The Boston Celtics are the winningest franchise in the history of the NBA with a total of 17 NBA championships won.
Of course, most of these titles were won in the 60s when they were led by the great Bill Russell who wasn’t supposed to be a Celtic in the first place. Now Russell is only one of the biggest steals that the Celtics have nabbed during their 74-year history. The team has a track record of picking diamonds in the rough and this article, we will list down the 10 biggest steals that the Celtics have pulled off in the NBA draft.
1. Bill Russell
Although they weren’t the team that drafted Russell, the Celtics orchestrated a draft-day trade that landed them the winningest player in the history of the NBA.
Bill Russell was drafted by the St. Louis Hawks who agreed to trade the then unproven Russell to the Celtics for Boston’s best player in Ed McCauley and Cliff Hagan who served two years in the Military. The Rochester Royals owned the #1 pick but after Russell asked for a $25,000 bonus from the team that would pick him, they passed on him, allowing the Hawks to pick him 2nd overall. The Celtics took the gamble and the rest is history.
Russell would go on to lead the Celtics to a total of 11 NBA titles during his 13-year career. He was a five-time NBA MVP and was a 12-time All-Star. He was the first African-American basketball player to achieve superstar status and the first as head coach to win an NBA title. He is considered by many as the greatest to ever play the game.
2. Sam Jones
The rookie class of 1957 wasn’t a deep one and by the time the Boston Celtics picked 8th overall, the big names had been taken. Celtics coach Red Auerbach surprised many when he chose Sam Jones with the 8th pick.
Auerbach usually picked players that he had personally seen play. But not only did he not see Jones play before, Jones came out of little known North Carolina Central University. But Auerbach trusted his gut feeling and he got the second biggest draft steal in franchise history.
Jones would go on to play a key role in winning 10 NBA titles. After struggling in his first couple of years in the league, he would average at least 20 points per game from 1964-68 and would finish his career with a scoring average of 17.4 points per game. He wasn’t a star like Bill Russell but the latter would have not won as many titles without Jones. Jones was inducted to the Hall of Fame in 1984.
3. John Havlicek
John Havlicek isn’t just one of the greatest Boston Celtics players of all-time, he is one of the NBA’s 50 greatest players ever. Hondo played for the Ohio State team which won the collegiate title in 1960 but with more prominent teammates, he slipped to 7th overall in the 1962 NBA draft.
Hondo would go on to play 16 seasons with the Celtics, averaging 20.8 points and 6.3 rebounds throughout his career. Havlicek was a dynamo who never tired despite running around for 48 minutes. He was an undersized big man at 6-5 but he made up for it with a big fighting heart.
He will be forever remembered for his steal on Hal Greer’s inbound pass in Game 7 of the 1965 NBA Finals which sealed the Celtics’ 110-109 win. Johnny Most’s “Havlicek stole the ball.” is one of the most iconic play calls in NBA history.
4. Larry Bird
Larry Bird led Indiana State to the NCAA title in 1979, leading the Sycamores to a victory over Magic Johnson and the Michigan State Spartans. Bird would earn numerous honors including the Naismith Player of the Year award. One year earlier, he was selected 6th overall by the Boston Celtics in the 1978 draft as a junior.
Bird was labeled as too slow and unable to defend the bigger and more athletic forwards in the NBA. He came from a school that was hardly known and his home of French Lick was a place not many believed even existed. But not only did he put his hometown on the map, but he also became one of the best forwards to ever lace his basketball shoes.
Larry Legend played 13 seasons with the Celtics. He led the men in green to three championships during the 80s and won for himself three league MVP awards and two Finals MVP honors. He averaged 24.3 points, 10.0 rebounds, and 6.3 assists per game and is one of the greatest players in the history of the league.
5. Danny Ainge
Danny Ainge was a two-sport athlete out of Brigham Young University. He played for three seasons in Major League Baseball, batting .220 while hitting two home runs and 37 RBIs for the Toronto Blue Jays. But he wasn’t as heavily sought after in the NBA as the Celtics were able to select him with the 8th pick of the 2nd Round in the 1981 NBA Draft.
He would go on to have a very good career with the Celtics. Ainge started alongside Dennis Johnson in the backcourt of two championship teams. He was known for his outside shooting and his pesky defense. Ainge was a fiery competitor who became the team’s sparkplug.
