NBA

How Did the Boston Celtics Get Their Iconic Irish Name?

In the NBA, certain franchises need no introduction. Whether you were a fan of Magic and Kareem or Shaq and Kobe, everyone knows the Los Angeles Lakers; similarly, Michael Jordan placed the Chicago Bulls on the map. When it comes to historic success, however, it’s hard to compete with the Boston Celtics.

These days, the Boston Celtics are simply part of the NBA furniture. The history of their name, however, might not be as straightforward as you might think.

It all started with the Original Celtics

If you ask a modern basketball fan about the Celtics, they’d assume you’re talking about the team in Boston. The name, however, was actually popularized by an older club.

In 1911, New York City’s first recreational basketball league launched. Most teams were reflective of their home neighborhood; a group of Irish immigrants from Chelsea, unsurprisingly, took the name of the Celtics. The team found some local success but dissolved when the United States entered World War I.

After the war, though, Jim and Thomas Furey had an idea. They rebranded the team as the Original Celtics and moved into the professional circuit; before long, the club was dominating the New York City basketball scene. Eventually, they started barnstorming and reportedly won 90% of their games.

While the Original Celtics literally redefined the game—they’re credited with pioneering low post play, zone defense, and switching within man-to-man defense—their time at the top came to an end. The team joined the American Basketball League; when it folded, they tried to return to barnstorming with mixed success, before fading away in the early 1940s.

The Boston Celtics follow suit

While the run of the Original Celtics came to an end, another team picked up the banner: the Boston Celtics.

In 1946, the Basketball Association of America (the BAA) was founded; unsurprisingly, the Boston Garden Arena Corporation wanted to get in on the action. Every team, however, needs a name.

While options included the Whirlwinds, the Olympians, and the Unicorns, owner Walter Brown eventually settled on the Celtics. While some tried to warn him that similar ideas, like the Boston Shamrocks football team, had failed, Brown persisted.

“The name has a great basketball tradition from the old Original Celtics in New York,” he said. “And, Boston is full of Irishmen. We’ll put them in green uniforms and call them the Boston Celtics!”

From there, the rest is sporting history

Once the BAA merged with the NBA, the Celtics were officially a member of the association. Success, however, didn’t come easily.

The team’s fortunes changed, however, when Red Auerbach took over as coach. In a matter of years, he had the Celtics winning titles; the team, of course, would grow into a dynasty. Today, the Celtics are the NBA’s winningest franchise with 17 titles and boast legends like Bill Russell, Bob Cousey, and Larry Bird among their alumni.

Thanks to that success, the Celtics are synonymous with both the NBA and Boston sports. The franchise, however, got a nice assist from the Original Celtics. The Boston Unicorns, after all, doesn’t have the same ring to it.