Ever since the Revolutionary War, Bostonians have been defying kings and proving people wrong. In the Revolutionary War, Boston was the site of the Boston Tea Party, one of the greatest demonstrations of independence in history, and throughout the time of the NBA, the Boston Celtics have been doing the same. They have been breaking records, beating kings, and proving people wrong for 65 years. The Boston Celtics are one of the oldest and most successful NBA franchises in history.
The sixth NBA franchise, one that has never changed home cities or declared themselves a different team, the Boston Celtics weren’t always the best. The Boston Celtics were founded on June 6, 1946,1 under the ownership of Walter A. Brown. The team became a part of the NBA in the fall of 1949, after the merger of the Basketball Association of America and the National Basketball League.23 At first the Celtics didn’t do too well. Finally, Walter A. Brown found Red Auerbach who, after much pleading, agreed to coach the Celtics. Some of Auerbach’s early decisions were questionable, such as passing on the opportunity to acquire Bob Cousy, who was drafted to the Chicago Stags. Cousy was acquired later that year through a dispersal draft when the Stags went bankrupt.4 Cousy would be a great backbone for the Celtics but it wouldn’t be until 1957 when the Celtics acquired Bill Russell (see Image A) that they would make a fun to the championships.5 Once Russell and Cousy were on the floor with Tommy Heinsohn, the 1957 Rookie of the Year, the Celtics made a run at the championship 10 times in the years 1957-1966, winning nine of them. These nine championship wins, eight of them consecutively6, were the beginning of the Boston Celtics legacy and also the beginning of some of the great rivalries between teams and players.
Bill Russell had a rival. His name was Wilt Chamberlin. Many people thought that once Wilt was in the NBA, Russell’s era would be over. But Wilt pushed Russell to be better than he ever was. 7 When asked about this, Russell said,
“People say that it was the greatest individual rivalry they’ve ever seen. I agree with that. I have to laugh today. I’ll turn on the TV and see the Knicks play the Lakers, and half the time Patrick[Ewing] isn’t even guarding Shaq [O’Neil] and vise-versa.”8
Bill Russell and Wilt Chamberlin played 142 times during their 10 year rivalry. Russell and the Celtics won 85 while Wilt and the Warriors, 76ers or Lakers won 57.9
In 1977, the Celtics selected junior Larry Bird of Indiana State. Red Auerbach knew that Bird would choose to stay in college and play his senior year, which he did, leading his team to the NCAA Championship only to lose to Michigan State University, which was led by Magic Johnson. In the 1983-84 season, after a three year absence from the finals, Bird and the Celtics got another look at the championship and came back from a 2-1 deficit to win their 15th title against the Los Angeles Lakers. During this series, the Bird-Johnson rivalry was reborn from their college days.10 The Bird-Johnson rivalry started the major Boston-LA/Celtics-Lakers rivalry. Bird, who played forward, would rarely match up against Johnson, who played guard.
“About the only time we ever guarded each other was on a switch,” Bird explained. “He’d be on me and I’d say, ‘Hey, I got a little one.’”11
When asked about this, Magic Johnson said,
“Always. He’d say, ‘Bring it here. I’ve got this little one on me!’”12
Bird and Johnson only played each other 37 times, with Johnson and the Lakers holding a 22-15 edge over the Celtics. Even though they didn’t play that much, the Bird-Johnson rivalry was HUGE.
“When the new schedule would come out each year, I’d grab it and circle the Boston games.” Magic Johnson said, “To me it was THE TWO and the other 80.”13
It wasn’t only Johnson that thought their rivalry was huge. Even though the two played different positions, Bird was just as eager to see how Magic was doing.
“The first thing I would do every morning was look at the box scores to see what Magic did.” Bird explained. “I didn’t care about anything else.”14
The Bird-Johnson rivalry was clearly one of the greatest rivalries in NBA history. It started the rivalry between two of the NBA’s greatest teams and that fire still burns today.
In the draft of 1998, Paul Pierce was drafted as the Celtic’s 10th overall draft pick by Rick Pitino, the Celtic’s head coach. In 2001, Pitino failed to achieve success through trading players and resigned15. Following the resignation of Pitino, Paul Pierce and the Celtics improved greatly under head coach Jim O’Brien. Pierce quickly evolved into a rising NBA star. Under O’Brien the team, although expected to fail, made two Finals appearances. Doc Rivers began coaching in the 2004-2005 season with a very young fresh team, having drafted Al Jefferson, Delonte West and Tony Allen16. The Celtics went 45-37 and won their first Atlantic Division Title since the 1991-92 season, being led by Pierce and a young Al Jefferson17.
