With the recent news of the retirement of Keven Garnett’s number a lot of murmuring has taken place on whether or not Ray Allen deserves the same honor. Before getting too deep into that question, it’s important to look at those who have gone before and why their numbers are synonymous with the Boston Celtics. Names such as founder, Walter Brown, Ed Macauley, Bob Cousy, and K.C. Jones to list just a few. All 23 retirees have embodied the Celtics culture and have both endeared themselves the City of Boston and earned the respect of players, coaches and basketball fans across the nation. Trying to highlight just a few names, Red Auerbach, Tommy Heinshon, Bill Russell and most recently, The Truth himself Paul Pierce connect all fans, while keeping the standard of what it means to be a Boston Celtic.
Red Auerbach #2
“The Boston Celtics are not a basketball team, they are a way of life.“ Even though Red never donned the uniform, #2 was retired to the rafters on January 4, 1985. Coaching for 16 seasons, he won nine championships. Red never would settle for mediocrity on or off the court. “Winners train, losers complain. Give me twelve players that want to win and they will find a way to win.” He was a pioneer in integrating the game of basketball by drafting the fist African-American, Chuck Cooper and had the leagues first all African-American starting 5. This wasn’t done to make any statement, he respected his players’ abilities and choose them accordingly. “I wasn’t even aware of it,” Auerbach once said about his historical lineup breakthrough in 1964. “They brought it to my attention later on. All we were trying to do here, all the time, is play the guys that, in our opinion, whether I’m coaching or someone else is coaching, is going to win the ballgame. That’s all.” Red engulfed himself in the culture and loved his team. When a coach or player chooses to make the Celtics their way of life, the franchise honors that and the fans keep him close to their hearts.
Tommy Heinsohn #15
“I try to put all I am as a person into what I do. My intelligence, my emotion. I’ve done that in everything.” There is no doubt that Tommy Heinsohn is known by Celtics fans of any age. He spent all nine of his years in Boston, winning eight championships while wearing the shamrock uniform. He averaged nearly 19 points and 9 rebounds a game. Pretty impressive for a power forward of his era. He retired in 1965, but Boston found they couldn’t live without him and brought him back in 1969 as head coach. He lead the team to two more championships during his time at the helm. He’s now one of the most, if not the most, loved announcer in Boston’s history. Known and unashamed for his biased calling, Tommy embodies what it is to be a Celtics fan. As the officials make the calls he doesn’t agree with, it’s not uncommon to hear the groans or “that’s ridiculous!” With almost any Celtics rookie that steps on the court, you hear the excitement in Tommy’s voice as he says, “Oh this kid is gonna be good.” There’s not another franchise around that can boast of having an announcer that loves their team more than Tommy. As a player, a coach or now broadcaster there’s never a time Tommy, at the end of the night, hasn’t left everything in the arena. To honor him #15 was hung in the rafters on October 15, 1966.
Bill Russell #6
“The most important measure of how good a game I played was how much better I’d made my teammates play.” If ever there was a quote that embodied the culture of the Boston Celtics, it’s this. Bill understood that in Boston, it’s a team effort, never a one man show. During his 13 seasons with the Celtics, he saw 11 championships, was a 5-time MVP, owns the title of best rebounder in the franchise history with 21,620, and if the league counted blocks back the, most likely would hold the title for that as well. As the 1966 season was coming to a close, and knew his coach was retiring, instead of playing for anyone else, Bill decided he would coach his beloved team. He took the reigns and won back to back titles in 1968 and 1969. That’s what it looks like to bleed green. He demanding greatness and didn’t apologize for it. “Heart in champions has to do with the depth of our motivation and how well your mind and body react to pressure – that is, being able to do what you do best under maximum pain and stress.” That’s how a winner and a legend it born. He was never one for accolades, proven in the quiet ceremony which took him three years to agree to. On March 12, 1972, with “no crowd present” #6 was hoisted to the rafters before the Celtics hosted the Knicks. To the present day, the Celtics “Create unselfishness as the most important team attribute,” and therefore honor Bill in all they do.
Paul Pierce #34
“When you give a team life, give a team confidence, anything can happen in Game 7.” When a young Paul Pierce made his way to Boston in 2000, fans didn’t realize what was coming then. “The Truth” brought the will to work and the will to win back to the franchise after many years of no title contentions. He knew, “The Celtics don’t celebrate anything but championships” and was ready to bring the trophy back to this great city. In 2008 Paul led his team to Title #17, ending the 20 year drought. In his 13 years with the Celtics Paul earned the ranking of best 3-point made and attempted, most steals and free throws made. He is second in all time points scored, and just behind Parish and Havlicek in total games played with the franchise. Not ending his career as a Celtic was disappointing for all, but as he signed with the organization in order to retire as one brought joy to fans of all ages. The Truth knows what it means to be a part of this great franchise and deserves to be immortalized forever in the rafters. As he fought back the tears on February 18, 2019, Paul said, “When you’re forever with the Celtics, you’re forever.”
Kevin Garnett #5
“I’m honored and thankful to have my number retired with the Celtics. I will always have immense respect and appreciation for ownership, Danny Ainge, Doc Rivers, my past teammates and Celtic Nation!” Even though Kevin can only boast about one championship during his time in Boston he is both endeared by the fans and respected by the organization. He connected with the culture in Boston, more so than anywhere else he played, and deserves to be honored for what he’s done here. Kevin, like Pierce, knew that the only thing worth celebrating in Boston is a championship. “I don’t play to sweat, I play to win.” He also knew that basketball, at least while wearing a white and green uniform, was not an individual sport. “I want to be known as the best teammate ever.” Danny Ainge confirmed this mentality as he said, “KG has had as big an impact as anybody I’ve been around in an organization. The thing that stands out the most to me about KG is his team-first mentality. He never wanted it to be about KG, individual success to trump team success. He lived that in his day-to-day practice. That’s something I’ll remember about him.” Nothing embodies the Celtics spirit more than “team-first.” Winning is great, but when it’s not together, it can be meaningless. Fans will be looking forward to the ceremony in which they will see #5 hoisted up and remembered forever.
Not Everyone Can Be Immortal
With all of these aforementioned Celtic Greats and how they demonstrated above and beyond what it means to be a part of his amazing organization, it unfortunately means there are some who have worn the uniform who will not be forever remembered. Ray Allen is most likely is among that list. Fans took Ray in, loved him, respected him, but ultimately felt betrayed as he went to Miami, a rival team, for less money, to chase after another championship. here’s an innate desire to win in every player who steps on the court, at least there should be, but when it comes in a selfish manner everyone loses. During his time with the Celtics Ray did win a championship and was loved because of it. Ray’s downfall was he never had the team-first mentality. He couldn’t accept his roll of coming off the bench, forgetting that Boston has a high regard for their 6th man and the like. That’s not a away to endear oneself to the fans, let alone the organization. To say if he should have his number immortalized is not for any one person to decide, but after seeing what all those who have had their numbers raised, there’s no comparison in their love of the Boston Celtics verses Ray Allen’s. It’s not easy to come to a sports town like this, but if one embraces the culture and truly #bleedsgreen, they will forever be loved and live forever.
Feature Photo By Stuart Cahill/MediaNews Group/Boston Herald