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History of Celtics retired numbers

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Cleveland Cavaliers v Boston Celtics Photo by Brian Babineau/NBAE via Getty Images

The biggest quandary that players have when coming to Boston is trying to find a number that hasn’t been retired. There have been 23 numbers retired by the Celtics, more than by any other team by far. We all know the numbers that are on the banners, but I thought that History Week would be a good time to discuss the players who wore those numbers.

Number 1 was retired on October 17, 1964 for the Celtics founder and the first owner of the franchise, Walter Brown. After succeeding his father as manager of the Boston Garden, he helped to found the Basketball Association of America in 1946, and was instrumental in merging the BAA and the National Basketball League into the National Basketball Association in 1949. He founded the Celtics in 1945, and helped to transform the team into a dynasty, as the Celtics won six championships in the seven years prior to his death in 1964. He also was instrumental in the creation of the first NBA All-Star Game in 1951, which was played in the Boston Garden.

Bob Cousy and Teammates Celebrate Victory

Number 2 was retired on January 4, 1985 in honor of Arnold “Red” Auerbach. Red was the face and the heart of the Celtics. The number 2 was retired for him to signify the fact that Red is second only to Walter Brown as the most significant person in the history of the Boston Celtics. He was the Head Coach of the team from 1950 through 1966. During his tenure as coach, he won nine Championships and that included eight straight from 1958 through 1966. After his coaching career, he went on to serve as President and General Manager, leading the Celtics to an additional seven NBA championships. Red could always be seen in the stands lighting his trademark cigar at the end of every Celtics victory until his death in 2006.

Number 3 was retired on December 13, 1991 in honor of Dennis Johnson. “DJ” played for the Celtics for seven seasons, from 1983 through 1990. He helped lead the Celtics to a pair of NBA world championship titles in 1984 and 1986. DJ was always a clutch player and seemed to step up his game in the playoffs. He was known for his defense and was a perennial fixture on the NBA all defensive team. Larry Bird called Dennis Johnson the best player he ever played with, and that is some very high praise. Everyone remembers that Bird stole the ball against Detroit in 1987, but it was DJ who saw the steal and cut to the basket for the layup. My favorite part of that play was that with just a fraction of a second left and all of his teammates celebrating, DJ’s first reaction was to turn and play defense on the inbound pass. DJ was an assistant coach for the Celtics from 1992 through 1997. In 2007, he was coaching the Austin Toros, who were the Celtics’ D-League affiliate at the time, and he collapsed after a practice. He died of a heart attack on February 22, 2007. The NBA D-League Coach of the Year award was named after Dennis Johnson. In 2010, DJ was posthumously elected to the Basketball Hall of Fame.

Los Angeles Lakers vs. Boston Celtics Photo by Dick Raphael/NBAE via Getty Images

Number 6 was retired on March 12, 1972 for Bill Russell, who is one of the greatest basketball players of all time. Russell anchored Celtics teams that won nine world championships. Russell is the Celtics all-time leading rebounder with 21,620 rebounds which is an astounding average of 22.5 per game. Russell was declared to be the Greatest Player in the History of the NBA by the Professional Basketball Writers’ Association of America in 1980. He made the All Star team every year in his career, except his rookie year. When Red Auerbach retired, Bill Russell became a player coach of the Celtics for three seasons, from 1966 through 1969, finishing with a record of 162-83 (.661) and two world championship titles in 1968 and 1969. He was elected to the Naismith Basketball Basketball Hall of Fame in 1975. In the 2008-09 season, he came to Boston to encourage Kevin Garnett and even offered him one of his rings if KG didn’t win his own. One of the greatest sights after the Celtics won their 17th championship was KG and Bill Russell embracing on the court as KG told him he had his own ring now.

