The History of the Boston Celtics

Infancy Years

Boston Garden-Arena Corporation president Walter A. Brown formed the Boston Celtics as a team in the Basketball Association of America (BAA) on June 6, 1946. After the absorption of the National Basketball League (NBL) and the BAA in 1949, the Celtics became part of the National Basketball Association.

The Celtics made league history in 1950 when they signed Chuck Cooper, who became the first black player in the league. Cooper played with the Celtics for four and seven seasons in the NBA.

Red Auerbach Arrives

The Celtics were also-rans in the league with the arrival of Red Auerbach to coach the team. One of the first great players to arrive on the scene was Bob Cousy out of Holy Cross. After the 1955-56 season, Auerbach traded Ed Macauley and the draft rights to Cliff Hagan for the second overall pick in the draft.

The move turned out to be brilliant, as the Celtics landed Bill Russell out of San Francisco. In addition, the Celtics landed Tom Heinsohn, who worked great along with Cousy and Russell.

Bill Russell Era

The Celtics didn’t take long to dominate, winning the 1957 NBA championship over the St. Louis Hawks. In 1958, the Celtics and Hawks met again in the NBA Finals, but this time the Hawks took down Boston in six games.

The addition of K.C. Jones helped the Celtics reel off eight straight championships. A rivalry developed during that time with the Lakers, as the two teams clashed in the finals five times in the decade. After Auerbach retired as head coach following 1965-66, Russell became a player coach. The Celtics’ string of NBA championships ended when they fell to the Philadelphia 76ers in the 1967 Eastern Conference Finals.

Boston had two more titles in them the following two seasons before Russell retired. The Celtics team from this era still holds the United States professional sports record for most consecutive championships.

The 1970s Era of Havlicek

After a rebuilding year in 1970, the Celtics acquired Paul Silas, Dave Cowns, and Jo Jo White. Adding to the mix with starter Jon Havlicek and the Celtics were once again relevant. They lost in the Eastern Conference Finals in 1972, won 68 games in 1973, and were upset by the Knicks in the Eastern Conference Finals.

The team rebounded to win their 12th NBA title in 1974, taking down the Bucks and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar in seven games. After another title in 1976, this time over the Phoenix Suns, the Celtics soon entered a rebuilding phase.

In the 1977 NBA Draft, the Celtics selected Cedric Maxwell. Following the season, Havlicek retired, and in 1978 the Celtics made a six-player trade with the Buffalo Braves to acquire Marvin Barnes, Billy Knight, and Tiny Archibald.

Larry Bird Takes Over

Following a disappointing 29-53 season in 1978-79, the C’s drafted Larry Bird out of Indiana State. The Celtics made a 32-game improvement over the previous, winning 61 games with Bird winning NBA Rookie of the Year. Auerbach was not done making moves, landing M.L. Carr and Gerald Henderson.

Auerbach made another stellar trade following the season, getting Rober Parish and the Warrior’s first-round draft pick for the Celtic’s two first-round selections. With the pick obtained, the Celtics landed Kevin McHale out of the University of Minnesota.

The team got over the top in 1980-81, defeating the Philadelphia 76ers in the Eastern Conference Finals and the Houston Rockets to win the NBA Championship. The following season, the 76ers got the best of Boston in the playoffs, and in 1983 the Celtics were swept by the Bucks in the playoffs.

K.C. Jones took over as head coach in the 1983-84 season. The team won 62 games in the regular season and met the Lakers in the NBA Finals. Bird reunited his collegiate rivalry with Magic Johnson, and the Celtics took down the Lakers for their 15th NBA championship.

The Lakers evened the score in the NBA Finals the following season. Boston remained among the elite in 1986-87, winning 59 games before losing to the Lakers in the NBA Finals.

Larry Leaves

The Celtics won just 42 games in 1988-89 after Larry Bird went down due to bone spurs early in the season. Bird returned the following season, and the Celtics bounced back to win 52 games; however, they collapsed in the playoffs, falling to the Knicks in five games.

The 1990-91 campaign was a surprise success, winning 56 games and the division title despite Bird missing 22 games due to injuries. Back injuries continued to haunt Bird, limiting him to 45 games during the 1991-92 season.

He played in only four games in the playoffs that year. Bird retired following the season and is now a member of the Hall of Fame and the NBA 75th Anniversary Team.

