The Boston Celtics are the Winn ingest franchise in NBA history with a total of 17 NBA titles. And as such, they have produced some of the best players to ever play on the hard-court. From the hallowed halls of the Boston Garden to the Fleet Center, TD Bank North and now the TD Garden, we’ve seen so many great players don the NBA’s most famous green jersey.
The Celtics have a total of 25 Hall of Fame inductees and have retired 21 jersey numbers. With the inclusion of the just retired Paul Pierce, that numbers is set to increase to 22, which is twice as much as the next team Portland, which has 11. A total of Four players have won the NBA’s MVP award a combined 10 times. That’s the most total MVP awards won by any NBA team.
Among the best though, we picked the cream of the crop. So here are the top Boston Celtics players of All-Time:
Jo Jo White
Jo Jo White was the driving force of two of the Boston Celtics’ 17 NBA championships so it would’ve been blasphemy to put him off this list.
Drafted by the Celtics with the 9th pick of the 1969 NBA Draft, White wasn’t just a dead eye in scoring. He was also a slick passer and an excellent perimeter defender. In what many consider to be the greatest NBA game of all-time, White recorded game highs of 33 points and 9 assists while playing for a total of 60 minutes in Game 5 of the 1976 NBA Finals against the Phoenix Suns. Boston won the game 128-126 and the title. White went on to be named as the Finals MVP. Two seasons earlier, White led Boston’s ‘small ball’ to their first title in the post-Bill Russell era.
Jo Jo White was a 7-time NBA All-Star and a two time member of the All-NBA second team. He was one of the NBA’s first ‘iron men’, having played all 82 regular season games in five consecutive seasons. He holds the Celtics’ record for most consecutive games played at 488. White was inducted to the Hall of Fame in 2015.
The nickname chief was coined by Cedric Maxwell because of his stoic personality. The story goes that Maxwell got the name from the character Chief Bromden, the silent Native American in the movie ‘One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest’. But while he didn’t talk too much, Robert Parish let his game do a lot of talking.
Parish was the inside presence that helped Larry Bird win three NBA championships in the 1980’s. Parish was a consistent force on both ends of the floor with his defense and high arching mid range jumper. Parish is best remembered for one of the most lopsided trades in NBA history. The Celtics traded the #1 pick of the 1980 draft for the Warriors’ #3 pick and Parish. That 3rd pick became Kevin McHale. The Warriors picked Joe Barry Carroll at number one. Carroll was often injured and retired early. McHale and Parish teamed up with Larry Bird to rival Magic Johnson’s Showtime Lakers in the 1980’s.
The Chief is 2nd in the Celtics’ all-time rebounding list and is the Celtics best all-time defensive rebounder. He is 4th in the Boston scoring list and number 1 in blocks. He was a 9-time NBA All-Star and won a total of 4 NBA titles, including one with Golden State. Parish is the NBA’s All-time leader in regular season games played at 1,611.
Bill Russell owns the record for most NBA championships won at 11. But not many know that the man next to him on that list was a less heralded teammate and often forgotten Celtics legend.
Sam Jones was one of three players ( the others were Bill Russell and KC Jones ) to be part of the Celtics’ Dynasty that won eight straight NBA titles from 1959 to 1966. He was a feared scorer, known for his timely baskets and game winning shots in the playoffs. In fact, he was the original ‘Mr. Clutch’ before Jerry West came along, although he was nicknamed as ‘The Shooter’ by his contemporaries.
Jones played all 13 of his NBA seasons with the Green men. He led the Celtics in scoring three times, averaged at least 20 points in four consecutive seasons from 1965-1968 and owns the 4th highest single game scoring record in Celtics history with 51 points in 1965. Jones was inducted to the Hall of Fame in 1984 and was named as one of the NBA’s 50 Greatest Players in 1996.
Bill Russell and Larry Bird may be the best ever representatives of Celtic Pride but Dave Cowens embodied the spirit of Boston like no other. He was undersized for a big man but he left everything in the court. At 6-9, he played center and at times power forward. Cowens outworked bigger opponents on the glass because he wanted the ball more. He was short in height but never in heart and that endeared him to the Beantown faithful.
But Cowens wasn’t just the fan favorite and folk legend. In the Boston tradition, he was a winner. In 1968, he led the Celtics in five statistical categories: points, rebounds, assists, steals and blocks. Only Scottie Pippen, Kevin Garnett, LeBron James and Giannis Antetokounmpo have been able to accomplish that feat.
Cowens won the NBA title twice, and the MVP once. He was an 8-time NBA All-Star, winning the All-Star game MVP in 1973, the same year he was regular season MVP. He is third on the Celtics’ all-time rebounding list behind Russell and Parish. He is also 6th in blocks and 10th in assists. Most of all, he was #1 pound for pound.
Kevin McHale was the man with a thousand moves. He was one of the most skilled and craftiest post players of all-time. With incredible long arms and slick footwork, McHale easily did what he wanted to do inside the shaded lane. In his prime, McHale was the ‘torture chamber’ for any post defender.
As we said earlier, McHale and Robert Parish were part of one of the most lopsided trades in NBA history. While the Warriors regretted trading their pick, the Celtics found a diamond in the rough. McHale would be one of the vital cogs in Boston’s championship runs during the 1980’s. McHale was the NBA’s Sixth Man of the Year winner in two consecutive seasons from 1984 to 1985. He topped the 20 point scoring mark for the first time in his career in 1986 by averaging 21.3 on the Celtics’ team that is known as one of the best in the history of the NBA. That team went 82-18 ( including the playoffs ) which was the best at that time and went 50-1 at home ( including the playoffs) which is still the NBA record.
