Many greats have come through the Boston Celtics organization as one of the oldest franchises in league history. Yet the list at small forward is slim, with only five players that could claim the right to be among the best to don Celtics green.
These are the top five small forwards in team history:
5. Don Nelson
One of the winningest coaches in NBA history was also quite the player in his heyday. Nelson came to the Celtics in his fourth year in the league after spending his rookie year with the Chicago Zephyrs and the next two with the Los Angeles Lakers.
His numbers weren’t fantastic by any measure, averaging only 11.4 points and 5.2 rebounds during his 11 years with the franchise (1965-76), but he won five championships with the team during an era of absolute dominance by the Celtics.
Nelson had his No. 19 jersey retired by the team in 1978, two years after the retired from the game. He immediately transitioned into the coaching branch of operations with the Milwaukee Bucks.
4. Cedric Maxwell
Maxwell was a man before his time. An incredibly efficient scorer who was well-rounded and a very capable player with star-like potential had he played for a different team than the Celtics. His averages of 19 points and 9.9 rebounds in his second season point out just that.
His game perfectly complemented that of Larry Bird and Nate “Tiny” Archibald, providing a scoring presence in the low-post while Larry Legend picked teams apart with his shooting.
“Ced” led the league in field goal percentage in his second (58.4%) and third seasons (60.9%). He shot 50% or more in each of his first eight seasons in the league, where he averaged 13.7 points and 6.6 rebounds per game. Maxwell was a two-time champion (1981, 1984), as well as the Finals MVP of that first title.
3. Paul Pierce
Perhaps the most familiar of the names for younger generations. Pierce was an indomitable scorer who quickly earned the nickname “The Truth” in his fourth year in the league after Shaquille O’Neal witnessed the Inglewood native pour 42 points (13-of-19 from the floor) over his Los Angeles Lakers in 2001.
Pierce averaged 21.8 points, 6.0 rebounds, 3.9 assists, and 1.4 steals during his 15 seasons in Celtics green. Things came together for him during the 2007-08 season when Ray Allen and Kevin Garnett joined him and mustered a championship in their first season together as The Big Three.
His scoring punch visibly decreased from there as a result of sharing the ball with a top-of-the-line sharpshooter and a Hall of Fame talent like Garnett, but those were the years when his clutch shooting made up for any sacrifices he made on the stat sheet.
Pierce is a 10-time All-Star, a Finals MVP (2008) and a consummate winner, despite splitting his last four seasons between Brooklyn, Washington, and Los Angeles.
2. John Havlicek
Havlicek played all his 16 seasons for the Celtics and boy did he leave a mark. “Hondo” didn’t come into the league as a potent scorer, but his wizardry with the ball didn’t become apparent until he broke out of his sixth-man role into a full-fledged starter in his fifth season.
The Ohio native went from a borderline 20-point scorer to a bona fide one in 1966-67 after becoming a trailblazer of the sixth-man role. Havlicek averaged 20 points or more in eight straight seasons.
Havlicek was known for his unmatched motor and stamina. He led the league in minutes in 1970-71 (45.4 per game) and 1971-72 (45.1).
He was an eight-time champion, a 13-time All-Star, and the MVP of the 1974 NBA Finals. In addition to his on-court wizardry, Hondo was also a top-notch defender, named to the All-Defensive First Team from 1972–1976 and to the Second Team from 1969–1971.
1. Larry Bird
One of the most iconic players to put on a Celtics jersey, and that’s saying something when thinking about the cornucopia of talent the franchise has to offer.
Larry Legend’s career is the stuff, well… of legends. He was drafted with the sixth overall pick in the 1978 NBA Draft but did not suit up on Celtics green until 1979, as he vowed to finish his senior season at Indiana State. Then-coach Red Auerbach vowed not to play Bird more than any other starter, but Bird’s agent quickly threatened to enter the 1979 NBA Draft if his client wasn’t given a better opportunity.
Needless to say, Bird’s agent had all the leverage after threatening to let Bird’s rights expire and the sides soon agreed to a contract that made him the highest-paid rookie in sports history.
Bird would go on to forge a 13-year career with the Celtics, win three championships (1981, 1984, 1986), Finals MVP in the latter two, as well as being named the Most Valuable Player from 1984-86.
His feathery touch, unflappable level of skill, and unmatched confidence were unique at the time and some of the feats he was able to achieve could leave many open-mouthed. He was a 12-time All-Star, the MVP of the 1982 All-Star Game, a member of the All-NBA First Team for nine straight seasons (1980-88).
Rookie of the Year in 1980, won the Three-Point Contest three straight years (1986-88) and put up consecutive 50-40-90 seasons in 1986-87 and 1987-88. His numerous accolades warrant a plaque of its own.
Bird was the star of stars before Michael Jordan took over the throne — the triple-double machine before that was even a stat to obsess about. His career averages of 24.3 points, 10.0 rebounds, 6.3 assists, and 1.7 steals speak for how dominant a player he was during his era, undoubtedly deserving the title of the best small forward in franchise history.