Ranking the greatest Celtics of all time

Profile Picture: Dan Halverson

March 4th, 2021

Boston has a long and storied history when it comes to sports. The Celtics, in particular, are closely tied to the gritty, workmanlike character of the city.

Founded in 1946, The Celtics have won 17 NBA championships, and have the most recorded wins in league history. They are one of just two franchises born out of the old BAA that still resides in their original city (along with the New York Knicks).

Join us as now as we fondly revisit Boston's glorious past and rank the top five Celtics of all time.

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Boston Celtics power forward Kevin Garnett defends on San Antonio Spurs power forward Tim Duncan. (Photo by Mark Halmas/Icon Sportswire)

5. Kevin Garnett


Position: Power Forward
Accolades: Hall of Fame, 15x All-Star, 12x All-Defensive Team, 9x All-NBA, MVP, NBA Champion

A legendarily intense defender and vocal leader, Garnett arrived in Boston in 2007 and immediately re-ignited the franchise. He won Defensive Player of the Year honors in his first season in Beantown, and led the Celtics to an NBA championship.

Garnett played 22 years in the NBA after coming directly from high school, and averaged a double-double per game over the course of his Hall of Fame career. He was the unquestioned heart and soul of every team he played on, and is the greatest Celtic of the past 20 years.

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Dennis Johnson (3) and Kevin McHale (32) of the Celtics watch the game from the bench. (Photo by Cliff Welch/Icon Sportswire)

4. Kevin McHale


Position: Power Forward
Accolades: Hall of Fame, 7x All-Star, 6x All-Defensive, 3x NBA Champion

Kevin McHale is known as one of the craftiest post players in NBA history. Paired with Larry Bird, McHale helped define the Celtics’ 80’s run. McHale was unstoppable in the paint, where his ingenuity, toughness, and length gave him an advantage over any defender that tried to stop his shot.

He used post moves that were erratic and unpredictable, but they consistently worked, giving the Celtics a reliable scorer in the paint. McHale also excelled on defense, where he was named to the NBA All-Defensive Team six times.

3. John Havlicek


Position: Small Forward
Accolades: Hall of Fame, 13x All-Star, 11x All-NBA, 8x All-Defensive, 8x NBA Champion

Many modern fans of the NBA aren’t as familiar with Havlicek’s game as they should be. The now departed 16-year NBA veteran had eight NBA titles to his name, and was an 11-time All-NBA player for one of the greatest franchises of the sport. Havlicek took over the lead role once Bill Russell retired in 1969, and was a tremendous defender. He famously stole the ball in Game 7 of the 1965 Eastern Conference Finals with the Celtics holding a 1-point lead against the Wilt Chamberlain-led Philadelphia 76ers.

For his career, Havlicek averaged 20.8 points and 4.8 assists per game, and in his best season in 1970 put up 28.9 points, 9.0 rebounds, and 7.5 assists per game while leading the league in minutes played.

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Larry Bird of the Boston Celtics. (Photo by John M. McDonough/Icon Sportswire)

2. Larry Bird


Position: Small Forward
Accolades: Hall of Fame, 12x All-Star, 10x All-NBA, 3x NBA Champion, 3x MVP

The Hick from French Lick. Larry Bird and his uncharacteristic shooting style led the Celtics through a memorable run in the 1980’s, culminating in three NBA championships. Standing 6’9”, Bird’s shot was almost unguardable, and he saw the floor as well as any player of his generation, making him an offensive nightmare when combined with fellow Celtics stars of the time.

Bird was an excellent three-point shooter, a fierce competitor, and his rivalry with the Magic Johnson-led Lakers in the 80’s defined a decade of basketball for fans of the NBA.

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Bill Russell of the Celtics defends Wilt Chamberlain (jumping) of the 76ers. (Photo by Cliff Welch/Icon Sportswire)

1. Bill Russell


Position: Center
Accolades: Hall of Fame, 12x All-Star, 11x All-NBA, 11x NBA Champion, 5x MVP

The MVP of the NBA Finals is now awarded the Bill Russell trophy. That may be the most telling evidence of Russell’s greatness that there is, but even that doesn’t reflect the incredible statistic that Russell won 11 NBA championships. That level of winning is unprecedented, and likely will remain so in modern sports, thereby making Russell the greatest Celtic of all time.

Russell was arguably the most athletic player on the court during his prime, and is said to have helped reshape basketball from a horizontal game to a vertical one. While blocks weren’t a recorded statistic at the time, his rebounding and defensive presence was legendary. He played above the rim, towering over competition, and dominated the game like few others. He had 10 straight seasons where he averaged over 20 rebounds per game, and is a revered icon in the sport’s legendary history.