The Boston Celtics are arguably the most recognizable franchise in the NBA. With so much history, determining the greatest Celtics of all-time is no small feat.
Thankfully, we are here to go through the list of Celtics legends to determine the 20 best Celtics players to ever do it. Who makes the cut for the best Celtics of all-time? Read on to see the list.
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The Best Celtics Players of All-Time
Any list of the best Boston Celtics players is going to include more than a few all-time greats.
Tied with the Los Angeles Lakers with a whopping 17 NBA titles, there are a few famous Boston Celtics players to have passed through town.
Here is how they shake out among the best Celtics players ever. And you can find Boston Celtics betting offers here.
1. Bill Russell
Russell will go down among the greatest winners in sports period. Russell had great athleticism for his size and created the era of the big man. He dominated on the defensive end, though was no slouch offensively, either.
His accolades are unmatched. He won a whopping 11 NBA titles, five NBA MVPs, was the rebounding champion five times, and made the NBA All-Star team 12 times.
Still not getting it? The NBA Finals MVP trophy is named after him, underscoring just how dominant he was. Russell’s name is forever synonymous with the dominance of the 1950s and 1960s for the Boston Celtics. Any all-time list will include his name, not just the best players in Celtics history.
2. Larry Bird
One of the greatest players in league history, Bird was the face of the 1980s alongside his friend and nemesis Magic Johnson.
Bird was one of the most dominant players offensively, seemingly scoring at will while talking trash like no other. He saw the floor like few ever have and did everything a player could do on the floor.
Bird did it all in Boston. A trio of NBA titles, including two Finals MVPs. Three league MVP wins. 1980 Rookie of the Year. Nine selections to the All-NBA first team.
His legendary #33 hung in the rafters. Bird would slow down because of back injuries later in his career but his outside shooting is some of the best in league history. Long live Larry Legend.
3. John Havlicek
“Hondo” is easily one of the best and most successful players to ever suit up in Boston.
He spent 16 years with the team, which is even more incredible given how comparatively primitive travel and medical conditions were back in the day. He only missed more than seven games once in a season, even playing through a separated shoulder during the 1973 playoffs.
Also drafted by the Cleveland Browns of the NFL, Havlicek was the definition of an athlete.
John began as a sixth man but took on a bigger role after Sam Jones and Russell retired. His steal during the 1965 Eastern Conference Finals – “Havlicek stole the ball!” – is one of the most famous calls in league history, too. You name it, Havlicek did it while a member of the Celtics.
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4. Paul Pierce
“The Truth” was the man for the Celtics at a time when the glory days felt long gone.
Paul was a catalyst to making the Celtics relevant again and by the time Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen came to town, the team was championship contenders once again.
Pierce would win Finals MVP during the team’s 2008 championship run. His 15 years with Boston saw him as one of the best scorers of his era, capable of putting up 20+ on any given night.
Pierce will always be remembered as the leader of the team that brought the Celtics back into prominence once again.
5. Kevin McHale
One of the faces of 1980s Boston Celtics basketball. McHale would be a key member of a dominant Celtics team.
He would also help to redefine the position of power forward by using his footwork and 6’10” frame to make defenders regret getting near him on the block. He even called the effort of guarding him in the post as being a “torture chamber.”
Kevin also happened to be one of the best defenders of his era, playing a team-first game that put his personal stats in the passenger seat.
McHale would capture three NBA titles, an All-NBA first team nod, seven NBA All-Star selections, a pair of NBA Sixth Man of the Year awards, and legacy that will live on in Boston Celtics history.
Unsurprisingly, his #32 is hanging in the rafters as well. A name that must be included in the top five of any list of the best Boston Celtics ever.
6. Robert Parish
Parish is perhaps most remembered for his trademark 00, which has been retired by the Celtics. He was never a superstar but provided the utmost consistency over 21 seasons, 14 of them being spent in Boston.
Parish was the perfect complimentary piece to the stars like Bird and McHale. If for nothing else, he will be remembered among the best Celtics of all-time for taking down the hated Bill Laimbeer during the 1987 Eastern Conference Finals.
7. Bob Cousy
Many consider Cousy to be Steve Nash before the latter ever existed. He helped make the point guard position an essential one. Despite being a questionable shooter, Cousy could get to the line with the best of the best.
Cousy would earn an MVP, six NBA titles, a whopping 13 All-Star selections, 10 All-NBA first team selections, and have his #14 retired by the team. Cousy and Russell formed one of the most dominant duos that the NBA has ever seen.
8. Kevin Garnett
“Anything is possible!” Garnett helped get the franchise to its first title in 22 years in 2008, bringing unmatched ferocity on defense with all-world offensive skills. He also happened to win Defensive Player of the Year that season, further underscoring his importance.
Garnett, like Allen, wasn’t in Celtic green for very long but proved invaluable. He brought an edge that hadn’t been with the franchise since Bird, helping bring the Celtics back to relevancy and a championship. His relentless attitude will forever be remembered by Celtics fans.
9. Dave Cowens
Cowens will be forever remembered for his heart, effort, and energy. He shows that you don’t have to be the most talented player so long as you leave it all on the court.
As a defender, he was a game-changer, capable of guarding Kareem Abdul-Jabbar because of his physicality and strength.
