Why Don’t the Boston Celtics of the 1970s Get Any Respect?
The Boston Celtics nearly broke the tie with their rival Los Angeles Lakers. A win over the Golden State Warriors in the 2022 NBA Finals would’ve given the Celtics their NBA-leading 18th championship, separating themselves from the Lakers.
Many of those titles came during the 60s when they won eight straight from 1959-66, with Bill Russell leading the way. In the ’80s, Boston’s Big Three of Larry Bird, Kevin McHale, and Robert Parish reached the NBA Finals five times, winning three championships.
It’s always the Russell and Bird eras that get much of the credit, but in the ’70s, Dave Cowens, John Havlicek, and JoJo White won two titles in three years and made the conference finals five straight times. Why does it seem those Celtics teams in the 1970s are forgotten?
No team had more NBA championships than the Boston Celtics in the 1970s
Although the Celtics had just the two titles in the 1970s, no team earned more rings in that decade. The New York Knicks tied Boston, winning championships in 1970 and 1973, but the Celtics were still a force, reaching the Eastern Conference Finals from 1972-76. They won championships in 1974 and 1976.
The Celtics had their own Big Three in Cowens, Havlicek, and White during that stretch. Under head coach Tommy Heinsohn, the trio teamed up in ’74 to give the Celtics their first title since 1969.
They finished the season 56-26 and knocked off the Buffalo Braves in the first round (conference semifinals). Then they took down the Knicks in five games, setting up a Finals meeting with Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and the Milwaukee Bucks.
The Celtics outlasted the Bucks in seven games, with Cowens, an undersized center, scoring 28 points and pulling down 14 rebounds in a 102-87 Game 7 victory.
After falling to the Washinton Bullets in the conference finals in 1975, Boston returned to the championship round in 1976, where they defeated the Phoenix Suns in six games.
The 1970s Celtics get very little respect
It’s understandable why the Celtics of the 1960s continue to get a lot of attention. Led by Russell, Heinsohn, and Bob Cousy, they were the franchise’s first dynasty. They dominated the decade, winning 11 championships in three years.
Bird’s Celtics also generated plenty of hype, and rightly so. They had what might be the best frontcourt in NBA history with Bird, Parish, and McHale. Their rivalry with the Lakers peaked in the ’80s, as either the Celtics or Lakers appeared in the NBA Finals in every year of the decade. They met three times in the Finals.
Bird and Magic began that rivalry in college, peaking when they met in the epic 1979 NCAA championship game. Bird and Magic have been credited with taking the NBA to another level when they entered the league.
But those 1970s Celtics don’t get the credit they deserve. Even Cowens acknowledged his era was overlooked during an interview with The Athletic.
“I watch the Celtics when they advertise the game, very seldom do you see them have any players from the ’70s: Havlicek, JoJo (White), and myself,” Cowens said. “They go right from Russell to Bird to Garnett. And they kind of pass us over. And I’m not quite sure why that is.”
He’s right that they are overlooked. Bird has only one more ring than Cowens. Cowens, White, and Havlicek are all in the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame.
Yes, they didn’t win eight straight titles. They didn’t have the rivalry with the Lakers. Still, the Celtics of the ’70 were a force to be reckoned with, yet they always fly under the radar.