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Boston Celtics

A professional basketball team in the Eastern Conference of the NBA.

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The Big Green Men

  • Jun 26, 2012
The Boston Celtics receive a designation in basketball as the White Peoples' Team which really isn't fair to them. It's true that a lot of their greatest players have been white: From the original basketball star, Bob Cousy, to players like Dave Cowens, John Havlicek, and the immortal Larry Bird, the Celtics have had a share of white superstars, but it wasn't like players such as Bill Russell, Robert Parish, and Paul Pierce didn't help the team to its current status as one of the league faces. The architect of the Celtics, Red Auerbach, was a staunch anti-racist who, in an era when people were outwardly trying to avoid black players when they could, fielded the first all-black starting five. I don't know if it's because Boston has a notoriously racist past, the fact that their name and mascot are derived from the city's thick Irish lineage, or because the Celts represent an image of more working-class toughness and fight than pure athleticism (which, by the way, really isn't warranted). But the Celtics receive a bashing from critical theorists trying to make names for themselves. Even Spike Lee - who, unlike most critical theorists, is an actual basketball fan - decided to perpetuate the image when he portrayed a white bypasser in Do the Right Thing whom the local black populace in Brooklyn saw as an encroacher when he decked the white character in a Celtics jersey. A Bird jersey, no less.

It isn't like the older teams could possibly have been blacker than the Celts. When the NBA was formed as the BAA in 1946, the league was lily-white and stayed that way until the New York Knicks signed Sweetwater Clifton. The Celtics are one of only two teams in today's NBA who have never either moved or changed their name. (The other is the New York Knicks: http://www.lunch.com/reviews/sports_team/Use...he_New_York_Groove.html.) They pretty much sucked until 1950, when they hired coach Red Auerbach, who drafted Bob Cousy in dispersal after Cooz's first team, the Chicago Stags, folded. Ironically, Auerbach first objected to Cooz, deeming him the "local yokel" for being dumb and too flashy. And while the Knicks were the first NBA team to ever sign a black player, the Celtics were the first team to ever DRAFT a black player when they drafted Chuck Cooper in 1950.

Yeah, the Celtics constantly get blasted for being the stodgy old guard on ancient tradition - the whole racist thing included (mainly, again, by people who don't know anything about basketball or sports history in general) - but Auerbach was actually a pretty radical dude. After grabbing Cousy, Auerbach made the outstanding move of sending All-Star Ed Macauley and draft rights to Cliff Hagan to the Saint Louis Hawks for the second overall pick of the draft. When everyone in the league was thinking offense, Offense, OFFENSE DAMMIT!, Auerbach thought a good player on defense could push his team over the top. And that's why that second overall pick was magically transformed into a University of San Francisco center named Bill Russell. Russell delayed joining the team right off because he wanted to play for the United States Olympic Basketball Team, but when he finally went to Boston in the middle of the 1957 season, he proved to be worth the wait. In 1957, the Celtics went to the Finals and beat the Hawks in seven, giving them the first of 17 titles.

Boston returned to the Finals the next year and this time lost to the Hawks in six. But they also acquired KC Jones that year, and between him, Tommy Heinsohn, Cousy, and Russell, the Celtics built what is still the ultimate dynasty of basketball, if not all of sports. From 1959 to 1966, the Celtics went to the Finals every damn year. And they also won the Finals. Every damn year! It wasn't until 1967 that anyone else was even able to get to the Finals, and that was in large part because Auerbach threw in the towel as coach and handed the whole project off to Russell, who had first-year growing pains. That may be the only reason the Philadelphia 76ers were able to get the better of the Celtics that year. But that proved to be a hiccup, and by 1968 the Celtics were champions again. And the year after too. It wasn't until the 70's that Boston would see multiple years go by without a Championship team again. The Celtics had a losing record in 1970.

In the 70's, the Celtics rebuilt with Dave Cowens, Jo Jo White, and Paul Silas and got to be dominant again. In 1972 the Celtics were back in the Eastern Conference Finals, where they were ejected by the Knicks. In 1973 they met in the same series with the same team, and although Boston was sporting an ungodly 68-14 record, they still lost a seven-game Conference Finals to the eventual champion Knicks. But good times proved to be just around the corner, and in 1974 the Celts put that evasive twelfth notch in their belt, following it up with number 13 two years later. Then the team hit the skids again.

In 1978, the Celtics owned two of the top eight picks of the draft. Auerbach took a risk and drafted an Indiana State product named Larry Bird, knowing full well that Bird was going to hang on and stay for his senior year at college. The Celtics retained his draft rights for one year (don't ask me, I guess that's just how they did things back then), and Red went for him because he believed in Bird's potential. He also thought Boston would have a great chance to sign Bird when the college season in 1979 ended. Bird took Indiana State to the NCAA Final that year, where they famously fell to Michigan State. But that's just a color detail here. Bottom line is Bird went to Boston. That was good, because in 1979, the Celts were being ruined by owner John Y. Brown, who owned the team for a short period of bad years and orchestrated a lot of moves Auerbach hated enough to almost resign and go to the hated Knicks.

