The Boston Celtics are considered basketball royalty for many reasons. For starters, the Celtics are one of the league’s eight original teams that competed in its inaugural season in 1946. Then known as the Basketball Association of America (BAA), the league later merged with rival league, the National Basketball League (NBL), to form the National Basketball Association (NBA). Second, the Celtics are one of only two charter BAA franchises that still play in their original city, the other being perennial rivals, the New York Knicks. Due to the Celtic’s longevity, you may be wondering how many NBA World Championships do the Celtics have?
How many World Championships do the Celtics have? The Celtics are tied with their long-time archenemies, the Los Angeles Lakers, for the most NBA World Championships, having won 17 in their storied history.
The Celtics are such an integral part of the NBA’s history that the only way one can attempt to do justice and outline their success in detail is to do so by highlighting the different eras in which they attained their glory.
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The Bill Russell Era
Contrary to conventional wisdom, winning in a professional sports league like the NBA does not come by sheer luck, it comes through systematically putting in place the necessary pieces to succeed over a period of time. The Celtics had done just that in the late 40s and early 50s and by the time the 1956 draft came by, coach Arnold Jacob Auerbach, fondly and commonly known as Red Auerbach, was aware that the Celtics were just the right piece away from bagging the NBA World Championship that had eluded them so far. That piece was none other than future multiple-time Hall of Famer Bill Russell.
Auerbach, who was a pioneer in his own right, went against the grain by identifying Russell as his primary target in that draft for the defensive mindset and next-to-none rebounding ability the ex-University of San Francisco standout possessed, which the Celtics were in dire need of. Red had seemingly purposed not to let Russell slip through the Celtic’s fingers and agreed to trade both then six-time All-Star center Ed Macauley and forward Cliff Hagan to the St. Louis Hawks, who had acquired Russell with the second overall pick of the draft for the rights to “The Secretary of Defense”.
That decision quickly paid dividends as the Celtics won their first-ever franchise NBA Championship in the 1956-57 season led by Russell alongside forwards Frank Ramsey and Tom Heinsohn and guards Bob Cousy and Bill Sharman. What made that title perhaps even sweeter is the fact that they beat the same St. Louis Hawks who had passed on Russell to win it.
The St. Louis Hawks would have their revenge the following season by beating the Celtics to win their own championship the following season on an account of an injured Bill Russell who missed games 4 and 5 of the series with a foot injury the five-time NBA MVP sustained in game 3. That finals loss became the only detour to Russell’s and the Celtics’ dominance of that era.
In a League of Their Own
The Celtics quickly reestablished their place atop the basketball in the 1958-59 season by winning a then league record 52 games behind Russell’s awe-inspiring performances. Russell averaged an impressive 16.7 points and 23.0 rebounds and led the Celtics past all comers to the finals, where they dismantled the Minneapolis Lakers 4-0 to win their second title.
From that point on, the defending champions proved to be too much for the rest of the league, winning another seven consecutive titles from their 1959-60 to 1965-66 seasons against teams such as the St. Louis Hawks, the Philadelphia/San Francisco Warriors, the Los Angeles Lakers, and the Philadelphia 76ers. Aside from having arguably one of the best players to have ever played the game of basketball in Russell, the Celtics’ success during this period can also be attributed to a winning blueprint that they formulated. This blueprint was so effective that the Celtics continued to win even after one of their best players in point guard Bob Cousy retired after the 1962-63 season by drafting an equally talented player in forward John Havlicek.
Russell led the Celtics to their last two NBA Championships of that era as player/head coach in their 1967-68 and 1968-69 seasons. When it was all said and done, Russell had led the Celtics to 11 NBA titles in his legendary 13-year career, firmly establishing them as the golden standard in the NBA.
The Post Bill Russell Era
After Russell’s retirement, the Celtics entered a short rebuilding period and using their winning blueprint, managed to land gems in center Dave Cowens and playmaker JoJo White. Cowens and White joined veteran forward John Havlicek, forming the core of Celtics players striving to return the franchise to its former glory.
The three under the coaching of Celtics great Tom Heinsohn, bagged two NBA titles in 1974 and 1976 against the Milwaukee Bucks and the Phoenix Suns respectively, taking their total of NBA World Championships to 13.
The Original “Big Three” Era
The Celtics yet again entered a short rebuilding period and managed to strike gold for a third time by drafting Larry Bird as the sixth overall pick in the 1978 NBA draft. Bird quickly established himself as the franchise’s centerpiece, earning himself the moniker “Larry Legend” for his spectacular on-court performances.
Bird was a talisman but couldn’t get it done on his own in the ultra-competitive league that the NBA was becoming. This reality prompted the magician himself, Red Auerbach, then the Celtics’ president, to step in and once again conjure his dynasty-forming magic. Red did exactly that by trading the top overall pick of the 1980 NBA draft, which belonged to the Celtics, and an additional first-round pick to the Golden State Warriors for Center Robert Parish and the Warriors’ own first-round pick. The Celtics then used that pick to select power forward Kevin McHale as the third overall pick of that draft.
With the trio of Bird, McHale, and Parish as their core players, the Celtics quickly reclaimed the basketball throne winning three NBA titles in 1981, 1984, and 1986 against the Houston Rockets, the Los Angeles Lakers, and the Houston Rockets again respectively. Those triumphs took the Celtics’ tally of NBA World Championships to 16.
The “New Big Three” Era
The Celtics would struggle to find players worthy of executing their winning blueprint for the next two decades even after drafting star small forward Paul Pierce as the 10th overall pick of the 1998 draft. Their fortunes however quickly changed after executing two genius trades with the Minnesota Timberwolves and the Seattle SuperSonics in 2007 for center Kevin Garnett and marksman Ray Allen respectively. Pierce together with Garnett and Allen formed the Celtics’ new “Big Three”. They, together with point guard Rajon Rondo, who the Celtics had acquired a year earlier, won the franchise their 17th and final NBA World Championship to date the following season after dispatching the late great Kobe Bryant and his Los Angeles Lakers in six games.
The Celtics may have gone a while without clinching another NBA title since then but as history has proven, “The Green” are far from done. With their new core of forward duo Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown, the Celtics may yet again just be another piece away from regaining championship glory.