Paul Pierce’s career is winding down, with that and the inconsistency of the Celtics in 2012 there have been rumors of his possible trade. That has led to a natural discussion of where Paul Pierce ranks among the greatest Celtics in team history. I’m going to take this opportunity to rank, in reverse order, Sully’s 7 best Celtics ever.
Honorable Mentions: Kevin McHale, Kevin Garnett, Sam Jones and Robert Parrish.
7. Tom Heinsohn (1956-1965) – Heinsohn was a key inside presence on of those teams that won championship after championship in the late 50s and early 60s. He won 8 championships, made 6 all star teams and averaged 18.6 points/game, 8.8 rebounds/game and 2 assists/game. Not to mention he was the coach for 9 years and has served as the TV color analyst on and off since retiring from coaching. Tommy award yourself a Tommy point for all the years bleeding Celtic Green.
6. Dave Cowens (1970-1980) – Cowens was given the seemingly impossible task of replacing Russell. He was a rock solid all around player and if he had been healthier late in his career would have helped win more titles. He was undersized and underestimated, but always rose to the occasion. For his career as an undersized center he scored 18.1/game and had 14.0 rebounds per game, won an MVP, 2 championship and made 8 all star teams.
5. Paul Pierce (1998-Present) – Pierce, nicknamed “The Truth” by Shaq, is the only Celtic on this list I’ve been able follow his whole career. In many ways his career arc, on the floor, has been the hardest out of all 7 on this list. He came into the league and the Celtics were down, they made a couple of playoff runs, one resulting in an Eastern Conference Finals loss and then they sunk into the basement again before being rejuvenated with the additions of Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen. He has won 1 title, and made 10 all-star teams while scoring the 2nd most points in team history and averaging 21.9 points per game. There were times the idea of Pierce on this list seemed ridiculous, but he has grown up and matured in front of our eyes and truly earned the 5th spot on this list.
4. Bob Cousy (1950-1963) – Cousy’s name is legend in Boston and it has been that way for as long as I can remember. He dazzled Tom and Lynne’s generation (my dad and mom respectively) with ball skills that were previously unseen. His court vision was unparalleled and he led the league in assists 8 years in a row. He was a leader on 6 championship teams, won 1 MVP, made 13 all star teams. In a typically me 1st sport Cousy put his teammates 1st and they won because of it. My personal favorite Cousy moment comes during his role in Blue Chips. He is the athletic director of the fictional college in the movie and is shooting free throws while Coach Nick Nolte rebounds. The scene goes long enough for the the mid 60’s Cousy to make 10 in a row, the last 1 left handed.
3. John Havlicek (1962-1978) – “Havlicek stole the ball.” As a kid growing up in New England there are few sports calls that resonate as much as that one. He was a smart, versatile player who carried the team through the late 60’s and early 70’s. He leads the All time Celtics in games, minutes, points, field goals (made and attempted), and is second in free throws. He won 8 titles, made 13 all star teams. The fact the he was never higher than 4th in the MVP voting is proof that quite likely the media was biased toward the Havlicek Celtics after they had been so dominant during the Russell-Cousy years.
2. Larry Bird (1979-1992) – I was born the year Bird began his run with the Celtics. Thankfully Tom (my Dad) bought “me” a VCR for my 1st birthday and began taping big regular season games and their playoff runs. Once I realized how much I enjoyed watching basketball I was able to watch and rewatch Bird’s classic years on tape, while I was watching the slow end of his injury plagued later years live. Larry’s braggadocious nature was his true selling point as he always believed, and told anyone who would listen, that he was the best, that he could beat you and exactly how he would do it. I, like thousands of other New England lads, ate it up.
1. Bill Russell (1956-1969) – The greatest winner ever? Meg Ryan said it best in When Harry Met Sally when she said, “YES, YES, YES, YEEES, YYYEEEESSSS!” He plied that winning craft in Boston for the Celtics and won 11 championships in 13 years. Athletes routinely talk about how hard it is to not win the last game of the year, he only had to live through that TWO out of THIRTEEN times. He inspired the basketball philosophy that ‘defense and rebounding wins championships’, which for years has been taught to basketball players at every level. Russell won 5 MVPS, and quite simply changed how people played, coached and thought about the game. His impact is hard to argue and it was all done in Celtic green.
There is a reason 3 of the pictures I used include Red Auerbach because he is truly the greatest Celtic of all. Would the 7 guys on this list have been great players without Red? Probably. Would they have helped set the Boston Celtic franchise apart from every other franchise in the NBA without Red? No. He WAS the Celtics for a long, long time and by that I mean he was the coach, the general manager, the traveling secretary and that is only 3 of the many hats he wore for years. The Celtics fans have been extremely lucky to have had Red and the players so loyal to him that together they have given the fans 17 NBA Championships.