Starting fives: Forgotten Boston Celtics greats

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When a team has such a rich history like the Boston Celtics, some star players are bound to fall through the cracks of history. The Celtics have won 17 NBA Championships, and the team has produced countless Hall of Famers along the way. Some of these players transcend eras, respected and remembered even by those who were not even born when they graced the hardwood. Others are only mentioned by fans who were around to see them play. The players in this starting five fall into the latter category.

While most people remember Bill Walton as a Trail Blazer or as a wild color commentator, he spent a few years with the Boston Celtics. Mandatory Credit: Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

Point Guard: Dennis Johnson

The most well known player on this list, Dennis Johnson was a playmaker for the Celtics during their second most successful period in the 1980s. D.J. started his career a member of the Seattle Supersonics, where he was used primarily as a high volume scorer, similar to James Harden of today. Johnson led the Supersonics to the NBA championship in the 1978-79 season, picking up Finals MVP honors along the way. Johnson would join the Celtics in 1983, where head coach K.C. Jones would mold him into more of a playmaker, setting up Larry Bird, Kevin McHale, and Robert Parish. D.J. would average 6.5 assists per game in his tenure as a Celtic, double the assist total that he averaged in Seattle. He would be inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame in 2010.


Shooting Guard: Bill Sharman

Sharman played in the early days of the NBA. Brought to Boston after his first team folded after his rookie season, Sharman was the starting shooting guard for head coach Red Auerbach and the Celtics’ first ever NBA Championship. Sharman would form a deadly backcourt partnership with Bob Cousy, and this backcourt, along with Bill Russell at the center position, would lead the Celtics in the team’s most dominant period. By the time Sharman retired in 1961, he would win the NBA Championship four times and be named to the all star team eight times. Following his retirement, Sharman would become a coach, winning an ABA Championship with the Utah Stars and an NBA Championship with the Los Angeles Lakers. He was inducted into the Hall of Fame as a player in 1976 and as a coach in 2004.

Small Forward: Frank Ramsey

Frank Ramsey was another member of the Celtics’ glory years under head coach Red Auerbach. Though mostly used as a sixth man, Ramsey gets the start in this starting five. Ramsey was used as the first player off the bench under coach Auerbach, and would often play more minutes than some of the starters, similar to how Manu Ginobili was used by the San Antonio Spurs. He would join the Celtics in 1954-55, but would not play in the 1955-56 season due to military service. When he came back the following season, the Celtics began to dominate. From 1956 until his retirement in 1964, Ramsey and the Celtics would win all but one NBA Finals, with the only loss coming in 1957-58, coincidentally Ramsey’s best statistically. Ramsey would retire a seven time NBA Champion, and would be inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1982.

Power Forward: Tom Heinsohn

Yet another member of the Celtics dynasty from the 1960s. Bill Russell and Bob Cousy are usually the only ones remembered from those teams, but two players don’t create a dynasty. It takes a full team of Hall of Fame talent to win eight straight titles. Heinsohn started his career with the Celtics in 1956, and would be an integral part in their eight consecutive NBA title run in the late ’50s into the 1960s. Heinsohn would grab any rebound that Bill Russell did not get, and would average around nine boards per game. Heinsohn was also a prolific scorer, averaging 18.6 points per game throughout his career. He would retire an eight time NBA champion in 1965, and would go on to coach the Celtics from 1969-1978, winning two more titles as a coach. Nowadays, Heinsohn is most remembered as the current color commentator on the Celtics’ local broadcast, where he does not hide any of his love for his former team. He was inducted into the Hall of Fame as a player in 1986 and as a coach in 2015.

Center: Bill Walton

I definitely bent the rules a little bit on this one. Bill Walton is an NBA and college basketball treasure. Everyone knows he played for the Trail Blazers, won the MVP and the NBA Finals, and had it not been for injuries, might have become the greatest center of all time. This pick is more because not many people remember the time he spent as a backup center on the Celtics during the 1980s. Furthermore, Walton’s legacy with the younger generation has become that of a commentator who wears tie-dye t-shirts on media row at games and loves the Pac-12 Conference. Needless to say, he deserves to be on any Celtics greats list, even if the rules are being bent for his inclusion. Walton would join the Celtics in 1985, and would only spend two seasons with the club, but he would have impact off the bench in his first season, where he would also win the second NBA Championship of his career. He would retire after playing in only ten games the following season, but earned hero status from Celtics fans. He would be inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1993.

Other players who could have been a part of this starting five include Nate “Tiny” Archibald (1978-83), Tom Sanders (1960-73), Pete Maravich (1979-80), and Jo Jo White (1969-78).

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