The Boston Celtics are one of the most storied franchises in the NBA. The team was founded on June 9, 1946, and ever since that day, they have been synonymous with one thing: winning. The boys from Beantown are currently tied with the Los Angeles Lakers with 17 NBA championships, the most in NBA history. They also have the 2nd most conference championships with 21, trailing only LA. From their dominance of the 1960s where they won 9 championships in the decade to the present where they sit just 2 games away from their 18th Larry O’Brien trophy, some of the greatest players in league history have donned the green and white.
With so many legends to have played with one franchise, it is easy to leave players out that may have a case to be here. Guys like Kevin Garnett, Ray Allen, Dennis Johnson, and Jo Jo White may have missed the cut here, but still deserve mention for their contributions to the franchise. The lineup built today is undoubtedly the greatest lineup we could have constructed. It’s filled with MVPs, All-NBA talent, and champions. More importantly than that, these are the players that without them, the story of the Boston Celtics could not be told.
Guard - Bob Cousy
Career Stats: 18.4 PPG, 5.2 RPG, 7.5 APG
Achievements (with Celtics): 1x MVP, 13x All-Star, 2x All-Star Game MVP, 12x All-NBA Team Selection, Hall Of Fame
Believe it or not, Bob Cousy almost wasn’t a Celtic. He was originally a member of the Chicago Stags who disbanded before Cousy’s rookie season in 1950. He ended up with the Celtics in a dispersal draft and the city of Boston is forever grateful. Nicknamed “The Houdini Of The Hardwood”, Cousy wowed audiences with behind-the-back dribbles and passes that made it seem like he had eyes in the back of his head. In his rookie season, he averaged 15.6 PPG (10th in NBA) and 4.9 APG (4th in NBA). Cousy’s performance improved the Celtics' previous season’s win-loss record by 17 games and earned them their first playoff berth in history.
From there, Coach Red Auerbach opened up the playbook, and Bob Cousy flourished. In his 13 seasons in Boston, Cousy led the league in assists 8 times. Of those 8 seasons, he finished top 10 in scoring 5 times as well. Cousy was a true pass-first playmaker and the NBA’s first real showmen with the ball in his hands. His scoring was just as impressive, though, as he was able to blow by defenders or knock down short jumpers if his teammates couldn’t get open. His innovation and intensity on the court made him the heart and soul of 6 Boston Celtics championship runs.
Forward - John Havlicek
Career Stats: 20.8 PPG, 6.3 RPG, 4.8 APG, 1.1 SPG, 0.3 BPG
Achievements (with Celtics): 1x Finals MVP, 13x All-Star, 11x All-NBA Team Selection, 5x All-Defensive Team Selection, Hall Of Fame
Arguably the greatest sixth-man in NBA history, John Havlicek earns himself a spot in our starting lineup. “Hondo” was a man who never stopped moving on the basketball court and seemed to make his living just by getting out ahead of defenses on fast breaks. His presence eased the Celtics’ minds as the team transitioned from Bob Cousy and Bill Sharman. In the first season without Cousy, Havlicek averaged 19.9 PPG and 5.4 RPG as the Celtics would go on to win the NBA title. For the next 14 seasons, Hondo would be one of the best players in basketball.
His speed and strength made him a true swingman who was just as fast as guards and just as strong as other small forwards. As the Celtics dominated the 60s, Havlicek took control of games off the bench and although he wasn’t a starter, he usually was on the floor to finish games. His clutch gene was strong, often being turned to in a game's biggest moments, and he delivered. In 1974 and 1976, he served as a key veteran presence on 2 more Celtics title runs. He averaged 22.6 PPG and 6.4 RPG in 1974 and over 27.0 PPG en route to the championship. He was a consummate winner, a ferocious competitor, and one of the hardest-working players in Boston history.
Forward - Larry Bird
Career Stats: 24.3 PPG, 10.0 RPG, 6.3 APG, 1.7 SPG, 0.8 BPG
Achievements (with Celtics): 3x MVP, 2x Finals MVP, Rookie of the Year, 12x All-Star, 1x All-Star Game MVP, 10x All-NBA Team Selection, 4x All-Defensive Team Selection, Hall Of Fame
Larry Bird could do it all on a basketball court. He could pass, score, rebound, steal, and just about anything else you could think of. The best part is that he could do it while telling you what he was gonna do before he did it. His play, along with his mythical trash-talking, helped dub him “Larry Legend”. Bird was a special talent whose rivalry with Magic Johnson in the 80s is credited with helping to save the NBA from destruction. As one of only 3 players in NBA history to win 3 consecutive MVP awards, it would not be crazy to dub him the greatest Celtic of all time.
Bird’s impact could be measured straight away, helping to improve the Celtics' record by 32 games in his rookie season. He also led the team in scoring, rebounds, steals, and minutes played. In 1981, just Bird’s 2nd season, The Celtics would win an NBA championship led by Larry with 21.2 PPG and 10.9 RPG. In 1984, Bird and the Celtics would win another championship behind 27.4 PPG and 14.0 RPG from Bird, who took home Finals MVP. It made it even sweeter that the victory was over his bitter rival, Magic Johnson, and the LA Lakers. Bird would win the final title and Finals MVP of his career in 1987, this time over the Rockets. He averaged 24.0 PPG, 9.7 RPG, and 9.5 APG in the series. It would be the Celtics' last championship for 22 years.
