All-Stars Everywhere: The Boston Celtics Top 10 First Round Draft Picks
Why the image of Arnold "Red" Auerbach on this title slide?
Easy—Red was personally responsible for nine of the ten picks identified in this slideshow.
Beyond the draft picks, Red engineered some of the most lopsided trades in history in building up the Celtics into one of the greatest franchises in team sports.
[Update: It seems someone saw fit to change the image on this slide. It wasn't me. If it were, I might have tried to synch up the image with the words on the slide.]
No. 10—Jo Jo White
Jo Jo White, a 6'3" guard out of the University of Kansas, was still on the board when the Celtics selected him with the ninth pick. Red smiled, and likely lit another of his trademark cigars.
All Jo Jo was able to do with the Celtics is make seven straight All-Star teams (1971-1977), put in around 20 points and five assists a game, and help lead Boston to two NBA championships (1974 and 1976).
White was the NBA Finals MVP in 1976.
His career highlight was probably being the leading scorer (33 points to go along with nine assists) in the greatest NBA game ever played, game five of the 1976 Finals against the Phoenix Suns.
Jo Jo was later to the Golden State Warriors for a draft pick in 1979, but he played just two more seasons.
His number 10 jersey was retired by the Celtics in 1982.
No. 9—Cedric Maxwell
Cedric "Cornbread" Maxwell, a 6'8" forward from UNC-Charlotte, was selected as the twelfth pick in the 1977 NBA draft after leading the 49ers to the NCAA Final Four.
Maxwell played a key role in the Celtics winning two NBA titles, 1981 and 1984, and was the Finals MVP in 1981 over the more celebrated "Big Three" (Larry Bird, Kevin McHale, and Robert Parrish).
A prolific and dangerous low-post scorer, Maxwell wore out his welcome in Boston after eight seasons. Larry Bird famously, and publicly, called Maxwell out as quitting on the team in the 1985 NBA Finals, and that was the end of Cornbread.
Maxwell was traded to the L.A. Clippers for Bill Walton.
Cedric Maxwell's number 31 jersey was retired in 2003. He currently works as a radio broadcaster for Celtics games.
No. 8 — Reggie Lewis
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Reggie Lewis, a 6'7" small forward out of Northeastern University, was the steal of the 1987 draft when he was selected with the 22nd pick.
After sitting and watching for most of his rookie year, Reggie reassured Celtics fans everywhere that a post-Larry era would okay. With Larry Bird sidelined for most of the 1988-89 season with double-heel surgery, Reggie stepped in and averaged over 18 points per game.
Lewis improved every season, becoming an All-Star for the first time in the 19912-92 season after averaging over 20 points a game. He averaged a brilliant 28 points per game in the playoffs that season. Yes, the future was in good hands.
After Bird retired following that 1991-92 season, Reggie was named captain of the team.
He again led the team in scoring with a 20.8 points per game average, and led the Celtics to the playoffs. In his first playoff game as captain,
Reggie was absolutely lighting it up. He already had 17 points in the first 13 minutes of the game before collapsing on the floor. It would be the last time Reggie played for the team.
On July 27, 1993, while practicing alone at Brandeis University, Reggie again collapsed to the floor. He would never get up.
A big piece of the Celtics died that day. Aside from losing a great young man, the Celtics lost their present and their future. Red Auerbach was so upset that he stepped down from the day-to-day operations of the team shortly after Reggie's passing.
Reggie Lewis's number 35 jersey was retired in 1995.
No. 7—Paul Pierce
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The current captain of the Boston Celtics was selected with the 10th pick in the 1998 draft.
Pierce, a 6'7" small forward from the University of Kansas, was considered by many (including myself) to be the best player in the draft that year. Vince Carter had more flash and hype, but nine players selected before Pierce?
Without cause, I give credit to Red Auerbach for somehow getting nine teams to pass on "The Truth."
