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Biggest Question Week: can Jayson Tatum join the Celtics’ Mt. Rushmore?

What will it take for Boston’s young star to stand amongst the greats?

2022 NBA All-Star - NBA 75 Group Portrait
Jayson Tatum, Boston Celtics
Photo by Chris Marion/NBAE via Getty Images

“I would love to be on the Mount Rushmore of Celtics,” Jayson Tatum told The Messenger’s Jeff Goodman earlier this month. “[Larry] Bird, [Bill] Russell, Paul Pierce and those guys. They paved the way.”

Tatum’s chat with Goodman made its rounds throughout the Celtics community for good reason. He had plenty of encouraging thoughts to share, including aspirations to win titles, be named to All-Defensive teams, and of course, be considered amongst the storied franchise’s greats.

The Celtics might have the steepest Mt. Rushmore to climb of any NBA team. The Lakers’ may be just as steep, in fairness to those purple and gold freaks. But, in all seriousness, it’s no simple task to be considered one of the four greatest Celtics to put on the uniform. It’s not even easy to pick the four best, as you’re all going to tell me when I lay out mine in a second.

With all of that being said, Tatum is someone who certainly has the ability to get himself to that point, but he’s still got plenty of work to do.

(Boston, MA, 05/01/17) Boston Celtics players’ retired number banners hang from rafters at TD Garden on Monday, May 01, 2017. Celtics ownership confirmed that the NBA franchise has future plans to retire Paul Pierce’s number 34. Staff photo by Christ
Boston Celtics retired numbers
Photo by Christopher Evans/MediaNews Group/Boston Herald via Getty Images

Which four players make up the Boston Celtics current Mt. Rushmore?

Before determining what it’ll take for Tatum to join three other Celtic greats on the team’s Mt. Rushmore, we first have to lay out who is already there. Boston has had so many legendary players who have helped them raise the 17 banners that hang above the parquet floor at TD Garden. It’s tough to pick just four.

NBA 50 Greatest Players
Bill Russell & Larry Bird, Boston Celtics
Photo by Ron Hoskins/NBAE via Getty Images

The absolute locks:

Well, the two in the picture above are there, without a doubt. I’m not sure there’s any fan who would argue that Bill Russell and Larry Bird don’t belong on the Mt. Rushmore of the greatest Boston Celtics.

Bill Russell

Russell was the original Celtic great — it’d be impossible to have a Mt. Rushmore without him. He had the best career of any player to don the green and white. Russell is considered by many to be the greatest winner in all of sports. He spent 12 seasons playing for the Cs and led Boston to 11 of their 17 NBA championships. Russell also served as the first-ever player-coach for his final two championship runs.

No. 6 was named to the NBA All-Star team in every single year that he played. He also took home five MVP awards and was named to 11 All-NBA teams, as well as the NBA’s 50th and 75th-anniversary teams.

Russell averaged 15.1 points, 22.5 rebounds, and 4.5 assists per game over the course of his illustrious career. His defensive numbers — specifically blocks — would’ve been otherworldly, had they kept track of those stats when he played.

Larry Bird

Bird is another lock for Boston’s Mt. Rushmore. He joined the Celtics for the 1979-80 season and immediately made an impact. That team won 61 games after winning just 28 the year prior, with a largely similar roster. Bird’s 13-year tenure in Boston was riddled with success as the team made the playoffs every season.

The Indiana native led the Celtics to championships 14-16, taking home two Finals MVPs in the process. On top of that, Bird joined Russell and Wilt Chamberlain as the only players to win three consecutive MVP awards. He was also named to 12 All-Star teams, 10 All-NBA teams, and the NBA’s 50th and 75th-anniversary teams.

Bird posted averages of 24.3 points, 10.0 rebounds, and 6.3 assists per game while shooting 49.6% from the field and 37.6% from distance for his career.

(06/01/12, Boston, MA) Celtic great John Havlicek embraces Boston Celtics small forward Paul Pierce (34) after the win as the Celtics take on the Heat in game 3 of the Eastern Conference Finals at the Garden. Friday, June 01, 2012. (Staff
Paul Pierce & John Havlicek, Boston Celtics.
Photo by Stuart Cahill/MediaNews Group/Boston Herald via Getty Images

The ‘might not be there forever’ guys:

I was going to just title this category as “the other guys” but I didn’t feel like that was fair to John Havlicek and Paul Pierce. The franchise’s two leading scorers fill the final two slots on my Celtics Mt. Rushmore. But, they might not be on everybody’s — and that’s okay. They also might not be there forever, whereas Russell and Bird don’t seem to be moving.