Bird arrived for the 1980 season and Auerbach started making moves which brought the Celtics back to prominence. He had drafted the promising Cornbread Maxwell in the 70's, and after 1980, he completed the most lopsided trade in NBA history: He had two first round draft picks left over from a previous trade and sent them both to the Golden State Warriors for Robert Parish and Golden State's first round draft pick, who turned into Kevin McHale. Bird, Parish, and McHale are all Hall of Famers. They formed the team's nucleus, called the Big 3, and they won the Championship again in 1981. After an embarrassing playoff sweep in 1983 at the hands of the Milwaukee Bucks, they met their longtime Finals nemesis in 1984: The Los Angeles Lakers! They came back from a 2-1 deficit to win the series and their 15th title. In 1986, they fielded the greatest single-season basketball team in history, went 67-15, and defeated the Houston Rockets in the Finals.

And that was it for awhile. Sure they won the Conference title again in 1987, but they were pretty banged up by the Finals and lost to the Lakers, just like in 1985. But what happened after that 1986 title was one of the saddest episodes in the history of the sport. There was this awesome player from the University of Maryland named Len Bias who was as complete and talented a player as you could ever hope. He had a peak physical stature, an amazing jumping ability, and an eye to create plays. He also possessed a cocky schoolyard swagger and a toughness which was projected to rival Michael Jordan as the league's most dominant player. He was projected to remain the sturdy Celtics keystone for years to come, and help them win Championships right through the 90's, the era when the Bulls rose to absolute power. On June 17, 1986, Bias was taken second overall by the Boston Celtics, surely setting them up for years to come. (I don't get draft strategy. If he was so awesome and projected to be a superstar, why wasn't he taken first?) On June 18, Bias went to Boston for his acceptance ceremony and signed a $3 million endorsement contract with Reebok.

That night, Bias returned home to his dorm in Maryland. But before that, there were reports of his car cruising some of the city's most notorious drug neighborhoods. After a wee-hour off-campus gathering, Bias took a dose of cocaine. According to the campus timeline, Bias finally hit the hay at about 6:25 AM, and he never woke up. That's a way of saying he collapsed at that time and efforts to revive him failed. At age 22, two days after being drafted by the Boston Celtics, Len Bias died of a cocaine overdose.

The Celtics' plans went down the tubes after that. Although Bird remained one of the greatest players in NBA history, that 1986 title was his last. In fact, it was Boston's last. With the rise of the Detroit Pistons, the Celts never got back to the Finals after 1987, although they posted some great records. In the 1987 draft, Boston took Reggie Lewis, an outstanding player himself, and when Bird retired, Lewis was expected to lead the Celtics to a great new era of dominance. Unfortunately, his story didn't turn out that much better than Bias's. He did get to play in the NBA for several years, but he fainted during a 1993 playoff game, which is how the world learned he had heart problems. Shooting baskets at Brandeis University during the offseason, he died of a heart attack.

The next several years saw the great team finally receive its welcome into the wonderful world of sports irrelevance. Despite the drafting of Paul Pierce, they largely lost the next several seasons, although they did make the playoffs in 2002, and fought their way to an improbable appearance in the Conference Finals, where they lost to the New Jersey Nets. They weren't BAD over the early millennium, but they were never contenders, either. When Doc Rivers was hired to coach in 2004, the team began to suck like never before. They spent the next few years losing a lot, and badly. In 2007, they went 24-58 and lost a franchise record 18 games in a row. There are conspiracy theories suggesting the Celtics simply gave up in the second half of that season to ensure a high draft pick, when that year would have been Greg Oden or Kevin Durant. But that failed, as the Celtics fell to fifth overall.

Somehow, though, that failed to stop them. The Celtics never used that fifth pick. Instead, they traded it with a couple of players to the Seattle Sonics (http://www.lunch.com/reviews/sports_team/Use...-The_Thunder_Rolls.html) for Ray Allen. Then they traded a bunch of other players and draft picks for Minnesota Timberwolves star Kevin Garnett. Allen and Garnett teamed with Paul Pierce to create a new Big 3, and in 2008, the Celtics underwent an unprecedented 42-game improvement. Although they did meet a bit of friction in the playoffs, they did manage to make it back to the Finals and reignite their rivalry with the Lakers, whom they dispatched in six game for that elusive 17th banner. Two years after that, they returned to the Finals but lost to the Lakers. Today, those three players are still the team's core, and they also dug up a great player in the 2006 draft named Rajon Rondo who is proving to be a keystone to potentially build around.

