With spring looming, next comes spring cleaning, and my first task will be to remove the clutter in TD Garden’s rafters. That is, the abundance of Boston Celtics retired numbers – many of which don’t belong there, as we shall soon see.
For reference, the Celtics are in their 74th season of play, and they have retired 23 numbers (one twice, but we’ll get to that). By contrast, this is the Red Sox’ 120th season, and they have just 10 numbers retired, and the Bruins (81 seasons) have 11 in the same Garden rafters.
This is pertinent to the Celtics right now because they recently announced that they’re going to retire Kevin Garnett’s No. 5 jersey sometime next season, the 24th to be raised to the rafters.
Let’s break this down in chronological order of the number-retirement ceremonies.
Bob Cousy (#14) — One of the greatest playmakers and passers in NBA history, “The Cooz” spent all 13 seasons with the Celtics, was the point guard of six NBA champions (in a seven-year span), and was a 13-time All-Star. He is in the Hall of Fame, and was named to the NBA 25th Anniversary All-Time Team in 1970, 35th Anniversary All-Time Team in 1980, and one of the 50 Greatest Players in NBA History in 1996. He is a very deserving retired number.
Ed Macauley (#22) – He played six seasons for the C’s, and while he was an All-Star and first-team All-NBA each season, it’s worth noting that there were only eight teams in the league then, so the pool of players was much smaller than in today’s 30-team league. He never won a championship for Boston, and his career average was 17.5 PPG. Not good enough, Easy Ed – sorry.
Walter Brown (#1) – Brown was not a player; he was the team’s founder and owner, starting the franchise in 1946 and overseeing it until his death in 1964. Having a number retired for an owner is a bad precedent, and I don’t necessarily care that he was the president of the original Boston Garden and of the Bruins in the 1950s, and played a critical role in creating the NBA. He can take solace in his well-deserved induction into both the Hockey and Basketball Halls of Fame. But a retired number? Nope.
Tom Heinsohn (#15) – Won eight championships in his first nine years as a player, then coached the team to two more titles in the 1970s. Heinsohn was a six-time All-Star and is a Hall-of-Famer, and has become even more beloved around here in his role as the team’s cantankerous TV color analyst. Tommy belongs.
Bill Sharman (#21) – Played 10 seasons in Boston, helping the team to four championships in the eight-team league. That doesn’t do much for me, but he was also an eight-time All-Star, and was named to the NBA 25th Anniversary All-Time team and selected as one of the 50 Greatest Players in NBA History. He’s also in the NBA Hall, so that clinches his spot in the rafters, but a career PPG average of just 17.8 is bothersome to me.
K.C. Jones (#25) – In just nine NBA seasons, Jones served as the point guard for eight championship teams for Boston. He also led the Celtics to two more crowns in the 1980s as their head coach, and is also in the Naismith Hall, so K.C. can remain up there.
Sam Jones (#24) – Jones played 12 NBA seasons and won 10 titles with the Celtics. He was named to the NBA’s 25th Anniversary All-Time Team and to the 50 Greatest Players in NBA History list. He was a five-time All-Star and currently ranks as the sixth all-time leading scorer in Celtics history, and “NBA Hall-of-Famer” means his number probably deserves to remain retired.
Bill Russell (#6) – No further discussion need take place, unless 11 championships in 13 seasons (including two as a player-coach) mean nothing to you.
Tom Sanders (#16) – In Satch’s 13 seasons, he won eight titles in Boston, primarily as a defensive specialist. I recognize the importance of these kinds of players on championship teams, but he averaged just 24 minutes per game, along with career averages of 9.6 PPG, 6.3 rebounds, and 1.1 assists. I don’t think he belongs in the rafters with his more-deserving teammates.
Don Nelson (#19) – “Nellie” played 14 NBA seasons, 11 in Boston, and was part of five championship teams. Still, his career averages for the Celtics are pedestrian: 11.4 PPG, 5.2 RPG, and 1.6 APG. He is in the Hall of Fame, but as a coach, and never as a head coach in Boston. Thumbs down.
Jim Loscutoff (LOSCY) — Loscutoff asked the team not to retire his No. 18 jersey at the end of his career, in order that another player could wear it in the future. But retired number or not, he doesn’t belong up there in the first place, not with career averages of 6.2 points, 5.6 rebounds, and .7 assists per game. I am aware that legendary head coach Red Auerbach loved him, and Loscutoff was physical and intimidating, but he should never have been considered for this honor.
John Havlicek (#17) – You can look it up: “Hondo” was a transformative player that led the C’s to eight titles in his 18 seasons, and he still holds many team records. He stays.
Dave Cowens (#18) – No. 18 did eventually make it to the rafters, but not for Loscutoff. Cowens is a little bit of a marginal stats guy, but he won two titles in Boston, was a 13-time All-Star, and was named to the NBA’s 25th Anniversary All-Time Team and to the 50 Greatest Players in NBA History list. The Hall of Fame voters let him in, so I will let his No. 18 remain up in the Garden.
JoJo White (#10) – JoJo played 10 seasons in Boston, and was a seven-time All-Star as the team’s point guard in the 1970s. Averaging 18.4 points per game as the team’s playmaker is pretty decent, but he probably should have averaged more than five assists per game, and he “only” won two titles in Boston. Borderline, but I’ll let JoJo stay.
“Red” Auerbach (#2) – Like the owner, Auerbach never played for the C’s, but he coached the team to nine championships in 10 seasons, and he also helped integrate basketball. His “number” being retired was strictly in tribute to his myriad contributions to the franchise, and they can’t be denied. He can remain up there.
Dennis Johnson (#3) – DJ is a Hall-of-Famer, but primarily for his 14-year career, of which only half was spent in Boston, where he won championships in 1984 and 1986. His numbers were average, however, and he probably doesn’t deserve to be among the all-time Celtics greats.
Larry Bird (#33) – This guy, was one of the all-time greats. Next!
Kevin McHale (#34) – See above.
Reggie Lewis (#35) – Less than two years after Lewis’s tragic death from cardiac arrest at the age of 27, the Celtics decided to honor him with a number-retirement ceremony. I can understand that line of thinking, but Reggie only played six seasons, and his number being included among the others in the rafters is purely emotional and reactionary, and not based in the reality that his career was brief.
Robert Parish (#00) – An underappreciated member of the “Big Three” of the 1980s, “The Chief” remains second all-time in games played and rebounds, fourth in all-time points, and he leads the team in blocks. ‘Nuff said.
Cedric Maxwell (#31) – Does a player with 13.7 points and 6.6 rebounds per game in his eight-year Boston tenure deserve to have his number retired? Uh, no.
Paul Pierce (#34) – A no-brainer, and the only deserving Celtic to have his number retired in the 2000s. “The Truth” played 13 seasons, and he sits only behind Parish and Havlicek in total games played. Pierce is second all-time in points scored for Boston, and is the all-time leader in made three-pointers, steals, and made free throws.
Kevin Garnett (#5) – The Celtics’ recent announcement about their plan to retire the Big Ticket’s number generated a lot of discussion on both sides. Yes, folks, I know he “changed the culture” when he was traded to Boston in 2007, which was 21 years removed from the last Celtics championship. But he played only six seasons here, and missed a lot of time to injury in his last five. He led the C’s to their only title of the millennium, in 2008, but Garnett, while an important piece during the team’s renaissance in the late 2010s, is not worthy of a number being retired for just 396 games played over six seasons. Sorry.
And don’t even get me started on Ray Allen.