Paul Pierce has played 12 seasons with the Celtics so far. He is third all-time in team history in points scored, ninth in rebounds, eighth in games played, and holds three spots on the top 10 scoring average for a season list.
Pierce is a four-time All-NBA selection, an NBA champion, and an NBA Finals MVP.
Good enough for me.
There is no question that Paul Pierce's number 34 will be hanging in the rafters very soon after he retires.
No. 6—Sam Jones
Sam Jones, a 6'4" shooting guard from North Carolina Central University, was the eighth and final pick in the first round of the 1957 NBA draft.
It really seems like Red Auerbach was the only NBA executive who actually knew what he was doing back then. The top pick of the '57 draft was Rod Hundley.
"Hot Rod" had a short, undistinguished career as a player before becoming a legendary announcer.
Sam Jones, he of the clever nickname "The Shooter," was deadly. He is widely acknowledged as the best shooting guard of his generation. He had textbook shooting form and was an early master of the bank shot.
Jones is the proud owner of 10 championship rings. Only teammate Bill Russell has more.
Sam Jones was inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame in 1984. He was named to the NBA 25th Anniversary Team in 1970, and was selected as one of the NBA's 50 Greatest Players in 1996.
Sam's number 24 jersey was retired in 1969.
No. 5—Tommy Heinsohn
Tommy Heinsohn, a 6'7" forward from the College of the Holy Cross, was the Celtics territorial pick for the 1956 draft (technically the first player selected).
Heinsohn won the Rookie of the Year award, and a championship, in his first season teaming up fellow Crusader Bob Cousy and fellow 1956 acquisition Bill Russell.
Tommy went on to help the Celtics win the championship in eight of his nine playing years. He retired in 1965, and his number 15 jersey was immediately retired.
Tommy finished his playing career 12th on the Celtics scoring leaders list, and eighth in rebounds.
Pretty good stuff, right? I'm not done!
Tommy left the Celtics broadcast table in 1969 to take over for a retiring Bill Russell as head coach. He then led the team to two more titles, 1974 and 1976.
He then went back to broadcasting, where he remains today. Tommy is the only person who was involved in some capacity in all 17 Celtics championships.
But wait—there's more!
Heinsohn the broadcasting legend created the popular "Tommy Points" that he uses to recognize players willing to risk life and limb to help the team during a game.
He also has the "Tommy Award" used to recognize the one player who best displayed skill and hustle during the game.
Tommy, as much as anyone, is the Boston Celtics. Just 76 years old, I'm sure he'll get to see another championship banner or two raised to the rafters.
No. 4—Dave Cowens
You might think that Dave Cowens is ranked a little too high on this list. I don't care—Cowens was my first-ever favorite basketball player. I will put him as high as I want.
Cowens, a 6'9" center from Florida State University, was the fourth pick in the 1970 draft, selected behind Bob Lanier, Rudy Tomjanovich, and Pete Maravich.
Considered by NBA experts at the time to be too short to play center in the league, Red Auerbach selected Cowens largely on the insistence of Bill Russell (himself a 6'9" "undersized" center).
Averaging 17 points and 15 rebounds in his rookie season (co-winner of Rookie of the Year) showed that Russell was correct.
Cowens played hard-nosed, all-out basketball for the Celtics for 10 seasons. He finished ninth in team history in points scored, and third in rebounding.
He helped lead the Celtics to two more championships (1974 and 1976) before passing the torch to Larry Bird as the next great Celtics player.
His number 18 jersey was retired in 1981.
No. 3—Kevin McHale
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One of the greatest low-post players in NBA history, Kevin McHale, a 6'10" power forward from the University of Minnesota, was selected with the third pick in the 1980 NBA draft.
In one of the shrewdest draft-day deals in league history, the immortal Red Auerbach hoodwinked the Golden State Warriors into trading Robert Parish and the third pick in the draft for the Celtics number one overall pick.
The Warriors used that first pick on Joe Barry Carroll. Carroll was a reasonably productive center in the NBA for several years, but he was no McHale.