The Celtics are effectively the New York Yankees of basketball, except maybe for the Los Angeles Lakers, who have only one title less than Boston. They are part of the reason why people are idiots for looking at Boston as a tortured sports city. The Celtics are celebrated for their mystique and are probably the only team in the NBA which is known for its parquet floor, which is so iconic that it was taken piece by piece when Boston Garden was evacuated and they moved to the TD Garden.

Retired numbers and Hall of Famers are in abundance for the Celts, from Robert Parish to Red Auerbach to Jo Jo White. If you're talking about the greatest NBA player in history, Bill Russell and Larry Bird will always be in the conversation, and Red Auerbach is frequently cited as the greatest coach in history. The first two I could be talked into ceding, but I believe Phil Jackson was a better coach than Auerbach. Jackson not only has more titles, but he also introduced the Triangle offense. The talent levels the league had were about the same for both their eras, but Jackson won his eleven titles (as opposed to Auerbach's nine) contending with obstacles Auerbach never dreamed of: The players being flashier, more individualist, and being brand names; free agency; a lot more rules which were trickier to work around; and the league having 30 teams, as opposed to the eight that were in the league when Auerbach coached. (What can I say? I'm a Bulls fan.)

There's always a Boston/New York rivalry, and so the Celtics and Knicks hate each other. Boston considers itself the great underdog, even though there is just as much money there as there is in New York City and its teams have won more titles than any other city except New York City. Fortunately, people are getting fed up with Boston's dumbass inferiority complex and constant whining about how tortured it is and starting to see Boston as just another Evil Empire. But Boston's greatest rivalries are with the Los Angeles Lakers, whom they've played against many times in the Finals, and the Philadelphia 76ers, whom they've played against a lot in the playoffs. They've won and lost a lot against both teams, and that's why those rivalries are among the best in the NBA.

The Boston Celtics are the only Boston team I don't hate. My hometown of Buffalo, New York isn't really a basketball city, but most NBA fans here seem partial to the Celtics. Now, I don't understand this because everyone here has a burning hatred for the Boston Bruins (direct rivals to the Buffalo Sabres) and New England Patriots (same thing for the Buffalo Bills) and, while Red Sox fans aren't uncommon in this city, most baseball fans tend toward the New York Yankees. And yet we have no trouble cheering for their basketball team? But that's just me, and I've been known to cheer for the Celtics myself from time to time, especially in their most recent Finals appearances against Los Angeles. And they're not a bad team to be stuck with. They've got great players and a story-laden history and incredible rivalries with lots of signature games. I'll forgive their fans, just this once, of the unforgivable crime of cheering for a Boston team.

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July 05, 2012
excellent work as always in covering another NBA team.
July 04, 2012
Very detailed presentation!
More Boston Celtics reviews
review by . November 04, 2009
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It is amazing how the paradigm has shifted around here.  Prior to the arrival of a new ownership group led by Wyc Grousbeck and the subsequent hiring of Danny Ainge as President of Basketball Operations in 2003 the Boston Celtics had become almost irrelevant here in sports-crazed New England.  While the Red Sox and Patriots were perennial championship contenders the Celtics were having enormous difficulty in just securing a radio deal.  TV ratings were abysmal and attendance was …
review by . April 24, 2009
The Celtics have had a great season. Rajon, Ray, Paul and KG are great to watch and, at some time, the team is going to lose because almost everyone is injured. Why can't the winner be the team which has won the most games at the end of the regular season???   I have always thought this about the playoff system.  In high school and college, for example, teams play wonderfully all year, then arrive at the playoffs. All except one team (out of the entire league) will end the season …
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Hi! I'm here in part to plug my writing and let everyone know that I'm trying to take my work commercial.      Now, what about me? Well, obviously I like to write. I'm … more
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About this sports team


The Boston Celtics (pronounced /ˈsɛltɪks/) are a professional basketball club based in Boston, Massachusetts, playing in the Atlantic Division of the Eastern Conference in the National Basketball Association (NBA). The team is owned by Wycliffe Grousbeck and coached by Doc Rivers, with Danny Ainge as the President of Basketball Operations. Founded in 1946, their 17 NBA Championships are the most for any NBA franchise. The Celtics' greatest domination came from 1957 to 1969, with 11 championships in 13 years, and eight in a row, the longest consecutive championship winning streak of any North American professional sports team. They currently play their home games at TD Garden.

The Celtics either dominated the league or played a large part in the playoffs in the late 1950s through the mid 1980s. After the deaths of the second draft pick Len Bias in 1986 and Reggie Lewis in 1993, the team fell into a steady decline, only making the playoffs four times from 1996 to 2007. The franchise has recently returned to prominence with the acquisition of Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen during the 2007 off-season. On June 17, 2008, the Boston Celtics won their 17th championship by defeating the Los Angeles Lakers 4–2 in the 2008 NBA Finals.

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Conference: Eastern Conference
Division: Atlantic Division

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