The Boston Celtics have the longest list of retired jerseys compared to any other team in the NBA, including the Los Angeles Lakers.
In fact, Boston has retired 23 jerseys compared to only 14 for the Lakers (the second leading team in this category).
The following are the five best retired jerseys by the Celtics, which represent some of the greatest players of all time and they are all in the Hall of Fame. All five of these players were also known for playing serious and extremely effective defense—the key ingredient in each of Boston’s dominant days that brought championships to Beantown.
Honorable mentions include Robert Parish and Kevin McHale.
No. 5: John Havlicek, Retired Jersey (17)
John Havlicek, aka Hondo, has more rings (eight) than any other player, with the exception of two other Celtics—Bill Russell (11) and Sam Jones (10).
He played during both the Russell years and the David Cowens mini-dynasty in the early 1970s.
In fact, Hondo helped the Celtics win championships in each of his first four years in the league.
He was a versatile player that played strong defense and revolutionized the sixth-man position.
No. 4: Dave Cowens, Retired Jersey (18)
After Bill Russell retired, the Boston Celtics went into rebuilding mode and lucked out with an immediate impact type player in Dave Cowens.
Cowens helped Boston win two NBA championships (1974, 1976). He was so good, in fact, that it’s unlikely the Celtics would have won any championships during the 1970s without him.
He was the first NBA player to lead his team in all five major statistical categories in a season. Since Cowens, only three others have followed in reaching this prestigious club, including Scottie Pippen, Kevin Garnett and LeBron James.
No. 3: Bob Cousy, Retired Jersey (14)
Bob Cousy’s dominance brought the concept of having incredible handles to the game of basketball as well as a new meaning to the point guard position. His agility and versatility enabled him to lead the league in assists for eight-straight years and he was dubbed the Houdini of the Half Court.
Cousy helped Boston to six championships.
No. 2: Bill Russell, Retired Jersey (6)
Bill Russell is remembered as the most dominant player of the NBA’s greatest dynasty, consisting of an astounding 11 championships over Russell’s 13 seasons—all with the Celtics.
He was a defensive force in a game where defense wins championships; how can you argue with 11 titles?
For the most part, Russell was a gentleman, but on one occasion he punched New York Knicks center Ray Felix unconscious with one punch for antagonizing him during a game—a foul that cost Russell a whole $25 at the time.
Russell was always surrounded by an amazing core group of players that included Bob Cousy (six titles), John Havlicek (eight titles), K.C. Jones (eight titles) and Tommy Heinsohn (eight titles).
As dominating as Russell was, he also had the best collection of teammates (compared to the competition at the time) of any team in the history of the NBA.
No. 1: Larry Bird, Retired Jersey (33)
Bird was, without question, one of the most effective and lethal assassins the game has ever seen. Think about it—how many players have won at least three championships as the Batman of their respective teams?
Only Shaquille O’Neal (3), Tim Duncan (4), Magic Johnson (5), Michael Jordan (6) and Bill Russell (11) come to mind.
He was aka as Larry Legend and the Hick from French Lick.
His focus to win was comparable to Michael Jordan’s before His Airness even came onto the scene.
Bird averaged a double-double for his career with an absolutely solid 24.3 points and 10 rebounds per game to go along with 6.3 assists.
"Bird is the only player in NBA history to have career averages of at least 20 PPG, 10 RPG and five APG. His versatility has been matched by few in NBA history, currently ranking fifth in triple-doubles with 59. He was the first player to make the 50-40-90 club and he did it twice (making at least 50 percent of his field goals, 40 percent of his three-point attempts and 90 percent of his free throws).
"Last and perhaps most impressive was how Bird would often tell his opponents how he was going to beat them (even the exact position where he would make a game-winning shot) and then go on to follow through exactly like he planned." (Ethan S)
Bird was so dominant that he finished second in MVP voting three times before winning it three successive times himself.
But what is more intriguing is how close Bird comes to Michael Jordan when doing a statistical comparison that reveals he is the closest thing to the GOAT. In fact, the only career stats that are not close include points per game (Jordan 30.1 vs. Bird 24) and rebounds per game (Bird 10 vs. Jordan 6.2).
But the rest of their career stats are astoundingly close: assists per game (Jordan 5.3 vs. Bird 6.3), field-goal percentage (Jordan 49.7 percent vs. Bird 49.6 percent), free-throw percentage (Jordan 83.5 percent vs. Bird 88.6 percent), three-point percentage (Jordan 32.7 percent vs. Bird 37.6 percent), steals (Jordan 2.3 vs. Bird 1.7) and blocks (Jordan 0.8 vs. Bird 0.8).
And Bird wins in four categories over Jordan (rebounds, assists, field goal percentage and three-point percentage).
These numbers clearly support the argument that Larry Bird is a top five (if not top three) NBA player of all time.