Second chance for Big Three

They could join exclusive club

By Jimmy Golen
Associated Press / June 16, 2010

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One banner in the rafters signified a lifelong goal for Paul Pierce, Ray Allen, and Kevin Garnett. Another, and they’re in the conversation with the great Celtics teams of all time.

“Everybody wants to have one. All the teams want to get there. But there have been a lot of great players who never did,’’ said Tom “Satch’’ Sanders, who won eight NBA titles in a Celtics career that lasted from 1960-73.

Winning a second, Sanders said, “It does nothing for you except for one thing: It makes you want more.’’

For Boston, the championships have always come in bunches.

Bill Russell’s teams won eight straight titles and 11 of 13 from 1957-69. In the ’70s, a nucleus of John Havlicek, Dave Cowens. and Jo Jo White won two. In the ’80s, Larry Bird, Robert Parish, and Kevin McHale added three more.

“These guys are right up there. They’re doing some good things,’’ Cowens said Monday night, standing on the parquet under the championship banners at TD Garden during a benefit for the New England Sports Museum. “The more you win, the better it is for everybody.’’

The most decorated franchise in NBA history, the Celtics had gone an unprecedented 21 years without adding to their reord cache of championships before Garnett and Allen joined Pierce in Boston and won No. 17 in 2008. But even after their victory, coach Doc Rivers told his players that one wasn’t enough in Boston.

“Obviously, one is special,’’ Rivers said this spring after the Celtics advanced to the finals for the second time in three years. “But the other groups have a couple, and we’d love to join that club. . . . We’ve talked about that, that we want to join that club. No one can ever take away the first title. But we want to join another club, too.’’

Sanders said the key to multiple titles is keeping the nucleus together; it’s the natural conclusion for one of Russell’s teammates.

“You want to keep on winning? He was the guy,’’ Sanders said. “We knew that we had a shot every year that Russell was in existence.’’

But Mal Graham, who was with the Celtics from 1967-69, stressed the contributions of the Boston bench in winning Game 3 and noted that key players like Rasheed Wallace and Nate Robinson weren’t on the ’08 team. In fact, five players on the postseason roster are new since two years ago.

Because of the turnover, he said, it’s not accurate to talk about this team going for its second title.

“A team that is a great team can put its stamp on the game,’’ said Graham, who is now a Superior Court judge. “A great team having a great year and winning a championship, I think it’s special. The more you win the better, of course.’’

Nobody knows that better than hockey Hall of Famer Bobby Orr.

Orr led the Boston Bruins to the Stanley Cup in 1970, ending what was then a 29-year title drought for the Original Six team. His Cup-winning goal is cast in bronze in the plaza outside the TD Garden, somewhere on the footprint where the original Boston Garden once stood.

Orr is among those who believe the changes in sports have made it more difficult to win multiple titles. Salary caps keep teams from stockpiling talent; free agency makes it easier for stars to move around.

So the days when the Celtics could put Russell in the middle and just keep winning are probably gone for good.

No matter.

“The fact that it’s been your dream — it’s pretty special to get even one,’’ Orr said. “The second one isn’t bad, either. I don’t think you ever get tired of winning.’’

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