Originally created for MLB players, Sports Reference acquired the online sensation in July and created spinoffs for other sports. NBA fans got a bite at the apple when Basketball Reference dropped a basketball version last month.
If you haven’t played yet, here’s how it works:
Each grid has three qualifiers on each axis. In a game published recently for example, the Nuggets, Raptors, and Nets were on the left side, while the Celtics, Pelicans, and “10+ rebounds” were on top.
To play you need to put one answer in each square – the name of a player who matches both qualifiers. So, for the top left square in last week’s puzzle, you’d need to think of a player who played for both the Nuggets and the Celtics.
How about Jeff Green? He just won a championship with Denver, and played for the Celtics from 2011-2015 (after Boston traded him on his draft night to Seattle for Ray Allen, but traded back for him a few years later).
And Nikola Jokic could fit in the top-right square, covering both team and 10+ rebounds.
But here’s the fun part: the game also tracks the obscurity of each player you enter – depending on what other participants guess – and gives you a “rarity score” once you’ve filled out all the squares. The rarer, the better. So, in the game above, we could replace Green and Jokic with, say, Calbert Cheaney and Dan Issel, and get a much better score.
Playing the game every day got me thinking: who is the most immaculate Celtic?
A few candidates immediately came to mind: Isaiah Thomas, Rajon Rondo, Jeff Green, Jae Crowder. They all played for a bunch of teams and, accordingly, would qualify for many categories. But they’re also pretty well-known players, either because of their performance or because of how recently they’ve played for Boston. In short, they would not be ideal if the goal was a low rarity score.
So: Who are the truly immaculate Celtics – journeyed journeymen few people will remember in green?
5. Mikki Moore | Teams: DET, BOS, ATL, NJN, UTA, LAC, SEA, SAC, GSW
Mikki Moore played 27 games for Boston, across two separate stints. The Celtics signed him to a 10-day contract in 2003 and gave him another shot in 2009, a few months after winning their 17th championship. He caught a stray from Bill Simmons a few months ago, when the podcaster called Moore “barely an NBA player” in a discussion of contributors to the Garnet-Pierce-Allen era Celtics. The center – who led the league in field goal percentage for the 2007 season – never did much for the Celtics, but he was a useful player for the Pistons, Nets, and Kings before he played with Boston’s Big Three.
4. Mark Bryant | Teams: POR, HOU, PHO, CHI, CLE, DAL, SAS, PHI, DEN, BOS
Bryant entered the news earlier this offseason when he was rumored to be a candidate to join Monty Williams’s coaching staff in Detroit. He and Williams coached together in Phoenix. Before his coaching career, though, he played 15 years in the league.
Bryant had a solid run on the Trailblazers – sharing the court with Celtics legend Danny Ainge – before playing for nine other teams in eight years. In 2003, the Seton Hall product played two games with the Celtics and collected two rebounds, two personal fouls, and one assist. He donned the green, so he qualifies for the Celtics all-immaculate team.
3. Damon Jones | Teams: NJN, BOS, GSW, DAL, VAN, DET, SAC, MIL, MIA, CLE
Jones played just 13 games for the Celtics in the 1998-99 season. He’s much better known for his time playing with Lebron James on the Cleveland Cavaliers and overall his list of teammates is star-studded: Dirk Nowitzki, Steve Nash, and Dennis Rodman in Dallas; Dwyane Wade and Shaquille O’Neal in Miami; Ben Wallace in Detroit; Stephon Marbury in New Jersey; and of course Paul Pierce in Boston.
Oh, and J.R. Smith threw soup at him during the Cavaliers’ 2018 season.
2. Mike James | Teams: MIA, BOS, DET, MIL, HOU, TOR, MIN, NOH, WAS, CHI, DAL
James and Jeff Green each played for 11 teams, including Boston – tying them for second on the list of most-traveled Celtics. But James gets the nod here over Green because he brings with him a much higher rarity score. Green is much better-known, and still active. On top of that, he just won a championship and signed a long-term deal to return to the Rockets. James, then, is far more immaculate.
Be careful, though: There are two Mike James. You want the one whose career ended in 2014. (The other Mike James was not a Celtic, and only played for three teams.)
As a bonus, the immaculate Mike James averaged more than 20 points per game with the Raptors – an eye-popping number for such a journeyed role player. Twenty-plus points is also a criteria on some immaculate grids, so keep him in mind when you play.
1. Tony Massenburg | Teams: SAS, BOS, CHH, GSW, LAC, TOR, PHI, NJN, VAN, HOU, UTA, SAC
The most immaculate Celtic had a truly immaculate career. A second-round pick by the Spurs in 1990, he moved around a lot, playing for 12 NBA teams – and in three countries – over 14 years, but never playing more than two consecutive seasons with the same team. In 2005, his last season, Massenburg returned to the team that drafted him 13 years earlier and helped deliver a championship to San Antonio.
At the start of the 1994-95 season – four years after he was drafted – Massenburg had more teams (five) than assists (four) on his NBA resume. (He had also spent two years playing for two Spanish clubs.) The forward-center was a solid player for a few franchises, but never quite found his footing.
Boston was one of four cities Massenburg played in during the 1991-92 season. His stint in green lasted just seven games and was utterly unremarkable. Then, in 1997, he re-signed with the Celtics – but Rick Pitino traded him to the Grizzlies before the regular season began.
He’s more connected to the Celtics via his admiration for fellow Maryland Terrapin Len Bias, who passed away less than 48 hours after being selected by Boston second overall in the 1986 draft. Massenburg, who calls Bias his “idol,” published a book about him called “Lessons from Lenny.”
Here, though, is your lesson from Benny: Keep these immaculate Celtics in mind when you’re stuck on the grid. They just might move your score from medium-well to medium-rare.