McHale played 13 seasons for the Boston Celtics, forming the one-and-only, legendary "Big Three" with Larry Bird and Robert Parish, before entering the Basketball Hall of Fame.
Kevin McHale had an infinite arsenal of unstoppable moves in the post. He was one of the true offensive forces in the NBA during his prime.
Sadly, and going hand-in-hand with Bird's back troubles, McHale's feet and ankles could not match his incredible talent.
Two or three more titles could have easily been won during the Big Three era if Kevin and Larry had been able to hold up physically.
Any list of the best big men in NBA history that omits Kevin McHale is incomplete.
Kevin McHale's number 32 was retired in 1994.
No. 2—John Havlicek
John Havlicek, a 6'5" guard/forward from Ohio State University, was selected with the ninth (and final) pick of the first round in the 1962 NBA draft.
Havlicek played for 16 seasons with the Celtcs, retiring in 1978 as the team's all-time leader in points scored, minutes played, and games played. He finished at number five in team history in rebounds, as well as second in assists.
He helped the team win eight titles. He was an All-Star every season from 1966 to his retirement in 1978.
Nicknamed "Hondo" (after the awesome John Wayne movie of the same name) for his legendary toughness, Havlicek helped to define the "sixth man" role in the NBA by providing instant offense and leadership to the reserves.
And to think, the first player in the league ever to score 1,000 or more points for 16 consecutive years almost chose football over basketball.
The Cleveland Browns had also selected Havlicek in 1962. He was a wide receiver in Browns training camp that year before deciding to focus instead on basketball. The Shamrock strikes again.
His number 17 jersey was retired immediately once Hondo hung 'em up for good. I still remember watching that ceremony.
No. 1—Larry Bird
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The greatest basketball player in the history of man, "Basketball Jesus," Larry Bird, was selected with the sixth pick in the 1978 draft.
In selecting Bird, Red Auerbach took advantage of a rule in place at the time that allowed teams to select underclassmen if their original class would have graduated (Bird sat out a year after dropping out of Indiana University).
It was not known if Bird would decide to enter the NBA or play his senior season at Indiana State. The team would be able to hold onto Bird's rights up until the day of the 1979 draft.
Bird signed the richest rookie deal in NBA history to that point right before the deadline. The rest is, as they say, history.
By the way, Bird has not one, but two NBA rules named after him.
To close the loophole Red exploited in getting Bird, the league closed the hole with the Bird Collegiate Rule.
In what is probably the best known salary cap exception, the "Larry Bird Exception" allows team to exceed the salary cap to re-sign their own free agents.
There isn't much that needs to be said about Bird's career. You're either a believer or you're not.
The greatest man in league history, Red Auerbach, believed that Larry Legend was the best all-around basketball player he had ever seen. I believe in Red.
What About Bill?
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Bill Russell, the greatest winner in the history of team sports, never played for another team except the Celtics. Why isn't he on the list?
Bill Russell was selected with the second pick of the 1956 draft (third overall) by the St. Louis Hawks. He was immediately traded to the Boston Celtics for center Ed Macauley. I think you can tell who got the better of that deal.
Also missing is Bob Cousy. Cousy was selected by the Tri-Cities (Illinois) Blackhawks (later the Atlanta Hawks) in the 1950 draft, but they wouldn't meet his contract demands, so Cousy declined in favor of operating a driving school in Worcester, MA.
The Blackhawks sold his rights to the Chicago Stags, but when that team folded later that year, the league office awarded Cousy's rights to the Boston Celtics. The Celtics, surprising in retrospect, actually didn't want Cousy and felt stuck with him.
All Bob did was revolutionize how the point guard position was played and help lead the team to six championships before retiring in 1963.
Any of your favorites that you think are missing? Any beef with the ordering of my Top 10? I'd like to hear from you.
Hopefully you enjoy this little look back at some of the many great Celtics players that have worn the Green and White.