With more Hall-of-Famers than any other team in NBA history, the Boston Celtics have had no shortage of great players. The storied parquet floor has been graced by the likes of Bill Russell, Larry Bird, Bob Cousy and many other legendary players wearing the green and white.
Picking any of the Celtics’ Hall-of-Famers, you couldn’t go wrong… Russell is the greatest winner in NBA history, Bird a transcendent player who rose to the NBA’s upper-echelon, Cousy a wizard who revolutionized the game with his flashy yet productive play. Beyond those three stars, the list goes on and on…John Havlicek, Sam Young, Kevin McHale, Robert Parish, Bill Sharman, Dave Cowens, K.C. Jones, Sam Jones, Satch Sanders – and the beat goes on.
If you had to pick one player to represent the Boston Celtics, one player to stand above all the other greats in Celtics’ history, it would probably have to be Russell. With 11 championships and 5 MVPs during his thirteen seasons, Russell set the bar for greatness in the NBA.
But what if you didn’t have to pick just one player? What if you could mix and match different parts of all the players who have adorned Celtic Green? What if you could combine the best of the best, and come up with the perfect Boston Celtic?
This is what he’d look like…
Kevin McHale. Could there be any other choice? McHale not only has perhaps the best post footwork of all-time, he also used his feet to be able to match up against the opponents’ best offensive player, regardless of the position. With the ability to move his feet so well and the long arms to contest any shot, McHale was a terrific defender, a force on both ends of the floor.
But it was his offensive footwork that made McHale so special, that he is still remembered for long after his career is done (well, that and his Kevin Garnett trade). McHale was a genius on the blocks, a master of up-and-unders, step-throughs, drop steps, and pretty much any other move that has ever been created. And it was mostly due to his terrific footwork.
John Havlicek. Hondo wasn’t the quickest Celtic, and he didn’t jump the highest. Nor was he the most explosive. But Havlicek could run, and he could run for days at a time. Said New York Knicks coach Red Holzman about Hondo, “It would’ve been fair to those who had to play him or those who had to coach against him if he had been blessed only with his inhuman endurance. God had to compound it by making him a good scorer, smart ballhandler and intelligent defensive player with quickness of mind, hands and feet.”
With his quickness, strength and stamina, Hondo logged over 46,000 regular-season minutes for the C’s, scoring more points (26,395) than any other Celtic. Somehow, his legs kept churning through all that time with the Celtics.
Bill Russell. Russell, winner of 11 championships and 5 MVPs and maybe the greatest center of all-time, would get so nervous before games that he would puke…before every single game. If Russ didn’t puke, his head likely wasn’t in the game and he wasn’t going to play well.
His nightly homage to the porcelain gods became a way Russell’s teammates, and even Russell himself, knew he was ready to play the game. So the nod for the best stomach in Celtics’ history goes to Russell, even though it was one very unsettled stomach.
Dave Cowens. Fans nowadays may consider Kevin Garnett to be the most intense player they’ve ever seen in Celtics green. He works harder than anybody else currently in the NBA, every single play.
But Cowens was Kevin Garnett before KG was even born. He played with that energy, that singular desire to do whatever he possibly could to win, and he did it as an undersized center playing against the likes of behemoths Wilt Chamberlain and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. At only 6’9″, Cowens averaged 13.6 rebounds per game during his career not because of any physical traits, but rather the sheer imposition of his will.
Red Auerbach. I know this is supposed to be a collection of the best attributes of Celtics players, but how could you not stretch the rules to include Red Auerbach’s lungs?
The same lungs that he abused by smoking victory cigars – while on the bench! – were used every game to berate referees and opposing players. In his book “Red And Me”, Bill Russell talks about how Red once went up to Wilt Chamberlain, screaming at him and challenging the monster to a fight. Russell had no doubt that the fiery Auerbach would have fought Chamberlain if Russell didn’t break it up – behind all those words were a proud man unafraid of anything.
Honorable Mention: Paul Pierce. Any time you can get stabbed 11 times in your neck, back and face, then survive and return from lung surgery to start in the season opener, you’ve got some good lungs… and a pretty damn great guardian angel.
Bill Russell. Though they didn’t count blocks when Russell played, he undoubtedly would have led the league just about every year. Generally regarded as the best defensive center to ever play the game, it was Russell’s arms, combined with his timing, that allowed him to block so many shots.
Long and sinewy, with a strength that belied their thin shape, Russell’s arms, with their long reach and strong grip, allowed him to pull in an average of 22.5 rebounds per game for his career and countless (literally, in those days) blocks.
Larry Bird. Has there ever been a better trash-talker than the “Hick From French Lick”? Bird not only spoke a lot of trash, he backed it up too. Like the time when he walked into the locker room at the three-point contest and told everyone they were playing for second… then went out and won. Or the time he told Xavier McDaniel not only that he was going to make a game-winning shot, but exactly where he was going to hit it… and then was upset he left time on the clock after his shot.
Bird was a cocky, brash player who was never afraid to let anybody know he was the best player on the floor. And he’s also the best Celtics player since Russell.
Bob Cousy. With Larry Bird’s great court vision, you could argue that his eyes should be used to create the best Celtic ever. But that would be selling Cousy, one of the first great point guards in NBA history, short.
The “Hardwood Houdini” led the NBA in assists eight years straight, ushering the NBA into an era of less robotic and more creative play. Always scanning the court with those eyes, Cousy was a great point guard and a hell of a floor leader.
Larry Bird. What does it take to thrive in a league in which the most athletic players excel, even when you aren’t a superb athlete by any stretch of the imagination? A great work ethic and an incredible knowledge of the game.
Bird was so good, despite being slow and athletically challenged, because he knew angles and he saw the whole court developing far more clearly than the other players on the court. He was aware of everybody on the court, and hardly ever made dumb mistakes. With a basketball brain like that, it’s no wonder Bird was such a great player.
Dwayne Shintzius. I think, in this case, a picture is worth a thousand words…