McHale was a 7-time NBA All-Star, 6-time All-Defensive team selection and All-NBA First team once. He is 5th best scorer and the 6th best rebounder in Celtics’ history. He was the first player in NBA history to hit at least 60% of his field goals and at least 80% of his free throws.
The only player on this list not in the Hall of Fame, at least not yet. That’s because Paul Pierce just retired at the end of the current 2017 NBA season after playing 19 years in the league. 15 of those years were spent with the Boston Celtics and those were the best years of his career.
Known for his scoring, rebounding, leadership and big game shot making, Paul Pierce was aptly called the ‘Truth’ during his NBA career. The nickname was given by Shaquille O’Neal after Pierce dropped 42 points on Shaq’s Lakers in 2001. Paul’s Celtics lost that game 112-107 but it would be just one of the many timeless duels between Pierce and the Lakers. None of those battles would be bigger than Game 6 of the 2008 Finals when Pierce led the Celtics to their first NBA championship in the post-Larry Bird era. Pierce was named Finals MVP for his efforts.
Pierce started every game for 15 years as the Celtics leader. He was a 10-time All-Star and an All-NBA selection four times. Pierce joined Larry Bird and John Havlicek as the only players to score 20,000 career points with the Boston Celtics. He is Boston’s all-time three point field goals leader and top free throw shooter ( attempts and makes ). Pierce ranks second only to Havlicek in the Celtics’ scoring list.
If Bill Russell was the anchor of the greatest team in NBA history, Bob Cousy was the engine that ran the Celtics’ dynasty of the 1960’s. Known as the ‘Houdini of the Hardwood’ because of his slick ball handling skills and uncanny passing ability, Cousy was the best point guard of his era.
In a league that was dominated with deliberate half court game marked by set up shooters and low post players, Cousy revolutionized the game with his up tempo style. He introduced the no-look passes, behind the back dribbles, behind the back passes and half court fastbreak launches. Bob Cousy led the NBA in assists for an unparalleled eight straight seasons from 1953-1960.
As part of the Dynasty, Cousy won the NBA title six times. He was MVP in 1957 and was a 13-time All-Star selection, having won the All-Star MVP three times. Cousy was inducted to the Naismith Hall of Fame in 1971 and had his #14 jersey immediately retired. He was part of the NBA’s 35th and 50th anniversary teams, only one of four players to be named to both squads.
Who could forget Hondo? John Havlicek bridged the gap between Bill Russell and Larry Bird yet he isn’t often mentioned in the same breath. Perhaps because he wasn’t as spectacular. Havlicek’s defense, tenacity, intensity and all-around skills were undeniable. Even Bill Russell once called him the ‘best all-around player’ he’s ever seen.
Hondo won a total of eight NBA championship rings, including four in his first four seasons in the league. Only BIll Russell and Sam Jones have more rings in the history of the league than Havlicek. Casual fans don’t know that Havlicek went an unprecedented 8-0 in the NBA Finals. That’s right. He never lost a Finals’ series.
Aside from winning championships, Hondo was the Finals MVP in 1974. He was a member of the All-NBA First team four times and second team seven times. Havlicek was named to 13 All-Star teams and 8 NBA All-Defensive teams. He is the Celtics’ all-time leading scorer and is also 2nd in the team’s all-time assists list. To wrap up his all-around skills, Hondo is #5 in the Celtics’ rebounding list.
Sorry LeBron James, this man is the best forward to ever play the game.
The Hick from French Lick, Larry Bird brought back Boston’s glory years during the 1980’s. His Celtics’ rivalry with the Lakers and his personal on-court rivalry with Magic Johnson made him a legend nobody will ever forget. Larry Bird is one of the best shooters of All-time and one one of the league’s most underrated passer, defender and rebounder.
Larry Legend began in 1978 when the Celtics drafted him 6th overall in the Draft. Immediately, Bird teamed up with Robert Parish and Kevin McHale to form one of the greatest frontcourts ( if not the greatest ) in the history of the NBA. Bird would lead the Celtics to three NBA titles during the 1980’s. He was the first player to achieve the 50-40-90 club where he shot at least 50% from the field, 40% from three point area and 90% from the foul line. Bird accomplished that in back to back seasons from 1987-1988.
Bird was a two-time MVP and two-times Finals MVP. He was a member of the All-NBA First team 9 times and NBA All-Star 12 times. He was All-Star game MVP in 1982 and won the NBA Three point shootout from 1986-1988. He is #3 in the Celtics’ all-time scoring list, #3 in assists, #3 in rebounds and #2 in steals.
Bow your heads in reverence to the NBA’s Lord of the Rings.
Nobody in NBA history has won more titles than Bill Russell. The Celtics’ big man won a total of 11 in 13 seasons, including 8 straight during the Dynasty Years. He is touted as the most dominant big man to play the game because of his defense and rebounding. They say defense wins NBA titles. This man is the personification of that statement.
Russell was around 6-9 to 6-10 but his wingspan of 7-4 made him one of the best defensive cogs the sport has ever seen. Only Russell and Wilt Chamberlain are the players to grab at least 50 rebounds in one NBA game. Russell led the league in rebounds four times and had twelve straight seasons of 1000 rebounds or more. Russell is the NBA/ABA all-time leader for Defensive Win Shares with a ridiculous 133.64.
Although he wasn’t the focus of the offense, Russell is the Celtics’ 8th all-time best scorer. As expected, he is the franchise’s best ever rebounder. He also own the highest single season minutes per game average at 42.3 MPG. Often the best player in the history of the league in many lists, he is certainly the top Boston Celtics player of All-time.
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