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Greatest Sports Franchises: Boston Celtics

VO: Rebecca Brayton
The Boston Celtics are one of the most successful sports franchises of all time. Under the expert eye of Red Auerbach, the team flourished and went on to set records and win championships left, right and center. His genius brought such players as Bill Russell, Larry Bird, Robert Parish and Kevin McHale to the team. Also important in the advancement of African Americans in the NBA, the Celtics were the first to draft a black player, the first to have an all-black starting lineup and the first to have a black coach. In this video, continues our series on the Greatest Sports Franchises of All Time with a look at the Boston Celtics.

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The History of the Boston Celtics

This was the first NBA franchise ever to draft an African-American player. Welcome to, and today we’ll be continuing our series of the most successful sports franchises with a look at the Boston Celtics.

Early Days

Founded in 1946, the Boston Celtics joined the Basketball Association of America before the creation of the National Basketball Association, or NBA. The team’s founder was Walter A. Brown, who was also one of the originators of the famed Ice Capades. The Celtics have boasted some of the most memorable personalities in basketball, including Bill Russell, Bob Cousy, John Havlicek, Larry Bird, Red Auerbach and Paul Pierce.

The Auerbach Days

The team’s early days were full of struggles. But that changed when Auerbach was brought on as coach in 1950. At this point, he had already tried his hand at coaching during World War II for the military, in addition to stints with the Washington Capitals and the Tri-Cities Blackhawks. With Boston, Auerbach was given full control of the team. This meant he ran all the practices, had no assistants, managed all opposing team and college scouting and even scheduled the team’s road trips.

Bill Russell and Championship Streak

Auerbach’s genius knew no boundaries, and he demonstrated this at the 1956 draft. Boston had the second pick, while the Rochester Royals were drafting first. Auerbach managed to pull off an unusual trade: he convinced Rochester to let coveted University of San Francisco center Bill Russell slide to number two in exchange for a performance by the sought-after Ice Capades in their hometown. In turn, Auerbach and the Celtics drafted Russell, and he became the cornerstone of the most dominating franchise ever. They won 11 championships in 13 years, from 1957 to 1969. This included a whopping eight in a row from ’59 to ’66, and this is the longest consecutive championship streak of any North American pro sports team.

Larry Bird and the "Big 3"

The 1970s were relatively uneventful, with the team only winning two championships under coach Tommy Heinsohn. Towards the end of the decade, the Celtics drafted junior Larry Bird of Indiana State with the sixth pick in the 1978 draft. After staying an extra year in college, Bird debuted for Boston during the 1979-80 season and served as a core for the team to build around. The Celtics ended up trading two draft choices to the Golden State Warriors in exchange for center Robert Parish as well as their first round pick. That first rounder ended up being the third pick overall, and with that the Celtics drafted University of Minnesota power forward Kevin McHale. These three superstar players were known as the “Big 3” and they led the Celtics to win the championship in 1981, 1984 and 1986. That marked the sixteenth title in franchise history, and an NBA record.

Rivalry with the LA Lakers

In 1985, the Celtics met arch-rivals the Los Angeles Lakers in the NBA Finals. While the Celtics had previously dominated the Lakers in the postseason, this time L.A. took it. This was the first time the Lakers defeated the Celtics for a championship, and the only time the Celtics lost a championship at Boston Garden.

Struggles and Tragedy

Eventually the “Big 3” retired. Auerbach as General Manager secured the second overall choice in the 1986 draft, and picked up Maryland’s Len Bias in the hope of keeping the franchise strong. Tragically, Bias died just two days later due to a drug overdose. Another promising player was taken from the team in his prime when Reggie Lewis died of a heart attack in 1993. These incidents foreshadowed the challenges the team faced over the next decade.

The New "Big 3"

However, by 1998 the franchise returned to prominence and dominance. They drafted Paul Pierce with the tenth overall pick, and traded for a list of marquee players. Their supremacy culminated with the franchise’s record seventeenth championship in the 2007-2008 season, led by the new “Big 3:” Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen.

The Celtics and Black History

The Boston Celtics’ role in history isn’t limited to their dominance on the court: When they signed Chuck Cooper in 1950, Boston became the first franchise to draft an African American player. Then in 1964 the Celtics boasted the first squad to have an all African American starting lineup. Finally after the 1965-66 season when Auerbach retired as coach, Bill Russell took over and became the first black coach in the NBA.


Today the Celtics have relocated from the venerable Boston Garden and play their home games at the TD Garden. Their legacy is a dominant one, and the Boston Celtics have cemented their place in the history books as one of the winningest sports franchises of all time.

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