With Paul Pierce’s No. 34 rightfully taking its place in the Garden rafters this past Sunday, a great debate has been sparked throughout Boston this week.
Who are the top 10 Boston Celtics players of all-time, and where does Pierce fit on the list?
Most everyone’s list starts with Bill Russell at No. 1, of course, and Larry Bird at No. 2. John Havlicek is typically No. 3 on most rankings.
But after No. 3 it starts to get a bit jumbled. Do Kevin McHale and Robert Parish deserve to both be on the list? Those were great teams in the 1980s, but those Celtics “only” won three championships. Russell’s Celtics won 11 titles.
And do the late 2000s Celtics deserve two players on the list in Pierce and Kevin Garnett? That group only won one title.
Here is my list. Let’s see how it compares to yours. Feel free to send in your own lists and comments to firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @Burke_Metro and we will look to print them in a future Metro edition.
1. Bill Russell
11 titles. The greatest winner in team sports history.
2. Larry Bird
Bird won three titles in a much more difficult era than the one in which Russell played. When Russell played there were only eight teams in the NBA. Bird played in an era in which there were over 22 teams in the league and had to deal with Dr. J’s Sixers, Magic Johnson’s Lakers and Isiah Thomas’ Pistons. Those opposing teams are all-time great teams. Bird’s Celtics lost out on a few titles simply because the level of competition during that era was so damn high.
3. John Havlicek
One of the most underrated athletes in not only Boston sports history but American sports history. When Havlicek retired, he ranked as the league’s all-time leader in games played and was third all-time in points scored (behind only Wilt Chamberlain and Oscar Robertson).
4. Bob Cousy
The NBA MVP in 1957 and a 13-time NBA All-Star. Bonus points for doing Steve Nash stuff before Steve Nash.
5. Kevin McHale
In his prime, McHale absolutely could have led a team to the NBA Finals. His post moves were out-of-this-world and he was Bird’s 1A on the greatest NBA team of all-time (1986).
6. Paul Pierce
Love Pierce, but all of the guys ahead of him on this list have more titles and Pierce was far from a winner in the first 10 years of his Celtics career. Number 6 on this list is a perfect spot for him. No shame.
7. Dave Cowens
Cowens averaged 13.6 rebounds per game in his career and won NBA MVP in 1973. Painfully underrated like all of the 1970s Celtics.
8. Sam Jones
Jones won 10 titles with the Celtics and was a five-time All-Star. He was as clutch as clutch can be for those dominant 1960s Celtics teams.
9. Robert Parish
The Chief was a nine-time NBA All-Star and was the rock in the paint for the great 1980s C’s.
10. Kevin Garnett
I originally had Dennis Johnson here, but putting four members of the 1980s Celtics on this list might be a bit much. If you’re being honest, you have to admit that Garnett was the best player on the 2008 championship Celtics. KG changed the culture in Boston and sacrificed his individual stats for the greater good of winning. Unlike McHale, Pierce, Sam Jones or Parish – Garnett was an NBA MVP-caliber player. He won the damn thing in 2004 in Minnesota, and finished third in MVP voting in his first season with the Celtics in 2008 (Pierce did not receive one first place vote that year). Garnett often gets points deducted for only playing six seasons with the Celtics, but then again DJ only played seven seasons in Boston. DJ had his number retired by the C’s. Garnett should too.