The Boston Celtics have won 17 NBA championships, more than any team in history, and are one of three teams still active from the birth of the NBA.
No franchise in NBA history has more championships than the 17 won by the Boston Celtics and just about everything positive in the franchise history began April 27, 1950.
That was the day Red Auerbach was hired as the team’s head coach and general manager.
Auerbach had resigned as head coach of the Tri-Cities Blackhawks just weeks before, after owner Ben Kerner had traded John Mahnken without Auerbach’s knowledge or consent.
But Auerbach came to Boston and got the green light from owner Walter Brown to build it his way.The Celtics hadn’t had a winning season in their first four years, were struggling financially and had made the postseason just once.
Auerbach led the Celtics to a 39-30 record in his first season, to the team’s first playoff series victory in 1952-53 and to three straight Eastern Division Finals from 1953-55, where they fell to the New York Knicks once and the Syracuse Nationals twice.
A first-round loss in the 1956 playoffs sent Auerbach to the trading block, where he landed the most important component in the franchise’s early history, trading All-Star Ed Macauley and third-round pick Cliff Hagan to the St. Louis Hawks for the rights to the Hawks’ second overall pick in the draft, University of San Francisco center Bill Russell.
Russell missed the early part of the season in order to captain the U.S. entry in the Olympic Games in Melbourne, Australia, but when he came back in December, it all fell into place, with the Celtics winning the first of their NBA titles in the spring of 1957.
The Hawks toppled the Celtics in the 1958 NBA Finals.
That would be the last time anyone would do that for nearly a decade. Boston put together an unprecedented run of eight consecutive championships—by far the longest stretch in North American professional sports history—before Auerbach stepped down as coach at the end of the 1965-66 season.
Turning the coaching reins over to Russell, the first African-American head coach in modern American professional sports, the Celtics didn’t win a ninth straight title in 1966-67.
But they came back as an aging underdog to win titles with Russell as player-coach in 1967-68 and 1968-69 before Russell retired.
The rebuilding Celtics had their first losing season in 20 years in 1969-70, snapping a string of 19 consecutive playoff appearances. But they were back over .500 the following year, back in the playoffs in 1971-72 and won titles again in 1974 and 1976.
With Auerbach still at the helm as the GM, Boston had back-to-back 50-loss seasons to close out the 1970s, but returned to title winning form with Larry Bird, Kevin McHale and Robert Parish leading the way in 1981.
The Celtics also won titles in 1984 and 1986 and reached the Finals in 1985 and 1987.
Boston endured its most difficult period from the mid-1990s through late in the first decade of the new century.
The team endured the death of second overall pick Len Bias the day after the 1986 NBA Draft and the tragic death of Reggie Lewis from a heart condition in the summer of 1993.
The Celtics missed the playoffs six straight years from 1996-2001, posting a franchise-worst 15-67 mark in 1996-97.
A massive, swift rebuild in the summer of 2007 brought in stars Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen and the Celtics won their first title in 22 years in 2008—the franchise’s 17th and most recent championship. That core also reached the Finals in 2010.
Another rebuild began in 2013 with the departure of coach Doc Rivers and the arrival of Brad Stevens, but Boston has made the playoffs the last two seasons with a young squad.
In 70 seasons, the Celtics have been a playoff team 53 times and the franchise’s .588 winning percentage in regular-season play is third-best in NBA history behind the Minneapolis/Los Angeles Lakers (.603) and San Antonio Spurs (.600).
Auerbach remains the winningest coach in franchise history, posting a record of 795-397 in 16 seasons. But Tom Heinson won 427 games from 1969-77, Rivers had 416 wins from 2004-13 and K.C. Jones won 308 games from 1983-88.
Auerbach coached nine of the franchise’s title teams. Russell, Heinsohn and Jones each led two championship runs and the team also won titles under Bill Fitch and Rivers.
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Auerbach was the primary personnel decision-maker from 1950-84. Since then Danny Ainge has been the longest tenured GM, holding the job since May 2003.
For a franchise with all those championships, it is one of the teams that didn’t win one—the 1972-73 squad—that posted the best record in franchise history, going 68-14.
In the NBA Draft, Boston has selected first overall just once, selecting Chuck Share of Bowling Green in the 1950 draft. They have selected second once, third six times–including 2016 third overall pick Jaylen Brown of California–four twice and fifth three times.
The franchise has retired 21 uniform numbers and many of those players—but not all—will be on this list of the 25 greatest players in Boston Celtics history. Please note that players needed to play at least 150 games with the Celtics and average at least 20 minutes per game to qualify.