John Havlicek

Havlicek is third on the Mt. Rushmore power rankings. He was a key part of the success of the Russell-led Celtics teams but also served as the head of the snake in the years after Bill’s retirement. Hondo’s teams won titles in the 1974 and 1976 seasons, helping to continue Boston’s winning tradition. In total, he captured eight NBA championships over the course of 15 seasons.

The individual accolades were there as well. Havlicek earned 13 All-Star selections, and 11 All-NBA selections, won Finals MVP in 1974, and was named to both the NBA’s 50th and 75th-anniversary teams.

For his career, Havlicek averaged 20.8 points, 6.3 rebounds, and 4.8 assists per game. His sustained scoring output has him looking down at all other Celtics as the franchise’s leading scorer.

Paul Pierce

Pierce is the player that would most likely have his spot taken by Tatum. In a franchise where success is heavily measured by championships, the Inglewood native has just one. In 2008, he took home the Finals MVP as Boston captured its 17th NBA title.

Though Pierce wasn’t able to bring the Celtics to the promised land again, he did serve as a major figure in the team’s more recent history. For starters, he helped them return to prominence after the dark ages of the mid-to-late 1990s. The Truth spearheaded a whole new era of Celtics basketball, becoming a hero to many of the younger fans — including myself. He spent 15 seasons in Boston, then played another four elsewhere before retiring.

No. 34 earned 10 All-Star selections, All-NBA selections, and a selection to the NBA’s 75th anniversary team. Pierce averaged 19.7 points, 5.6 rebounds, and 3.5 assists per game while shooting 44.5% from the field and 36.8% from deep. He sits just behind Havlicek as Boston’s second-all-time leading scorer. On top of all of that, the trade that ended his Celtics tenure is the reason that Tatum is even a part of the organization.

Boston Celtics
Red Auerbach & Tommy Heinsohn

Honorable Mentions:

Tommy Heinsohn and Red Auerbach would probably be on my Mt. Rushmore if it wasn’t purely based on playing careers — not to say that Tommy’s wasn’t spectacular.

Auerbach is the patriarch of Celtics basketball and played a key role in the team’s sustained success throughout its history. He coached the Russell-led juggernauts and helped to assemble the 1980s Big 3.

As for Tommy, he just simply ruled. He was inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame as a player and as a coach — and will likely be honored as a broadcaster down the line. He is probably the greatest Celtic ever in terms of embodying what anyone who puts on the jersey should strive to be for the franchise.

Milwaukee Bucks v Boston Celtics
Jayson Tatum, Boston Celtics.
Photo by Brian Babineau/NBAE via Getty Images

What’s it going to take for Jayson Tatum to earn a spot on Boston’s Mt. Rushmore?

Well for starters, he’s going to have to win a title. Tatum said it himself during his sit-down with Goodman.

“The one thing all those guys have is chips,” he said. “I have to get to the top of the mountain to even be considered as one of those guys. I want to be an all-time great. I want to be known as a winner.”

Right now, Tatum is in a weird spot where he’s definitely one of the most talented players the franchise has ever seen — probably the most talented since Bird — but he hasn’t won a championship. There’s no Celtic who has had Tatum’s talent who hasn’t won a title with the team — at least me and my 24-year-old brain can’t think of any.

As far as resume building goes, he’s done an excellent job in his early career. The former Duke star has been to the playoffs in each of his six seasons and has only failed to make the Eastern Conference Finals twice. In 2022, he spearheaded the Celtics make their first Finals appearance in 12 seasons.

Personally, I think he’d be able to manage to edge Pierce off of the Mt. Rushmore with just one title if he plays his entire career in Boston. But, with the amount of talent he possesses plus the supporting casts he’s had the fortune of playing with, one championship seems like it’d be a bit of an underachievement.

Tatum will really begin to carve out a place with two or three championships in Boston. If he’s able to win those, then he could very well join Russell and Bird as a Mt. Rushmore lock. Of course, you’d have to imagine that if No. 0 has that amount of success and plays out his NBA career with the Celtics then he’d eventually overtake Havlicek as the franchise’s leading scorer as well.

What do you think? What’s it going to take for Tatum to be a part of Boston’s Mt. Rushmore? Who do you have in yours? Do you think I’m an idiot?

Let me know in the comments, thanks for reading!

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