Number 10 was retired on April 9, 1982 for JoJo White, who was the point guard that led the Celtics offense and propelled the 1974 and 1976 teams to NBA championships. JoJo played for the Celtics from 1969 to 1979 and was a member of the gold-medal-winning U.S. Olympic Team in 1968. JoJo was a seven-time NBA All-Star and he reached the pinnacle of his career in 1976. On June 4, in the hot, jam-packed Boston Garden, in Game 5 of the NBA Finals against the Phoenix Suns, White led the Celtics with 33 points spread out over 60 minutes in the now famous 128-126 triple-overtime victory and was named the Finals MVP. During his playing career, he set a franchise record of 488 consecutive games played. White was inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame in 2015.

Bob Cousy Portrait Photo by Greg Foster/NBAE via Getty Images

Number 14 was retired on October 16, 1963 in honor of Bob Cousy, who was one of the greatest playmakers and passers in NBA history. Cousy spent all 13 of his NBA seasons with the Celtics. He had the nickname of “The Houdini of the Hardwood” and anyone watching him play would know how that nickname came about. He helped lead the Celtics to 6 NBA world championship titles. Cousy was a 13-time NBA All-Star, making the team in each of his 13 seasons in the NBA. He remains the Celtics all-time assists leader with 6,945. Red Auerbach passed on Cousy in the draft, calling him a “local yokel.” Cousy was drafted by the Blackhawks and traded to the Chicago Stags, who folded. The Stags’ 3 best players names were to be divided among the 3 worst teams in the league, the Warriors, Celtics and Knicks. The names were placed in a hat and the Celtics ended up with Cousy, who brought an up tempo style to league and changed the way the game was played.

Number 15 was retired on October 15, 1966 for Tommy Heinsohn. If anyone can be considered a Celtic for life, it is Tommy Heinsohn. He helped the Celtics capture eight NBA world championship titles in his nine-year playing career, all with the Celtics. He was head coach of the Celtics for nine years from 1969 through 1978, and guided the Celtics to two more NBA titles. He was the NBA Coach of the Year in 1973. Heinsohn is the only person to have the distinction of being involved in an official team capacity in each of the Celtics’ 17 championships, as well as each of their 21 NBA Finals appearances. For the past 53 years, Tommy been a broadcaster and announcer for the Celtics. Opposing fans hate him but Celtics fans love him. He’s definitely one of a kind.

Number 16 was retired in January of 1973 for Tom “Satch” Sanders. He played all of his 13 years with the Celtics and was part of eight championship teams from 1961 through 1969. He retired in 1973 and following his playing career, he became the basketball coach at Harvard University. He was the first African American to serve as a head coach of any sport in the Ivy League. In 1978 he took over for Tom Heinsohn as the coach of the Celtics but was replaced by Dave Cowens after starting his second season with a 2-12 record. In 1986, Sanders founded the Rookie Transition Program - the first such program in any major American sport.

Celtics v Bucks Photo by Focus on Sport via Getty Images

Number 17 was retired on October 13, 1978 in honor of the legendary John “Hondo” Havlicek. Havlicek was drafted by both the Celtics and the NFL’s Cleveland Browns in 1962. After competing briefly as a wide receiver in the Browns’ training camp that year, he focused his energies on playing for the Celtics, with head coach Red Auerbach later describing him as the “guts of the team.” He was known for his stamina. Competitors often remarked that it was a challenge for them just to keep up with him. He was a perpetual-motion machine, a human dynamo who was legendary for wearing out opponents with his relentless baseline-to-baseline constant movement. According to Sports Illustrated, Hondo revolutionized the sixth man role and became the prototype Celtics’ sixth man. Johnny Most’s legendary call, “Havlicek stole the ball,” remains a classic description of one of the most memorable moments in NBA history. In 1974, Bill Russell summed up Havlicek’s career by saying “He is the best all-around player I ever saw.”