TD Garden, Boston
TD Garden, Boston

Rebuilding Phase

After Kevin McHale retired and Robert Parish signed with the Hornets, the Big 3 era of Bird/McHale/Parish officially ended. The 1993-94 team finished with a 32-50 record. 

In 1994, the Celtics drafted Eric Montross in the first round, but it was an utter disappointment, and he was eventually traded. A past-his-prime Dominique Wilkins was signed and helped lead the Celtics back to the playoffs after averaging nearly 18 points per game. The following season, the Celtics struggled again, winning just 33 games.

Just when things couldn’t possibly get worse, they did. The Celtics lost a franchise-record 67 games, winning only 15. They received the third and the sixth picks in the 1997 NBA Draft and used them to produce a new backcourt in Ron Mercer and Chauncey Billups.

The team included Antoine Walker, and the Celtics improved to 36 wins. Ironically, Billups and Mercer lasted less than one and three seasons with the Celtics.

Paul Pierce Becomes Next Star

In the 1998 NBA Draft, the Celtics selected Paul Pierce. It was a good pick for Boston, considering that Pierce had been expected to go higher than 10th overall. He was named Rookie of the Month in February and averaged 19.5 points per game for the season.   

After the resignation of coach Rick Pitino, the Celtics improved under Jim O’Brien. Paul Pierce became a legitimate NBA star, and the team finished with 36 wins, but an even .500 under O’Brien.

The Celtics had three picks in the 2001 NBA draft, where they selected Joe Forte, Kendrick Brown, and Joe Johnson. Unfortunately, only Johnson had any lasting success in the NBA after leaving the Celtics.

The Celtics made an unexpected surge in 2001-02, vaulting to the top of the division with the Nets, ahead of the 76ers, who are favorites after reaching the NBA Finals the previous season.

The Celtics advanced past Philadelphia in the Eastern Conference Playoffs before taking down the Detroit Pistons in five games. In six games, the Nets ended Boston’s season in the Eastern Conference Finals.

Doc Rivers & New “Big Three”

Under new coach Doc Rivers in 2004-05, they 45 games and took their first Atlantic Division title since the 1991-92 season. The season ended with a humiliating 27-point loss in Game 7 to the Indiana Pacers in the first round of the playoffs.

Walker was traded following the season, and the Celtics posted an embarrassing 33-win season the following year despite Pierce averaging nearly 27 points per game.

The rebuilding phase continued with the selection of Rajon Rondo in the 2006 NBA Draft. The Celtics went through an unheard-of phase of 22 losses in 24 games from late December into February when Pierce went down to injury. Overall, the Celtics posted a 24-58 record in 2006-07, which was second-worst in the league.

General manager Danny Ainge made significant moves in the summer of 2007, trading for Ray Allen. In addition, the Celtics traded five players and a first-round pick to the Minnesota Timberwolves for the power forward Kevin Garnett. These moves formed the new “Big Three,” consisting of Allen, Garnett, and Pierce.

The addition of Allen and Garnett sparked the biggest single-season improvement in league history. The Celtics won 66 games, a 42-game improvement over the previous season. 

Boston needed seven games to dispose of the Hawks in the first round and another seven to take down the Cavaliers. After defeating the Pistons in six games, they advanced to the NBA Finals.

Rivalry Renewed

The Celtics-Lakers rivalry was renewed in the NBA Finals for the first time since 1987. Boston won the first game by ten and the second by six, despite nearly giving up a 24-point lead in the fourth quarter. The Laker’s defense shut down Boston’s “Big Three” in an 87-81 win in Game 3 before they stormed back from 24 down to take Game 4.

After the Lakers took Game 5 by five points, the Celtics overwhelmed the Lakers at home in Game 5 by 39 points to win their 17th NBA title. Paul Pierce was the MVP of the series.

The 2008-09 Celtics stormed off to a 27-2 start, including a 19-game winning streak. Despite losing Kevin Garnett and missing the last 25 games of the season due to injury, the Celtics won 62 games. Unfortunately, the season ended after falling to the Orlando Magic in the second round of the playoffs.

In 2009, they added Rasheed Wallace and began the season with a record of 23-5. The Celtics went just .500 the rest of the way and finished with 50 wins. Regardless of being only the 4th seed in the playoffs, the Celtics advanced to the NBA Finals behind and inspired Rajon Rondo.

Facing the Lakers for a record 12th time in the NBA Finals, the Celtics largely fell in seven games due to an injury to Kendrick Perkins in Game 6.