Forward - Kevin McHale
Career Stats: 17.9 PPG, 7.3 RPG, 1.7 APG, 0.4 SPG, 1.7 BPG
Achievements (with Celtics): 7x All-Star, 2x Sixth Man Of The Year, 1x All-NBA Team Selection, 6x All-Defensive Team Selection, Hall Of Fame
Another great sixth man in Celtics, Kevin McHale, grabs our starting power forward position. McHale was drafted to the Celtics in 1981 and as he embraced the role off the bench, he and the Celtics thrived on their way to an NBA title. He used to length and size to get high-percentage shots at the basket while being able to pull up and rise above defenders from the mid-range. He proved to be pivotal for Boston, both off the bench and eventually as a starter.
In 1984, the first time he took home the Sixth Man Of The Year Award, McHale averaged 31.4 minutes off the bench and 18.4 PPG to go along with 7.4 RPG. The Celtics would go on to beat the Lakers in the NBA Finals. The following season, McHale would win the award again, averaging 19.8 PPG and 9.9 RPG on 57% shooting, but this time the Celtics would lose in the Finals to the Lakers. In 1987, McHale’s best season and second as a starter, he averaged 26.1 PPG, 9.9 RPG, and 2.6 APG. He was named to the All-NBA First Team for the only time in his career.
Center - Bill Russell
Career Stats: 15.1 PPG, 22.5 RPG, 4.3 APG
Achievements (with Celtics): 5x MVP, 12x All-Star, 1x All-Star Game MVP, 11x All-NBA Team Selection, 1x All-Defensive Team Selection, Hall Of Fame
Although Bill Russell only played 13 seasons in the NBA, it may just be the most successful 13 years in history. In his 13 seasons, he won 11 championships, led the league in rebounding 5 times, and averaged over 20.0 RPG 10 times. He was never averaged over 20.0 PPG in a season, but his impact could be measured simply by his ability to get his team second-chance opportunities and his incredible efforts defensively. Russell once grabbed 50 rebounds in a game and 49 two other times. He also accumulated 12 straight seasons of 1,00 or more rebounds.
Bill Russell claimed 5 MVP awards in his career, yet oddly enough was only named to the All-NBA First Team in two of them. His first MVP came in 1958 when he averaged 16.6 PPG and 22.7 RPG, but Boston would fall short of a championship. The following season in 1959, Russell would not win MVP, but he would help the Celtics reach the NBA Finals once again. In the Finals, Russell would average 24.5 RPG, which is second only to Wilt’s 24.6 RPG all time. The Celtics would grab a championship and set off a string of 8 consecutive championships for the franchise.
Guard - Sam Jones
Career Stats: 17.7 PPG, 4.9 RPG, 2.5 APG
Achievements (with Celtics): 5x All-Star, 3x All-NBA Team Selection, Hall Of Fame
Sam Jones was as clutch as they come, becoming one of Boston’s best playoff performers in history. Given the nickname “Mr. Clutch”, Jones would live up to the hype and then some. His career did not begin with a starting role, as he was stuck behind the likes of Bill Sharman and Bob Cousy. It didn’t matter which role he was in, Sam Jones was a critical part of 10 NBA championships for the Boston Celtics.
Sam Jones broke the 20.0 PPG plateau 4 times during the regular season and he reached that same mark seven times in the playoffs during his career. He never shied away from the big moment. Jones went to 9 Game 7’s in his playoff career, with 4 of them coming in the Finals. Jones and the Celtics went 9-0 in such games with Jones averaging 27.1 PPG. The moment never got to him. He never thought about missing shots or losing games, he just went out and played his game and won. “Mr. Clutch” indeed.
Guard - Bill Sharman
Career Stats: 17.8 PPG, 3.9 RPG, 3.0 APG
Achievements (with Celtics): 8x All-Star, 1x All-Star Game MVP, 7x All-NBA Team Selection, Hall Of Fame
One of the first true shooters in the league, Bill Sharman, is yet another member of the early era Celtics to crack our lineup. It didn’t take long after being drafted for Sharman to find his place as one of the league’s premier shooting guards. He consistently ranked among the league’s best in field-goal percentage and led the league in free-throw percentage 7 times.
He was named an all-star in his 3rd season and that started a string of 8 consecutive selections. 1953 was also the season that he began a streak of 9 straight seasons with 16.0 PPG or better. He eclipsed 20.0 PPG in 3 seasons and shot 42.6% for his career, considered extremely efficient for his era. Although he retired in 1961 and missed the bulk of the Celtics' dominance in the 60s, Sharman was still a star for the team on 4 championship runs.
