Bob Ryan

Greatest of the green

New champs near the top in storied franchise's all-time Top 10

The 1985-1986 Celtics went 67-15 in the regular season and lost only three games on their way to their 16th NBA Championship. The 1985-1986 Celtics went 67-15 in the regular season and lost only three games on their way to their 16th NBA Championship. (Bill Greene / Globe Staff)
Email|Print|Single Page| Text size + By Bob Ryan
Globe Columnist / June 19, 2008

This was a championship for a Lost Generation of Boston Celtics fans.

These are people for whom Bill Russell, the greatest winner in American team sports, and Bob Cousy, the legendary "Houdini of the Hardwood," are like figures out of King Arthur's tales. These are people for whom John Havlicek, basketball's consummate 'sixth man," and Dave Cowens, the mercurial redheaded center, are as personally relevant as comic book characters. These are people for whom even the great Larry Bird is just some guy wearing short-shorts who pops up occasionally on ESPN Classic.

These are the people who were too young to mourn fallen soldiers Reggie Lewis and Len Bias. These are the people who do not think hard-bodied young women gyrating in the interests of Celtics Green is a sacrilege. These are people who could not imagine entering an arena that did not have a Jumbotron and music and fireworks and who could not possibly imagine that, once upon a time, a portly organist named John Kiley stirred the Boston Garden crowd by playing the "Mexican Hat Dance."

These are the people who were either very sad or very angry when general manager Danny Ainge first traded Antoine Walker, a player their elders generally loathed. These are the people who text instant observations to friends in Singapore. And these are the people who hungered for a Celtics championship they could call their own, one accomplished in their building with their heroes.

Celtics championship No. 17 belongs to them.

The Celtics began winning champi onships in the Eisenhower Administration with players born either before or during the Great Depression. They continued winning through the Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon and Reagan administrations before hitting a snag following the 1986 championship. Now, after a 22-year wait, they have won a championship under the stewardship of George Bush with players born after man first walked on the moon.

This is a remarkable team, put together in record time by Ainge, a member of the 1984 and 1986 championship teams, and coached by Glenn "Doc" Rivers, a 13-year NBA veteran who had his heart broken on more than one occasion by some of those aforementioned championship teams. It has been built around the considerable talents of three great veterans - captain Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett, and Ray Allen, and brilliantly augmented by a beguiling combination of experienced, savvy players and eager, youthful ones.

And it is one of the great Celtics teams of all-time. Here's one man's list of the best in Green.

10. 1968-69
: 48-34
Playoff record: 12-6
Result: championship
The Last Hurrah for both Russell and the great Sam Jones. After pacing themselves in the regular season, the ancient Celtics (the starting five averaged 32 years of age) knocked off favored Philadelphia, New York, and, finally, star-laden Los Angeles, winning the famous Game 7 in the Fabulous Forum and in so doing keeping celebratory balloons fastened to the ceiling.

9. 1986-87
Record: 59-23
Playoff record: 13-10
Result: Lost in Finals
The Iron Man five of Bird, Kevin McHale, Robert Parish, Dennis Johnson, and Ainge did not have sufficient bench support to get by the mighty Lakers, losing the pivotal Game 4 to the storied Magic Johnson "junior, junior sky hook." No Celtic team ever had more sheer heart.

8. 1956-57
Record: 44-28
Playoff record: 7-3
Result: championship
Red Auerbach's personal favorite title, simply because it was the first. Rookies Russell (25 points, 32 rebounds) and Tom Heinsohn (37 points, 23 rebounds) carried the team to an epic double-overtime seventh game victory over the St. Louis Hawks. Many old-timey Celtics fans went to their graves swearing this was the greatest game they'd ever seen.

7. 1984-85
Record: 63-19
Playoff record: 13-8
Result: Lost in Finals
It was the second of Bird's three consecutive MVP award seasons, and the only reason the Celtics did not win the championship was the fact that the Lakers were supremely motivated, a tad deeper, and fueled by a 38-year old legend named Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. The Lakers were 1; the Celtics were 1A.

6. 1962-63
Record: 58-22
Playoff record: 8-5
Result: championship
The incomparable Russell headed a roster than included a record eight Hall of Fame players. It was the last of Cousy's six championships and the first of Havlicek's eight.

5. 1964-65
Record: 62-18
Playoff record: 8-4
Result: championship
At age 30, Russell was at his peak convergence of physical ability, knowledge, and desire. After surviving a scare from the 76ers when it wasn't over until "Havlicek Stole the Ball," they annihilated LA in the Finals.

4. 1983-84
Record: 62-20
Playoff record: 15-8
Result: championship
No better physically than the '84-85 team, this squad simply out-toughed the Lakers to win the championship. The Lakers never allowed this to happen again.

3. 1972-73
Record: 68-14
Playoff record: 7-6
Result: Lost in conference finals
Ah, what might have been. Havlicek injured his shoulder in Game 3 of the conference finals against the Knicks. The Knicks easily dispatched LA in 5; a healthy Celtics team would have swept them.

2. 2007-08
Record: 66-16
Playoff record: 16-10
Result: championship
Won opening game by 20 and never looked back, ending with 39-point humiliation of the Lakers to win the title. It would be very interesting to see if these players could impose their defensive will on their '85-86 counterparts as easily as they did on their '07-08 foes.

1. 1985-86
Record: 67-15
Playoff record: 15-3
Result: Championship
Bird was at his peak. The greatest team ever if you consider no other club has ever brought anything resembling a healthy Bill Walton off the bench. This squad was 50-1 at home, regular season and playoffs combined. This Lost Generation of Celtics fans need no longer slap on their headphones and begin rolling their eyes when the smug followers of champions 1 through 16 begin rhapsodizing about the virtues of their favorite Celtics squads of yore. Their team, No. 17, can compete with any that has ever worn the Green and White.

Bob Ryan is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at

related content

more stories like this

  • Email
  • Email
  • Print
  • Print
  • Single page
  • Single page
  • Reprints
  • Reprints
  • Share
  • Share
  • Comment
  • Comment
  • Share on DiggShare on Digg
  • Tag with Save this article
  • powered by
Your Name Your e-mail address (for return address purposes) E-mail address of recipients (separate multiple addresses with commas) Name and both e-mail fields are required.
Message (optional)
Disclaimer: does not share this information or keep it permanently, as it is for the sole purpose of sending this one time e-mail.