Although he was traded to Sacramento and finished his career in Phoenix, he will always have his place in Celtics history. Ainge was a key player for Larry Bird’s teams but as the General Manager of the Celtics, he brought in Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen in a move that culminated with the Celtics winning their most recent championship in 2008.
6. Paul Pierce
Paul Pierce joined the NBA together with the likes of Dirk Nowitzki and Vince Carter, but in a class that included Michael Olowokandi, Robert Traylor, Raef LaFrentz, and Larry Hughes, nine teams passed on Paul Pierce and he was able to go to Boston at #10 in 1998.
He would turn up to be their best pick in almost a decade. Pierce came during Boston’s lean years and when the team had seemed to lose their championship tradition. When Danny Ainge added Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen to the mix, Pierce led the Celtics to the NBA title in 2008, beating Kobe and the Lakers in a thrilling Game 7.
The Truth won Finals MVP in 2008 and scored over 20,000 points during his entire career, a feat only Larry Bird and John Havlicek achieved as a Celtic. He was a member of 10 All-Star teams and five All-NBA squads.
7. Reggie Lewis
Reggie Lewis was the superstar in Boston that bridged the gap between the Larry Bird and Paul Pierce era. He was an overachiever, considering that he was selected 22nd overall by Boston in 1987.
Lewis played alongside Bird, McHale, and Parish and when the three retired, he was the one who carried the torch. He was also the redemption after the Celtics’ 1986 pick Len Bias died of cocaine overdose before playing his first NBA game. Lewis worked his way to the top and in 1992, he was named to his first and only All-Star selection.
Lewis averaged over 20 points per game in each of his last two seasons in Boston. His #35 jersey was retired by the Celtics after his death, making him only the second player after Ed McCauley to have his jersey retired despite not winning a single NBA title with the Celtics.
8. Jo Jo White
Jo Jo White was the Boston Celtics’ 9th overall pick in 1969 after a collegiate career at the storied Kansas Jayhawks’ program. He was the first iron man in the NBA after playing all 82 games for five straight seasons.
White played a key role in Boston’s 12th championship in 1974 where he teamed up with the likes of John Havlicek, Dave Cowens, and Paul Silas. He was also part of the 1976 championship team and was the Finals MVP that season.
White arrived in Boston after Bill Russell’s retirement and he was a spitfire that helped the team bounce back from their first losing season since 1950. He was an underrated point guard with a good jump shot and terrific playmaking abilities.
9. Cedric Maxwell
Cedric Maxwell was never named to a single All-Star team but during the 1981 season he led the Celtics to the NBA title and he was chosen as Finals MVP.
Maxwell was Boston’s 12th overall pick in 1977 after a standout collegiate career at UNC Charlotte. He played eight seasons for the Celtics and aside from 1981, he also won another title with the team in 1984. He was traded in 1986 to the Clippers for Bill Walton but Maxwell will always have his place in Celtics folklore.
His #35 was retired by the Celtics and Maxwell averaged 13.7 points, 6.6 rebounds, and 2.3 assists with the franchise. He is the only NBA Finals MVP who is not enshrined in the Basketball Hall of Fame. But without him, Boston wouldn’t have won at least the 1981 NBA title.
10. Jayson Tatum
The Boston Celtics owned the #1 pick of the 2017 NBA draft but they traded it to the Philadelphia 76ers for the 3rd pick and a future first-rounder. The Sixers ended up picking Markelle Fultz while the Celtics selected Jayson Tatum. The Lakers picked Lonzo Ball in between Fultz and Tatum.
Fast forward to 2020 and Fultz is still trying to find his way around the league. He is now with the Orlando Magic. Ball never lived up to his hype and the Lakers traded him to the Pelicans last summer. As for Tatum, he got his first All-Star nod during the 2019-20 NBA season and was averaging over 20 points per game when the season was suspended.
Number three isn’t too far off the draft board but when it comes to Jayson Tatum, the Celtics not only drafted him but got an extra pick in exchange for the Top pick they were never gonna use on Markelle Fultz anyway. This was one of the brilliant deals of Danny Ainge who earned the nickname Trader Danny as the Celtics GM.