Dave was also reliable offensively, averaging nearly 18 points for his career. He was the 1971 Rookie of the Year, won a pair of NBA titles, an MVP, and has his #18 hanging in the rafters among all the other Boston Celtics greats.
10. Sam Jones
Jones was lethal from mid-range, giving the Celtics the ability to spread the floor.
Though he was often considered the Robin to Russell’s Batman, Jones was arguably the most consistent and reliable clutch scorer the Celtics had during their most dominant stretch.
Jones finished with a whopping 10 NBA titles, five All-Star nods, another three All-NBA second-team selections, and his #24 being lifted to the rafters. Jones was consistently great and made the big shot when the job needed doing.
He might not be considered in the same breath as Russell, but the Celtics dynasty wouldn’t be where it was without Jones.
11. Bill Sharman
Sharman has every credential you could need to make a list of the Boston Celtics best players. He has four NBA championships. He is an 8-time NBA All-Star, including four First All-NBA Team appearances. Most importantly, his #21 has been retired by the franchise.
Sharman was a lethal shooter during his time. At just 6’1”, he revolutionized the 2-guard and was a clutch free-throw shooter. It was his outside shooting that helped set the floor for Russell while pairing well with Bob Cousy to form a great backcourt duo.
12. Rajon Rondo
Rondo became an elite point guard right around the 2008 championship run. He also happens to be one of the most unique talents in the game, making up for poor shooting skills with the ability to be a lockdown defender at multiple positions while also being an elite passer.
His personality would also make him one of the unique Celtics ever. When he was on, Rondo could be capable of 30+ points or 20+ assists. At his peak, there aren’t many ahead of him on the list of the best Boston Celtics players.
13. Tom Heinsohn
Tommy Heinsohn is a local boy out of Holy Cross, the definition of hustle during the dominant 1950s and 60s of Celtics basketball. Though overshadowed by the big names of the era, Heinsohn was one of the most efficient scorers on the Celtics.
He makes the list of the greatest Celtics of all-time with a resume few can match. Eight NBA titles, 1957 Rookie of the Year, six NBA All-Star Games, four All-NBA second team nods, and his #15 going into the rafters with the rest of the Boston Celtics greats.
14. Jo Jo White
White played nine years with the Celtics and was the definition of durability, appearing in less than 75 games just one time. Fans will remember Game 5 of the 1976 NBA Finals with White posting 33 points and 9 assists in a triple-overtime win against the Suns.
White would finish with a pair of titles, including a Finals MVP, seven All-Star appearances, a pair of All-NBA second team nods, and his #10 hanging in the rafters. The Celtics had a plethora of talent throughout the decades and White’s career may have been one of them.
15. Ray Allen
Allen will go down not only as one of the best Celtics players but one of the most clutch shooters ever. If there is one criticism of his inclusion, it is that he didn’t play very long in Boston, winning a title in 2008 with the big three of himself, Garnett, and Pierce.
Still, he was essential to a pair of NBA Finals appearances. Allen became known for wearing down defenders before launching a shot with seemingly no time needed to handle the ball. Allen was the clutch three-point sniper that the Celtics needed to get over the hump and capture the franchise’s 17th title.
16. Cedric Maxwell
Maxell spent eight years in Boston but emerged as a scorer who could carry the load right next to Bird. During his somewhat short time in Boston, he became one of the best Celtics players. His low-post scoring was extremely potent, too.
Maxwell would win a pair of NBA titles, taking home the 1981 NBA Finals MVP in the process. His #31 has been hung in the rafters among the other famous Boston Celtics players. Maxwell’s contributions land him among the Boston Celtics' best players.
17. Jayson Tatum
How does a 25-year-old make the list of the 20 greatest players of all-time on one of the greatest franchises of all-time? While some may feel that the third overall pick from 2017 is too young to consider, he already has a resume that many would envy.
Already a four-time All-Star, Tatum has become a force on the offensive end.
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18. Tom Sanders
What more could you ask for from a career? Eight NBA Championships. He has his #16 retired by the team and hanging in the rafters. Though his stats don’t jump out from an offensive perspective, Sanders was all business on defense.
Combined with Russell, Sanders helped form one of the best and toughest frontcourt tandems in the game. He could stifle some of the best big men in the league by being physical and making the paint a tough place to play. His contributions were key to the Celtics dynasty in the 1960s.
19. Don Nelson
Another five NBA titles. Another number hanging in the rafters (#19). Nelson bounced around a bit before finding a home in Boston, becoming one of the best sixth men in the league. While he may not have been a Celtics legend on par with the names at the top of the list, he made an impact.
Nelson would kick up his game when Russell retired, offering quality combo forward play when the stars came off for a breather. He has averaged nearly 27 points per game the last two seasons and hit another level by averaging 30.1 PPG in 2022-23. He is just as dominant in the playoffs and looks to have a long, dominant career ahead of him.
20. Dennis Johnson
Johnson spent seven years in Boston and played a key role in the Celtics' dominance of the 1980s. He would help the team capture a pair of NBA championships by playing lockdown perimeter defense and providing some of the most underrated playmaking of the decade.
Johnson took some time to adapt from being the primary scorer but found a good fit in Boston. With great anticipation and even better hands, Johnson would become a turnover machine, forcing opponents into mistakes on a regular basis.
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