The Pantheon of Celtics Legends

When it comes to NBA basketball, two teams have battled over time for league supremacy, the Boston Celtics and the Los Angeles Lakers. Tied with 17 NBA titles apiece, the Celtics find themselves in prime position to break that tie and stand alone as the greatest franchise in the league. With a rich history filled with iconic players, it is hard to narrow down who is the exact greatest player, but when it comes to the top five players, the consensus seems to be unanimous. 

With the 2024 NBA title in his sights, Jayson Tatum has the chance to etch his name into the NBA record books as the Boston Celtics are the odds-on favorites to capture their 18th championship. While one title won’t launch him into the conversation, at just 26 years old and in his seventh season, there is plenty of time for the young star to make a pitch at joining the upper echelon of Celtics legends.

Bill Russell

Any list of the greatest NBA players should contain the name Bill Russell. While some will argue that he played in an era when the league had fewer teams, the man still guided the Celtics to eleven championships in a thirteen-year span. Although his presence was felt more on the defensive end of the court, rebounding and blocking shots, the twelve-time All-Star averaged twelve points or more in all but one season, finishing his career averaging 15 points, 22 rebounds, and 4 assists. A member of all four NBA Anniversary Teams, Russell is the only player in NBA history to have his number retired league-wide. 

Larry Bird

“The Hick from French Lick” nickname leads the unknown to believe that Larry Bird was a chump. Hardly. Despite lacking in speed or high-flying athletics like many of his peers, Bird’s competitive spirit, incredible basketball IQ, and strong all-around game helped him win three straight MVP awards and helped guide the Celtics to NBA titles in 1981, 1984, and 1986. Entering the NBA alongside Magic Johnson, the duo helped bring the league into the national spotlight.  Bird’s blue-collar work ethic and willingness to sacrifice for the good of the team made him a huge fan favorite. 

John Havlicek

“Hondo” spent sixteen years as the Boston Celtics Swiss Army knife. Need points, Havlicek scored a franchise-leading 26,395 of them.  Need a key round or an assist, the thirteen-time All-Star averaged 6.3 and 4.8 respectively over the course of his Hall-of-Fame career. Standing 6’5”, Havlicek was essentially one of the league’s first “positionless players”, giving the Celtics’ coaching staff whatever they needed. Owner of eight NBA championship rings, Havlicek bridged the gap between the Russell and Bird eras. Primarily coming off of the bench as one of the greatest sixth men in history, Havlicek played starter minutes and was on the floor when it counted the most. 

Bob Cousy

Long before Kyrie Irving, Steph Curry, and Steve Nash were creating dazzling displays of ball handling and no-look passes, “The Houdini of the Hardwood” resided in Boston. A magician with the ball, Cousy’s dribbling skills were unmatched, weaving through opposing defenders, and orchestrating the Celtics offense to six NBA titles. Not just one to pull off flashy tricks, “Cooz” averaged 20.6 points, a league-leading 7.5 assists, and 4.8 rebounds, Cousy would capture the 1957 NBA MVP award. Cousy is one of only four players to achieve the honor of being named to the NBA’s 25th, 35th, 50th and 75th Anniversary Teams. 

Kevin McHale

There will be a lot of people who argue that Paul Pierce should be included in the top five and they may have a valid point based on his stats. However, it is the three championship banners that McHale helped hang in the rafters that give him the nod. As part of the legendary 1980s Celtics team that won NBA Championships in 1981, 1984, and 1986. Averaging 17.9 points, and 7.3 rebounds for his career, McHale may not have the box score stats that other Celtics greats have, but they don’t have the six All-Defensive Team honors or the two Sixth Man of The Year awards that McHale captured during his thirteen-year Hall-of-Fame career. 

While betting apps may rank players based on their individual performances for gambling purposes such as prop bets or fantasy leagues, the all-time greats are usually recognized for their overall impact on the team and on the league as a whole. Die-hard Celtics fans may argue that one’s individual accolades may outweigh team success and vice versa. Ultimately there is no single answer in determining who belongs on this list or in what order, which makes the debate that much more enjoyable.