Five Boston Celtics who played in the Olympics
BOSTON – Team USA is doing what it seems to do every four years at the Olympics – crush any team standing in its way of coming home with the gold.
While there are no Boston Celtics on the current Olympic roster, Boston has had its fair share of talented players on Team USA in the past.
Here’s a look at five of the more memorable Celtics who have achieved one of the greatest honors a basketball player can have, which is to represent their country in the ultimate stage for international play – the Olympics.
5. K.C. Jones
Just like the talent he coached with the Boston Celtics often overshadowed his acumen as a strategist, being overlooked was a given during his playing days with Bill Russell, a teammate at the University of San Francisco and with the Celtics. That said, Jones was a solid contributor to the Team USA’s gold-medal worthy play in the 1956 Olympics in Melbourne, Australia. Jones was a strong defender and showed he score as well by averaging 10.9 points per game, which included double-figure efforts in the last five games for Team USA. With the Celtics, Jones won eight NBA titles (1959-1966) as a player and another two (1984 and 1986) as the team’s head coach and was inducted into the Naismith Hall of Fame in 1989.
4. Clyde Lovellette
A 6-foot-9 forward with both a back-to-the-basket game as well as the ability to score from the perimeter, Lovellette provided the kind of versatility that proved to be a key to the USA continuing its gold rush in the Olympics during the 1952 Olympics in Helsinki, Finland. He averaged 13.9 points which is impressive when you consider the stall tactics some teams used (Soviet Union) to try and slow the game down. Lovellette set the tone for being an across-the-board winner, too. Lovellette became the first player to win an NCAA title (1952, Kansas), an Olympic gold medal (1952) and an NBA title. In addition to winning a title in 1954 with the Minnesota (now Los Angeles) Lakers, he would later serve as a backup to Bill Russell in a pair of NBA title-winning teams (1963 and 1964) with the Celtics. He was inducted into the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame in 1988.
3. Jo Jo White
In one of the rare Olympics where the United States team wasn’t the overwhelming favorite, the underdog 1968 USA team surprised many in running the tables in Mexico City towards yet another gold medal for the United States. And leading the way through many of those victories was Jo Jo White. Racial tensions throughout the country led to some of the game’s best players at the time like Lew Alcindor (Kareem Abdul-Jabbar) and Elvin Hayes opting to not play for Team USA. White, with the help from Spencer Haywood whose play set the tone for his hall of fame career, were able to carry the United States’ team to an undefeated record with White averaging 11.7 points along the way. White would go on to have a Hall of Fame career in Boston, which is where he spent the first 10 of his 12 NBA seasons. A two-time NBA champion (1974 and 1976) which included being Finals MVP (1976), White was inducted into the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame in 2015.
2. Larry Bird
By the time the Dream Team was formed in 1992, Larry Bird’s best days as a pro were behind him. But that doesn’t diminish the role the then-35-year-old Bird (the oldest player on the team) had on arguably the most talented Olympics team ever assembled. The United States has had the rest of the world playing catch-up when it comes to basketball for quite some time, but it was the 1992 gold-medal winning squad in Barcelona that really drove home just how much better the NBA’s best were relative to the “elite” players from other countries. How good were they? Bird was elected to the Naismith Hall of Fame in 1998, with the “Dream Team” getting into the Hall of Fame 12 years later. He spent his entire career with the Celtics, earning a trio of league MVP awards along with being a 12-time all-star. Bird’s success since retiring has been just as impressive. He is the only person in league history to be named league MVP in addition to winning coach of the Year and Executive of the Year awards afterwards, both of which have come with the Indiana Pacers.
1. Bill Russell
It wasn’t until Russell came on the international scene did basketball fans and aficionados ever fully understood what team basketball was about. You would be hard-pressed to find many players at any level in any sport who were as selfless about their craft as Russell. It was that team-before-self mindset that led to NCAA titles at the University of San Francisco, a gold medal in the 1956 Olympics in Melbourne, Australia and of course, the accumulation of NBA hardware (11 titles as a player, another two as the Celtics’ head coach) that at times he made look acquiring, rather easy. Of course it wasn’t; it required him to play his best and adapt to whatever role was required. And as much as attention seemed to find a way to gravitate to him, the 1974 Naismith Hall of Fame inductee never wavered when it came to giving the credit for the Celtics’ success to both his contributions and those of his teammates.