Number 18 was retired on February 8, 1981 for Dave Cowens. Cowens’ playing style was all-out intensity at both ends of the court, a style that never wavered during his 11-year NBA career. Cowens played aggressively, often recklessly, and with great passion. He always gave fans their money’s worth. At 6’9 he was considered by some to be too short to play center, but he played 11 years in the league, 10 with Boston and 1 in Milwaukee, and he averaged 17.6 points and 13.6 rebounds per game over his career. For a time during the early part of the 1977 season, Cowens left the team and started driving a cab. He went AWOL from the Celtics for a short time just “to clear his head.” He began his coaching career by serving as a player/coach for the Celtics during the 1978-79 season, but he quit as coach after the season, and returned as a full-time player before retiring in 1980. However, he was coaxed out of retirement by the Milwaukee Bucks, and played for them during the 1982-83 season before retiring for good.

Number 19 was retired for Don Nelson in 1978. Don Nelson personifies the hard-working, blue-collar roots of the Midwest where he was raised. Whether he was playing on the hardwood or coaching from its sidelines, Nellie has carved himself a place in NBA history as one of league’s toughest competitors. Nellie played for the Chicago Zephyrs (which later moved to Baltimore and became the Bullets) and the Lakers before coming to the Celtics in 1965. He played 11 years with the Celtics and won 5 Championships with them. After he retired he coached for 34 years with Milwaukee, Golden State, Dallas, and even a brief stint with New York. On September 7, 2012, Nelson was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame.

Number 21 was retired on October 15, 1966 for Bill Sharman who played ten seasons with the Celtics, from 1951 through 1961, and helped lead the Celtics to four NBA championships. Arguably the greatest shooter of his era, Bill Sharman was one of the first NBA guards to push his field-goal percentage above .400 for a season, and he still ranks among the top free-throw shooters of all time with an .883 lifetime percentage. After retiring as a player in 1961 Sharman distinguished himself as an inspiring and innovative coach, the only one to win championships in three professional leagues - the American Basketball League in 1962, the American Basketball Association in 1971 and the NBA in 1972. He introduced an innovative training time on game days called the “shootaround,” in which players went through a light morning practice session prior to the day’s contest. Today most (if not all) NBA and college teams use shootarounds as a regular part of their training regimens. Sharmen was GM and club president of the Lakers and later remained with the team as a special consultant. He was enshrined in the Hall of Fame as both player and coach.

Number 22 was retired on October 16, 1963 for “Easy Ed” Macauley who was a member of the Celtics for six seasons from 1950 through 1956. He had his Celtics No. 22 retired at the same time as Bob Cousy’s No. 14. They were the first two players to have their numbers retired by Boston. Easy Ed” retired as the NBA’s third all-time leading scorer trailing only George Mikan and Dolph Shayes at the time. MacAuley was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1960 at the age of 32 and to this day he is still the youngest player ever enshrined. There is a story behind Easy Ed that is worth recounting here. In 1956, Ed’s son Patrick became ill. They took him to a Boston doctor, who after some time diagnosed Patrick with spinal meningitis. Ed and his wife had to take Patrick back and forth to St. Louis for treatment, which was a tremendous drain on them, both physically and financially. Ed was close to the Celtics’ owner, Walter Brown, and requested a trade to the St. Louis Hawks, to make getting treatment for Patrick easier for them. Although Brown didn’t want to trade him, he understood the personal difficulties and agreed to seek a trade. McCauley and Cliff Hagan were traded to St. Louis for the second pick in the draft that would become Bill Russell. Ed went on to star for St. Louis and sadly Patrick died a few years later. But had Ed not requested the trade, the history of the Celtics, and thus the league, would probably have been much different.

Number 23 was retired for Frank Ramsey who played nine seasons in the NBA, all with the Celtics. He was the Celtics original sixth man. Though Ramsey was one of the Celtics’ best players, he felt more comfortable coming off the bench and Auerbach wanted him fresh and in the lineup at the end of close games. Ramsey was the first in a series of sixth men who won championship rings with the Celtics. After playing his rookie season with the Celtics (1954-1955), Ramsey spent one year in the military before rejoining the team. In the eight seasons he played after military service, he was a member of seven championship teams. Ramsey was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1982.