End Of The Big Three Era

With Perkins expected to miss much of the 2010-11 season, the Celtics signed Jermaine O’Neal and Shaquille O’Neal as veteran centers. The Celtics went an impressive 33-10 with Perkins out of the lineup.

Perkins was traded to the Thunder in February, and the Celtics finished the season with 56 games. The Miami Heat took down the Celtics in the second round of the playoffs. Shaquille O’Neal retired from the NBA following the season.

The Celtics finished the following season with the 4th seed in the Eastern Conference. After defeating the Hawks in the first round of the playoffs, they took down the Philadelphia 76ers before losing to the Heat in seven games in the Eastern Conference Finals.

The “Big Three” era ended during the 2012 off-season when Ray Allen signed with the Miami Heat, losing to the Knicks in the playoffs after winning only 41 games in the regular season.

Celtics warm at MSG against the Knicks

The Trade

Following the 2012 season, Doc Rivers terminated his contract with the Los Angeles Clippers. In return, the Celtics got a 2015 unprotected first-round pick. Just days later, Garnett, Pierce, Jason Terry, and D.J.

White was traded to the Nets for MarShon Brooke, Kris Humphries, Kris Joseph, Gerald Wallace, Keith Bogans, and future draft picks. The huge deal started a rebuilding movement for the franchise.

In the 2014 NBA Draft, the Celtics selected Marcus Smart with the 6th overall pick and signed Evan Turner. In addition, Rajon Rondo was traded to the Mavericks for Brandan Wright, Jae Crowder, and Jameer Nelson.

The Celtics managed to earn the 7th seed in the Eastern Conference after winning 40 games despite having 22 players appearing in at least one game with the team.

The Celtics fell in the first round of the playoffs to the Cavaliers and in the first round the following season to the Atlanta Hawks.

Jaylen & Jayson Emerge As Stars

In the 2016 NBA Draft, the Celtics selected Jaylen Brown as the third overall pick. They also signed veteran Al Horford, which helped the team earn the top seed in the Eastern Conference with a 53-29 record. The Celtics advanced to the conference finals, losing to Cleveland in five games.

In the 2017 NBA Draft, the Celtics won the draft lottery. They traded the pick to the Philadelphia 76ers for the third pick, where the Celtics selected Jayson Tatum. Boston also acquired Kyrie Irving in a trade with the Cleveland Cavaliers by trading fan favorite Isaiah Thomas, which was considered controversial at the time due to Thomas’s popularity.

The new-look Celtics, who had only four players from the 2016-17 team, finished with a 55-27 record. They entered the playoffs with the second seed in the Eastern Conference and defeated the Bucks in seven games in the first round, followed by a five-game victory over Philadelphia. The season ended with a seven-game loss to the Cavaliers in the Eastern Conference Finals.

Kyrie Irving Departs For Brooklyn

After losing in the second round of the playoffs to the Milwaukee Bucks the following season, the Celtics held four picks in the 2019 NBA draft. During the offseason, the team lost Kyrie Irving to the Nets and Al Horford to the Philadelphia 76ers.

Boston agreed with Kemba Walkers on a four-year deal worth $141 million. They officially landed Walker in a sign-and-trade with the Charlotte Hornets, who got guard Terry Rozier and a 2020 second-round pick in the deal. Another solid move for the 2019 season was the signing of center Enes Kanter.

The Celtics were among 22 teams invited to the NBA Bubble for the final eight games of the regular season following league suspension due to COVID-19. In the 2020 playoffs, the Celtics rolled over the 76ers in the first round. They defeated the Toronto Raptors in the second round before falling to the Miami Heat in the Eastern Conference Finals.

Walker, Tatum, and Brown missed significant time during the 2020-21 season due to COVID-19 and injury. The Celtics struggled enough during the season that they didn’t automatically qualify for the playoffs.

After defeating the Washington Wizards in the playoffs, the Celtics fell to the Brooklyn Nets in five games, despite a 50-point effort from Tatum.

Brad Stevens Named President

Head coach Brad Stevens was named president of basketball operations. He replaced the retiring Danny Ainge. Stevens traded Kemba Walker, the 16th pick in the 2021 NBA Draft, a 2025 second-round pick in exchange for Al Horford, Moses Brown, and a 2023 second-round pick.

During the 2022 season, The Celtics made their first NBA Finals since 2010 and their first with the duo of Tatum and Bown. Unfortunately, they would end up falling to the Warriors in six games.