The Boston Celtics is a storied NBA franchise tied with the Los Angeles Lakers for the most NBA titles (17). Like the Lakers, they have featured various all-time great players, many of whom are in the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame.
Narrowing down the franchise’s best players is a tough task because their history goes back to almost the beginning of the NBA itself.
These Celtics have won many championships, featured many MVPs, and had a major impact on the league itself. So let’s find out what are the very best Boston Celtics of all time.
10. Paul Pierce, shooting guard
Pierce being on this list may surprise some, especially because of all the great players who came before him. During the 1990s and early 2000s, the franchise was an afterthought around the league. But Pierce, along with Ray Allen and Kevin Garnett, brought the franchise its first title in 20 years in 2008. The title put the Celtics back on the map and got Pierce into the Hall of Fame. While he was with the franchise, he averaged 21.8 points, 6.0 rebounds, and 1.4 steals per game. He was also a 10-time All-Star and 2008 NBA Finals MVP. He will always be a fan favorite among Celtic fans.
9. Bill Sharman, guard
Unlike names like Larry Bird, Kevin McHale, or Bill Russell, many basketball fans might not know the name Bill Sharman, but they should. Sharman, who was inducted into the Hall of Fame, was on the Boston team that won the franchise’s first NBA title back in 1957. His biggest impact was in the postseason when he averaged over 21 points a game and helped the Celtics win three more titles in 1959, 1960, and 1961. He was also one of the first NBA players to average over 90 percent from the free throw line (93.2) from 1958-59, a record that stood for 15 years. Sharman may not be a well-known Celtic, but he certainly made a huge impact on this franchise.
8. Robert Parish, center
Known as “The Chief,” Parish played a huge part in the franchise’s resurgence in the 1980s along with Larry Bird and Kevin McHale. Parish was not only a great scorer, averaging 14.5 points, 1.5 blocks, and 9.1 rebounds per game throughout his NBA career, but he was fierce on the defensive side of the ball. The 7-foot center is also the Cal Ripken of the NBA. He played in more NBA games than any player in league history. The only player that comes close to him is LeBron James. A three-time NBA champion, The Chief is still thought of as one of the greatest Celtics of all time.
7. Dave Cowens, center
The 1970s Celtic teams are rarely talked about because it wasn’t exactly a productive decade for the franchise, but it was for Dave Cowens. Cowens averaged a double-double in points and rebounds for the majority of his career. In his MVP season of 1973, he posted a whopping 20.5 points and 16.2 rebounds per game, something that’s unheard of even now in the NBA. Although the Celtics “only” won titles in 1974 and 1976, Cowens helped the franchise achieve those titles with his MVP-like performances.
6. Sam Jones, point guard
Jones was part of those great 1960s Celtic teams that, unless you a huge Boston fan, you may not know much about. He averaged almost 18 points per game and helped the Celtics capture their eighth-straight NBA title in 1966. He has the second-most NBA titles in franchise history with 10 rings (Bill Russell has 11). But maybe the most interesting part of Jones’ career is he almost became a Laker. The Lakers drafted him in 1956 but he turned them down and returned to school.
5. Kevin McHale, forward
You can’t talk about the 1980s Celtics without talking about this guy. McHale was a force off the bench for those Celtic teams. Mchale garnered three All-Defensive First Teams, three All-Defensive Second Teams, and seven All-Star nods. Plus, he was a two-time Sixth Man of the Year and was named to the All-NBA First Team in 1987. He also averaged an impressive 17.9 points, 7.3 rebounds, and 1.7 blocks. He, along with Larry Bird and Robert Parish, made formidable foes to those Lakers and Philadelphia 76ers teams in the 80s. McHale was also part of the 75th Anniversary All-NBA team.
4. John Havlicek, forward
No Celtics list could be complete without this man. Havlicek is like the Joe Montana of the Boston Celtics. He is a perfect 8-0 in NBA Finals appearances during his 16-year career with the team. If it wasn’t for Larry Bird and Bill Russell, he might be the No. 1 Celtic on the list, but for now, he’s No. 4. In his career, he averaged 20.8 points, 6.3 rebounds, 4.8 assists, and 1.2 steals per game. He also was the 1974 NBA MVP. Havlicek will forever be immortalized for having the most famous steal in NBA history during Game 7 of the 1965 Eastern Conference Finals against the 76ers that saved the Celtics’ championship run that season.
3. Bob Cousy, point guard
Another Celtics great from the 1950s era, Cousy was probably the best-known Celtic from the teams that started it all for this historic franchise. In his career with the Celtics, he averaged 18.4 points, 5.3 rebounds, and 7.6 assists per game. He is also a 13-time All-Star, 10-time All-NBA First Teamer, a six-time NBA champion, and was named the league’s MVP in 1957. Cousy was a part of the NBA’s 25th, 35th, 50th, and 75th Anniversary teams. You could make a legitimate argument that he should be higher on this list and no one would argue with you.
2. Larry Bird, forward
We all know about Larry Bird’s storied career with the Celtics. Bird’s rookie year was the same as Laker legend, Magic Johnson’s. The Celtics were coming off one of their worst seasons ever in 1979 and they needed a spark. Boy, did Bird bring it. He was a 12-time All-Star, a three-time NBA champion, a three-time NBA MVP, and a two-time Finals MVP. He also averaged nearly 25 points per game 10.0 rebounds, 6.3 assists, and 1.7 steals per game.
NBA teams knew when they faced Bird, they were going to be in a fight from start to finish. He was deadly from the 3-point line and many NBA teams feared him when the game was on the line. Injuries probably ended his career earlier than most expected. Before many kids wanted to be like Mike, they wanted to be Larry Legend and modeled their game after his.
Bird, along with Magic Johnson, helped save the NBA back in the 1980s with their rivalry during a time when the league was on life support. So not only is Bird one of the greatest players of all time, but he is also an NBA icon. Although Magic and Bird had animosity during their playing days, they respected and appreciated each other’s talents and later became friends off the court. When Johnson discovered he contracted HIV, Bird was said to be one of the first people who contacted him. Larry Legend indeed.
1. Bill Russell, center
The ultimate Boston Celtic, without question, is Bill Russell. Russell’s impact on the franchise goes beyond his play but let’s start with that. Although Michael Jordan has six NBA titles to his credit, Russell has 11 rings. He led this franchise to the most dominant era of any team in American professional sports history during the 1960s. He is tied with Jordan for the most league MVPs with five and was named to the NBA’s 75th-anniversary team. For his career, he averaged 15.1 points, 22.5 rebounds, and 4.3 assists per game.
Before Magic and Bird came along, he and fellow center Wilt Chamberlin had the NBA’s fiercest rivalry, those Russell won most of their battles. Beyond his playing career, he also was the first Black coach in the NBA and was a player-coach for the Celtics. Legendary Celtics head coach Red Auerbach had no problem playing Russell or trusting him with the franchise. This was during a time when racism was extreme for a lot of African-Americans, including Russell, who faced plenty of racism during his time in Boston. But his relationship with Auerbach endured until the coach’s death.
Now that Russell is gone, it’s hard not to appreciate the impact he has on the game to this day. Many NBA stars can thank him for his presence, on and off the court, for paving the way for many of today’s NBA stars.