Forward - Paul Pierce
Career Stats: 19.7 PPG, 5.6 RPG, 3.5 APG, 1.3 SPG, 0.6 BPG
Achievements (with Celtics): 1x Finals MVP, 10x All-Star, 4x All-NBA Team Selection, Hall Of Fame
If there is anybody who personified what it meant to be a Celtic, it was Paul Pierce. He was tough, gritty, and always answer the call in the big moment. It seemed like he was always adding something new to his game, making him one of the most unguardable small forwards of the 2000s. He could score the ball in any number of ways, and it was beautiful to watch. Post-up, perimeter shooting, mid-range, off-ball cuts, off the dribble, Paul Pierce had it all in his bag.
Pierce played 15 seasons in green and white, averaging 21.8 PPG, 6.0 RPG, and 3.9 APG. From 2002 to 2006, Pierce was a man possessed going to 5 straight All-Star games and averaging at least 21.0PPG and 6.5 RPG in each season. It all culminated in 2008 when Pierce, along with Ray Allen and Kevin Garnett, delivered Boston their first NBA championship in 22 years. Pierce would grab Finals MVP with 21.8 PPG, 4.5 RPG, and 6.3 APG. It was only fitting the victory came over storied rival, the LA Lakers.
Forward - Dave Cowens
Career Stats: 17.6 PPG, 13.6 RPG, 3.8 APG, 1.2 SPG, 0.9 BPG
Achievements (with Celtics): 1x MVP, Rookie of the Year, 8x All-Star, 1x All-Star Game MVP, 3x All-NBA Team Selection, 3x All-Defensive Team Selection, Hall Of Fame
Quick. Skilled. Strong. Hustle. These are all words that describe the career of Dave Cowens. Cowens's story is somewhat of a remarkable one. He was the pioneer of small ball. Standing at just 6’9", 230 pounds. Cowens was lining up at the center position against the likes of Artis Gilmore, Willis Reed, Wilt Chamberlain, and many more. At that height, against that competition, Cowens was able to average a double-double for his career and take home an MVP award. When you dive into the numbers, it’s even more impressive.
For the first 8 seasons of his career, Cowens managed to average 13.0 RPG or more in each one and 15.0 RPG or more in five. He played a primary role in 2 championships as well. In 1974, he helped them capture the title with 20.5 PPG and 13.3 RPG over the playoff stretch. The Celtics won again in 1976 behind 21.0 PPG and 16.4 RPG from Cowens. Although he did not capture the Finals MVP award in either Finals series, Boston is not a 2-time champion in the 70s without Dave Cowens.
Center - Robert Parish
Career Stats: 14.5 PPG, 9.1 RPG, 1.4 APG, 0.8 SPG, 1.7 BPG
Achievements (with Celtics): 9x All-Star, 2x All-NBA Team Selection, Hall Of Fame
Robert Parish played 21 seasons in the NBA with 4 different teams. The best years of his career by far were the 14 he spent with the Boston Celtics. During his tenure there, the Celtics made the playoffs 13 times, won the division title 9 times, made five trips to the finals, and won 3 championships. Parish combined with Larry Bird and Kevin McHale during the 80s, to form one of the scariest front lines in not just Boston history, but NBA history as well.
Parish brought glory to the Celtics from Year 1 with the team. In 1981, Parish averaged 18.9 PPG and 9.5 RPG during the regular season and 15.0 PPG in the playoffs. The Celtics would defeat the Rockets in the NBA Finals with Parish going toe-to-toe with Rockets big man, Moses Malone. Parish and the Celtics would win it all again in 1984 behind 19.0 PPG and 10.7 RPG from “The Chief”. If it wasn’t for a man named Bill Russell, Robert Parish would be considered the greatest center in Celtics history.
Coach - Red Auerbach
As you may have noticed, many of our players listed in our lineup come from the golden era of the 1950s and 1960s Celtics. Much of that has to do with Coach Red Auerbach. He took the helm of the team in 1951 and by the time he retired from coaching in 1966; he had built one of the greatest franchises in league history. He demanded nothing less than excellence and maximum effort from his players. They listened, and it paid off to the tune of 9 NBA championships, and at the time of his retirement, was the winningest coach ever. The roots of his teachings can still be traced to the game today and his legacy is forever written in the history books.
Breaking Down A Lineup Of Legends
There is no denying the firepower the all-time lineup for the Boston Celtics possesses. Offensively, they have everything you need from a complete team to compete for titles. There are 4 primary options across the starting 5 that can put the ball in the basket at will, and that’s even before you get to the big man, Bill Russell. They've got elite playmaking and passing with magician Bob Cousy and even from the forward position with Larry Bird. Russell can handle his duties well in the paint with backup from Kevin McHale and Robert Parish when needed. 2nd chance opportunities from Russell and Cowens’s rebounding will open up plenty for their shooters like Sam Jones, Bird, and Pierce.
Defensively, they pack a solid punch as well. Havlicek and Bird of the perimeter contain enough length and quick hands to disrupt passing lanes and the flow of an offense. Bill Russell, McHale, and Cowens will be manning the paint, causing opponents to adjust mid-finish for lower percentage shots. A first look at a lineup like this, aside from a few outliers, will surely cause a few whispers about the era in which it is made up of. Regardless of your feelings about past eras, these men dominated theirs to the point that others rarely saw success and that is worthy of a spot on any franchise’s all-time lineup.