One of the most successful and celebrated franchises in professional sports, the Celtics have captured 16 NBA championships since their founding in 1946. From 1959 through 1966, they won eight titles to establish the longest streak of consecutive championships in United States sports history. The Celtics have faced the Los Angeles Lakers ten times in the NBA Finals, establishing one of the best-known rivalries in professional basketball.
Under coach Red Auerbach, Celtic lineups featured early NBA greats such as guards Bob Cousy, K.C. Jones, Sam Jones, and Bill Sharman; forwards John Havlicek and Frank Ramsey; and center Bill Russell. Coach Tommy Heinsohn led the franchise to two more titles in 1974 and 1976 with a lineup featuring center Dave Cowens, forward Paul Silas, and guard Jo Jo White.
During the 1980s the Celtics appeared in five NBA Finals, winning titles in 1981, 1984, and 1986. Led by head coach K.C. Jones, the Celtic lineups in the 1980s starred forward Kevin McHale, center Robert Parish, and three-time NBA most valuable player (MVP), forward Larry Bird.
The Celtics entered the newly formed Basketball Association of America (BAA) in 1946. In 1949 the BAA and the National Basketball League (NBL) merged to become the NBA, and the next year the Celtics picked up two key players center Ed Macauley and rookie Bob Cousy after their teams had folded. Before the 1951-52 season, the franchise acquired Bill Sharman.
Rookie Bill Russell joined the Celtics in 1956 and brought the team overnight success. Boston defeated the St. Louis Hawks in 1957 for their first NBA championship in a dramatic double-overtime seventh game. With the addition of K.C. Jones before the 1958-59 season, the Celtic dynasty was in place. That year Boston swept the Minneapolis Lakers to capture the NBA championship. The Celtics and Lakers met in six more NBA Finals during the 1960s.
Auerbach coached the Celtics to seven more NBA championships from 1960 through 1966 as Cousy, Havlicek, Tom Heinsohn, Frank Ramsey, Russell, and Sharman dominated the league. The 1964 finals featured an exhilarating matchup of Russell and center Wilt Chamberlain of the San Francisco Warriors.
In the seventh game of the 1965 finals against the Lakers (now located in Los Angeles), Havlicek stepped in front of an inbounds pass for a steal with five seconds left, securing the Celtics victory and inciting announcer Johnny Most to utter a cry that would become legendary, Havlicek stole the ball! Havlicek stole the ball! Auerbach retired after the 1966 victory over the Lakers. Russell took over as player-coach, becoming the first black head coach in major league professional sports.
In 1967 the Celtics string of eight championship victories was finally broken, but the aging team put together two more championship victories against the Lakers in 1968 and 1969. Russell retired before the 1970-71 season, and Heinsohn took over as head coach. Boston finished the season with its first losing record in 20 years. Two seasons later a new Celtics era began, led by Dave Cowens, Paul Silas, and Jo Jo White, although the team fell to the New York Knicks in the division finals. The next season, 1973-74, the Celtics bested the Milwaukee Bucks for the NBA championship. A victory over the Phoenix Suns in 1976 gave the franchise its 13th NBA crown.
The Celtics entered a rebuilding phase following the 1976 victory. A new wave of talented players included Larry Bird, who won the rookie of the year award in the 1979-80 season and energized the team with his talented shooting and passing. With the addition of Robert Parish and Kevin McHale, the Celtics again became the dominant force in the league and appeared in five NBA Finals during the 1980s.
The Celtics captured the 1981 NBA championship, but they failed to win the conference title the next two years. Former star K.C. Jones was named head coach and guided the team to three NBA championship battles against the Lakers from 1984 through 1987. The rivalries between the Celtics and the Lakers and between Bird and Laker great Magic Johnson revitalized professional basketball during the 1980s. After losing to the Lakers in the 1985 NBA Finals, the Celtics secured another NBA title by defeating the Houston Rockets in 1986. In their next finals appearance the injury-plagued team was bested by the Lakers.
The Celtics were no longer a dominant force in the 1990s. Bird retired before the 1992-93 season, and young star forward Reggie Lewis died of heart failure in 1993. During the 1994-95 season, the Celtics moved from the Boston Garden, where they had played since their founding, to a new home at the FleetCenter.