Number 24 was retired on March 9, 1969 for Sam Jones. Sam was named, “Mr. Clutch” by his teammates and peers for his consistent and all-around skills. He played 12 seasons in the NBA, all with the Celtics and was on ten championship teams. Considered one of the fastest NBA guards with superb court vision and savvy, Jones led the Celtics in scoring three times, averaging a career-high 25.9 points in 1965. Perhaps the greatest compliment anyone every paid to Jones was supplied by Red Auerbach at a special ceremony at Boston Garden. “I would like to thank Sam Jones,” he said, “for making me a helluva coach.” He was inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame in 1984

Number 25 was retired on February 12, 1967 for KC Jones who played 9 seasons in the NBA, all with the Celtics. He helped lead the Celtics to 8 straight NBA world championships from 1959 through 1967. Jones was a defensive standout, serving first as a reserve and then as the heir to Bob Cousy at point guard. When his playing days ended, Jones continued his winning ways as a coach with six teams, employing a low-key approach that won seven division titles, five Eastern Conference titles and two championships in 1984 and 1986 with the Celtics. When KC was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1989, he brought with him a legacy of personal respect. As Bird once cracked, “He’s the kind of person I’d like to be, but I don’t have the time to work at it.”

Number 31 was retired on December 15, 2003 for Cedric “Cornbread” Maxwell, who, before Paul Pierce, was the most recent Celtic to have his number retired. While Maxwell will be remembered as an efficient shooter and a colorful character, his biggest claim to fame is as a clutch playoff performer. Maxwell was named MVP of the 1981 NBA Finals. Three years later, Maxwell scored 24 points against the Los Angeles Lakers in the decisive game-seven victory in the 1984 NBA Finals. He was traded on September 6, 1985 with a draft pick to the Los Angeles Clippers for Bill Walton. Maxwell is now a radio broadcaster for the Celtics, ”where he announces Boston Celtics games with the “voice” of the Celtics Sean Grande.

Number 32 was retired on January 30, 1994 to honor Kevin McHale, who along with Larry Bird and Robert Parish, formed one of the best front courts in the history of the NBA. At 6-foot-10, 225 pounds, McHale’s nearly unstoppable array of low post moves revolutionized pivot play and helped lead Boston to three NBA championships in 1981, 1984 and 1986. His 56-point effort against the Detroit Pistons on March 3, 1985, ranks second all-time in Celtics’ single-game history behind Larry Bird’s 60-point performance against the Atlanta Hawks on March 12, 1985. Larry Bird often referred to McHale as “The Black Hole” as when the ball went in to him in the post, it never came back out. McHale was often underrated due to playing along side of Bird. He once said that if he had played on a team without Larry, he would have had a lot more points and attention, but also a lot fewer wins and championships. He will be remembered for 2 acts as the GM of the Timberwolves: Drafting Kevin Garnett and trading him to the Celtics. Charles Barkley said of McHale, “Kevin McHale’s the best player I played against because he was unstoppable offensively, and he gave me nightmares on defense.” McHale was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1999.

Boston Celtics Larry Bird And Kevin McHale Photo by Lane Turner/The Boston Globe via Getty Images

Number 33 was retired on March 22, 1995 for Larry Joe Bird. Larry Bird is arguably one of the greatest players ever to play the game. Larry played 13 seasons in the NBA, all with the Celtics, and was part of 3 championship teams. Bird personified hustle, consistency and excellence in all areas of play--as a scorer, a passer, a rebounder, a defender, a team player, and, perhaps above all, as a clutch performer. Bird was the embodiment of “Celtics Pride.” He was a classy, confident, hardworking player who thrived on pressure and inspired teammates to excel. Bird won three consecutive MVP awards and was only the third player to achieve that feat along with Russell and Chamberlain. Continuing back problems forced Bird to retire on August 8, 1992. After he retired, Bird was named a special assistant in the Celtics’ front office, with limited duties that included some scouting and player evaluation. When the Celtics named Rick Pitino as the franchise’s new rresident hed Head coach, Bird knew any role for him in Boston would be a limited one. So he cut the ties and went home to Indiana where he served as head coach, president and GM of the Indiana Pacers. As of 2019, Bird is the only person in NBA history to be named Rookie of the Year, Most Valuable Player, NBA Finals MVP, All Star MVP, Coach of the Year, and Executive of the Year. Bird was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1998 and was inducted into the Hall of Fame again in 2010 as a member of the “Dream Team”.