Doc Rivers continued to rebuild the Celtics in the draft of 2006. They traded their seventh round picks of Randy Foye, Dan Dickau, and Raef LaFrentz to the Portland Trail Blazers for Sebastian Telfair, Theo Ratliff and a future draft pick18. The Celtics acquired Rajon Rondo through a trade with the Phoenix Suns for a first-round draft pick in the 2007 draft. Rondo would prove to be a key piece in the Boston Celtics revival.
In the summer of 2007, General Manager Danny Ainge19, made moves that would forever change the Celtics. On draft night, he traded the number five pick of the Celtics, Jeff Green, Wally Szczerbiak and Delonte West to the Seattle Supersonics for all-star and Uconn alumni Ray Allen (See Image C).
Following the acquisition of Ray Allen, Celtic management traded Ryan Gomes, Gerald Green, Al Jefferson, Theo Ratliff and Sebastian Telfair to the Minnesota Timberwolves for former MVP Kevin Garnett. With Garnett, Boston had three superstars. Allen, Pierce and Garnett were cleverly named “The Big 3”20(See Image D).
Then Boston did the utmost unexpected thing. They made a single season turnaround. From going from a season with an 18 game losing streak21, to showing up to the NBA finals to face the Lakers for the 11th time22. Many key moments were added during this series, such as Paul Pierce’s return from a knee injury in Game 123, Game 4’s 24 point comeback, and Game 6’s 39 point demolition24. This made the 17th Championship that the Boston Celtics had won in franchise history, the most ever recorded. Boston started the 2008-09 season with a 27-2 record, the best starting record in NBA history25. Part of these 27 wins included a franchise high 19 win streak. After the All-Star break, Garnett was shelved for the playoffs when he suffered an injury against the Utah Jazz26. In the Playoffs, the Celtics were pushed to Game 7 against the Chicago Bulls, in which four games went into overtime. In the second round, the Celtics were pitched against the Orlando Magic. They started off good with a 3-2 lead, but lost the round as they were once again pushed to the 7th game27.
With Kevin Garnett back on the court, the Celtics started the 2009-10 season at 23-5. But once Doc Rivers decided to lessen his aging stars’ minutes the team fell to an even 27-27 record, yet the Celtics still finished the season with a 50-32 record28. Boston still managed to make the Playoffs despite their lowly 4th seed29. The Celtics managed to beat the Miami Heat in five games, then they upset the top ranked Cleveland Cavaliers in six games. This was followed by defeating the defending Eastern Conference Champs, the Orlando Magic. During these games, Rajon Rondo proved to be a force to be reckoned with as he averaged 13.7 points per game along with 9.8 assists per game and 2.3 steals per game30. Since then Rondo has continued to be a major part of the Celtics, increasing his assists per game to 11.731.
It’s been almost 140 years since the Boston Tea Party. And throughout those 140 years, The Boston Celtics have been winning for 65 of them. 17 rings, with an 18th on the way this year, The Celtics are one of the oldest and most successful NBA franchises in history. They’ve always been proving people wrong, defeating reigning Kings, proving Magic doesn’t work, beating the Heat, and blazing trails over Trail Blazers.
Boston Celtics, General Info [info on-line] Accessed 13 March 2011; available from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Boston_Celtics
Boston Celtics, Rajon Rondo [Stats on-line]. Accessed 11 April 2011; available from http://espn.go.com/nba/player/stats/_/id/3026/rajon-rondo
Boston Celtics Championship Wins [list on-line]. Accessed 13 March 2011; available from http://www.nba.com/celtics/history/ChampionshipWins.html
Boston Celtics Roster [list on-line]. Accessed 13 March 2011; available from http://www.nba.com/celtics/roster/2010-2011-roster.html
Boston Celtics Stats[statistics on-line]. Accessed 13 March 2011; available from http://espn.go.com/nba/team/stats/_/name/bos/boston-celtics
Boston Season Recaps [list on-line]. Accessed 13 March 2011; available from http://wwwnba.com/celtics/history/season-recaps.html
“Fit for a King”, The Salt Lake Tribune, 26 February 2011, sec. C p. 1,2.
Mannix, Chris. “Forget the All Stars. Their season ultimately depends on a green point guard.” Sports Illustrated 107, no.17 (October 2007)
33 One of the great pictures of the Bird-Johnson rivalry
34 Ray Allen shooting a 3
35 This Graph is created using a special generator to calculate how big of an impact that a certain player will have on the team. The players Allen, Garnett, Pierce and Rondo, along with THE REST of the team is shown here.