The Boston Celtics have been around for 76 seasons, made the NBA playoffs 56 times in their history, enjoyed the contributions of 48 Hall of Fame enshrinees, and retired 23 numbers — more than any other American sports team — that now hang from the rafters above the iconic parquet floors of TD Garden.
But none of those numbers are as significant as 17.
Dating back to the 1956-57 roster that featured Bill Russell, Bob Cousy, Tom Heinsohn, Frank Ramsey, and Bill Sharman while Red Auerbach called the shots from the sidelines, the C’s have earned a record-tying 17 titles in franchise history.
And while the 18th might be the sweetest of all because it would break the tie with the rival Los Angeles Lakers, those first 17 — and the seasons surrounding them — featured plenty of iconic moments, tragic developments, and unforgettable sequences that helped shape one of the richest histories the Association has seen.
In honor of those 17 championships, we’re highlighting the 17 signature moments, both good and bad, that took the Celtics from a woeful 22-38 BAA debut in 1946-47 to the current iteration of the longtime powerhouse franchise that’s now coming off an NBA Finals appearance.
A five-time All-Star who was eventually honored with a Hall of Fame induction and inclusion in the NBA’s 75th Anniversary Team, Sam Jones left plenty of indelible memories throughout the early portion of the Boston Celtics’ championship history. Perhaps none were more significant than the stunning game-winner that leveled the 1969 NBA Finals at two games apiece.
Jones himself might have exaggerated his intentions on that legendary shot, though.
The 1984 NBA Finals weren’t exactly going the right way for the Boston Celtics. Worse still, they were falling behind the hated Los Angeles Lakers. But with 18 seconds remaining in Game 2, Gerald Henderson added another entry to the list of legendary steals that have popped up at plenty of notable times throughout the Boston Celtics’ championship history.
This may be one of the most underrated moments in the franchise archives, but we’re not forgetting about it.
It’s tough to capture the hearts of a fan base more than Isaiah Thomas did in the immediate aftermath of his younger sister Chyna’s death. Not only did he suit up for the Boston Celtics during the 2017 NBA Playoffs, but he flat-out thrived with one of the best performances not just in his career, but in the storied history of the legendary franchise.
“I always dream of moments like this,” Thomas said after the unforgettable game. “Those are where legends are born. One day I want to be one of those guys.”
Not every crucial moment in the Boston Celtics’ championship history is a positive one. The down periods are important, and one stretch of eight straight years without a winning record came directly after Reggie Lewis, a rising star in Beantown, collapsed on the court and died at 27 years old.
Lewis was the heir apparent to the long-tenured Big Three of Larry Bird, Kevin McHale, and Robert Parish, and his professional career was filled with promise. It just came to an end far too soon in what was an unabashed shock to the basketball world.
What’s better than winning a title during your head coach’s final game in the NBA?
One possible answer: winning an eighth straight title and helping establish the Boston Celtics’ championship history during the earlier eras of the franchise’s lengthy tenure in the Association. Such was the case for superstar center Bill Russell, who helped take down the rival Los Angeles Lakers in a seven-game series to emerge victoriously from the 1966 NBA Finals.