Given what we know now, it’s awfully hard to picture a time when the Boston Celtics weren’t title contenders. After debuting in 1946, the club’s early years were actually pretty light on feats to write home about. However, those doldrums were quickly banished once cigar-chomping Red Auerbach assumed the head coaching reins in 1950.
Coinciding with the storied taskmaster’s arrival was the debut of future Hall of Fame guard Bob Cousy. Together, the pair made their first of many entries into the NBA record book when the ‘54-55 Celtics became the first team in history to average more than 100 points per game for an entire season. A year later, highly touted big man Bill Russell was acquired, and the groundwork for a dynasty had been laid. In ‘57, Boston captured its first world championship, but the franchise was just warming up. After missing out on defending their title in ‘58, the Celts proceeded to take the NBA crown 10 times in the next 11 years.
The remarkable Finals streak not only turned Cousy and Russell into household names throughout the country, but the exploits of players such as John Havlicek, K.C. Jones, and Tom Heinsohn became the stuff of legends in the hearts and minds of Boston fans. Auerbach stepped down after seizing the championship in ‘66 (at this point, the team’s ninth, as well as their eighth in a row), and Russell took on the role of player-coach as the Celtics went on to win titles 10 and 11. When he finally retired in ‘69, Russell was not only a five-time MVP with more rings than anyone else, but also a lock for induction into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame.
Subsequent Finals victories would come in both ‘74 and ‘76, but after that, the C’s wouldn’t hoist another banner until ‘81. Leading the charge this time around was “The Hick from French Lick,” better known as Larry Bird. Along with fellow future Hall of Famers Robert Parish and Kevin McHale, the original “Big Three” guided Boston to world championship glory in ‘81, ‘84 and ‘86. After taking home MVP honors in ‘84, ‘85 and ‘86, Bird had also earned a more appropriate nickname: “Larry Legend.”
The stars would align once again in 2008, when the trio of Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen banded together to secure Boston’s 17th NBA title. In 2012, as the club was in the process of being eliminated from the playoffs by the Miami Heat, fans slowly began to rise and started chanting “Let’s Go Celtics.” The deafening rallying cry lasted for nearly four minutes, much to the surprise of the players on the court. Not only was it a fitting send-off for the squad, but in a lot of ways, it encompassed Boston fandom as a whole. “Celtic Pride” isn’t something that can be taught or bought; it’s a state of mind that’s formed through years of unwavering devotion. For diehards, one does not simply root for Boston, but rather, they are a Celtic for life.