounds, 6.1 assists, and 2.3 steals for the postseason.

Bird upped that total in the 1984 Finals where he averaged 27.4 points, 14.0 rebounds, and 3.6 assists. His second Finals MVP came in 1986, where he averaged 24.0 points, 9.7 rebounds, and 9.5 assists in the Finals, which also included a triple-double of 29 points, 11 rebounds, and 12 assists in the series-clinching Game 6. To this day, Bird is also the last player to ever record three straight regular-season MVPs from 1984 to 1986.


1. Bill Russell

Bill Russell

Years in Boston: 13 (1956-1968)

Boston: 15.1 PPG, 22.5 RPG, 4.3 APG

Career: 15.1 PPG, 22.5 RPG, 4.3 APG

Honors: 11x NBA Champion (1957, 1959-1966, 1968, 1969), 5x MVP (1958, 1961-1963, 1965), 12x All-Star (1958-1969), All-Star Game MVP (1963), 3x All-NBA First Team (1959, 1963, 1965), 8x All-NBA Second Team (1958, 1960-1962, 1964, 1966-1968), All-Defensive First Team (1969), 4x rebounding champion (1958, 1959, 1964, 1965), NBA 25th Anniversary Team, NBA 35th Anniversary Team, NBA 50th Anniversary Team, NBA 75th Anniversary Team, No. 6 retired by the Celtics

The greatest player in team history has to be the greatest champion in the league. His awards and achievements include winning 11 championships with the Celtics in 13 seasons, including two championships as the player/head coach. His championship as a coach is significant because he was the first black head coach in major United States professional sports when he succeeded Red Auerbach. When ranking the greatest defensive players of all time, Russell is often regarded as the best or is in the conversation.

Russell averaged over 20 rebounds per game for an entire season 10 of his 13 seasons. Russell’s 51 rebounds in a single game are the second-highest performance ever, trailing the record of 55 rebounds set by Wilt Chamberlain. Career-wise, Russell ranks second to Chamberlain in regular-season totals and average per game. However, Russell is the all-time playoff leader in rebounds with 4,104 and average (24.9 RPG). In the NBA Finals, Russell holds the single-game record for most rebounds with 40, something he did two times.

His legacy is defined as being a winner. In 10 Game 7s and one Game 5, Russell went a perfect 11-0 in those elimination games. In those 11 games, Russell averaged 18.0 points and 29.5 rebounds. Russell is a part of every single Anniversary Team because he is one of the all-time greats. On February 14, 2009, the league announced that the Finals MVP Award would be named after him and he continues to individually give the award to the winner himself each season. 

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