Number 34 was retired on February 11, 2018 in a ceremony following a game between the Celtics and the Cavaliers. Pierce played 15 years with the Celtics, earning a Championship ring with the team in 2008 as part of the “new Big 3” with Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen. He was traded to the Nets, along with Garnett, in 2013. He subsequently played with the Wizards and the Clippers before signing a one day contract with the Celtics on July 17, 2017 to retire as a Celtic. Over his playing career, Pierce was known for his toughness. On September 25, 2000, Pierce was stabbed 11 times outside of a late night dance club in Boston. He had to undergo lung surgery to repair the damage but was ready for training camp and was the only Celtic to start all 82 games in the in the 2000-01 season. Pierce was given the nickname “The Truth” by Shaquille O’neal after he scored 42 points on 13-of-19 shooting in a game vs the Lakers. Since his retirement, Pierce has been working as an analyst for ESPN.

San Antonio Spurs v Boston Celtics Photo by Dick Raphael/NBAE via Getty Images

Number 35 was retired on March 22, 1995 in honor of the Celtics’ fallen Captain, Reggie Lewis. Lewis starred at Northeastern University in Boston, averaging 22.2 points a game in four years as a starter. He was chosen in the first round of the 1987 NBA draft by the Boston Celtics. Lewis became a starter in 1990-91, when Larry Bird was out much of the year with an injury, and he was named the team’s captain after Bird’s retirement in 1992. He averaged 20.8 points a game in both 1991-92 and 1992-93. In Boston’s first game of the 1993 Playoffs, Lewis collapsed and had to be taken to a hospital. Displeased when a team of doctors told him he would have to give up basketball because of a heart problem, Lewis changed hospitals and doctors in the middle of the night. He was then advised that his heart was healthy and that he could begin training again, under medical supervision. He died of a heart attack while taking part in an unsupervised workout. This is one of the saddest chapters of the Celtics’ history. He is missed by all as he was not only a promising and talented basketball player, but a very kind and giving person as well.

Number 00 was retired on January 18, 1998 for Robert Parish. “The Chief” played 21 seasons in the NBA. He played 14 of those with the Celtics. A 7-1 center who combined strength, agility and remarkable endurance, Parish won three NBA championships with the Boston Celtics in the 1980s and teamed with Larry Bird and Kevin McHale to form one of the greatest front lines in NBA history. After leaving the Celtics in 1994, he played for the Hornets and the Bulls. He capped his career by winning yet another championship ring as a member of the 1996-97 Chicago Bulls. Parish was nicknamed “the Chief” by Celtics teammate Cedric Maxwell after a character from the film “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.”

Jim Loscutoff was selected with the fourth pick of the first round in the 1955 NBA Draft to add some defensive toughness to the team. Loscutoff’s mean defense and strength was part of the defensive greatness of the 60s Celtics, alongside fellow Hall-of-Famer Bill Russell. Loscutoff’s nicknames included “Jungle Jim” or “Loscy”. When the Celtics approached him about having his number 18 retired, he said that he would rather have it remain available for other players to use. The #18 was later worn by Dave Cowens and was retired for him. On the banners where the retired numbers are posted, they have Loscy posted instead of his number. Loscy was always one of my favorite players. Like Perk, he was the ultimate role player and made defense his calling card. He was happy to work in the trenches and let the others get the headlines.