Celtics Forgotten 50: Part 3 — Franchise in Transition
When Bill Russell retired in 1969, the Boston Celtics went four years without winning a title. At the time, it felt like a basketball drought for Celtics fans. And then came Larry Bird’s retirement in 1992 which brought about the kind of basketball famine this proud franchise knew absolutely nothing about.
When Boston won it all in 2008, that snapped a 22-year-old streak of title-less seasons for the Celtics. There were plenty of good moments during the 20-plus years Boston went without a title.
But following Bird’s retirement and prior to winning it all in 2008, Boston had been to the postseason just six times with only two postseason trips that lasted more than one round. That group clearly didn’t win nearly as much as their Celtic predecessors.
But like so many before them, they did play a role in the franchise’s growth to where it is now and they too should not be forgotten.
39. Dino Radja
It’s not unusual for the Boston Celtics to dip their toes into the pool of international talent these days. But in the 1990s, international talent in the NBA was rare.
That is part of what made Dino Radja stand out as the first international star of sorts for the Celtics.
During his four seasons in Boston, the 6-11 big man averaged 16.7 points and 8.4 rebounds per game. While wins were hard to come by in Boston, the Croatian big man was among the most decorated players internationally of his generation which landed him a spot in the Basketball Hall of Fame in 2018.
40. Darius Songaila
Darius Songaila never played a single minute for the Boston Celtics, but he does have a place in Celtics lore.
He was the first player that “Trader Danny” Ainge moved on from after Ainge became the General Manager in 2003.
Songaila, a 2002 second-round pick of the Celtics, was traded June 25, 2003, to Sacramento in exchange for a 2003 second-round pick used to select Brandon Hunter, and a 2005 second-round pick used to select Orien Greene.
Neither made much of an impact, but Ainge fared better the next day on draft night when he traded a pair of first-round picks for the right to select Kendrick Perkins, a key member of the 2008 championship team.
41. Al Jefferson
As the first high school player drafted by the Boston Celtics in 2004, that alone etched Al Jefferson a spot in the annals of Celtics history. But Jefferson’s contributions went far beyond where he was selected.
It was the potential Jefferson showed early in his career that helped deliver Kevin Garnett to Boston in 2007, a deal that brought about the franchise’s 17th NBA title in Garnett’s first year in Boston.
As a Celtic, Jefferson appeared in 68 games while averaging 10.3 points and 6.9 rebounds. However, he began to show signs of being a dominant low-post scorer near the end of the 2006-2007 season.
Jefferson would play 14 seasons, averaging 15.7 points and 8.4 rebounds prior to announcing his retirement in March 2020.
42. Dee Brown
The 1990s for the Boston Celtics can best be described as a decade of disappointment, with the team consistently failing to make much of any kind of playoff noise.
The decade ended with Boston failing to make the playoffs in six of the last seven seasons.
But one of the few bright spots during that time was the play of Dee Brown, whose above-the-rim exploits provided some much-needed excitement for the Celtics fan base.
One of the highlights of his time in Boston was Brown winning the NBA’s Slam Dunk contest in 1991 which included his signature, no-look jam.
43. Sherman Douglas
Sherman Douglas was the first-ever point guard for the Miami Heat, in 1989. But the best years of his basketball career came with the Boston Celtics.
Douglas, a member of the NBA’s all-rookie team when he was with the Heat, was the catalyst in helping Boston get to the playoffs in 1995.
Boston closed out the season with wins in seven of its last 11 games, a run that began with Douglas delivering a 29-point, 7-assist performance in Boston’s 100-99 win over Miami that year.
The Celtics would lose to the top-seeded Orlando Magic in the first round of the playoffs. Boston would not return to the postseason until six years later, in 2002.
44. Dana Barros
Dana Barros was a shooter who could get it going at any given moment.
During his first stint with the Boston Celtics (1995-2000), the Boston College alum went on an unprecedented run of 3-point shooting.
He would make at least one 3-pointer in 89 consecutive games, a record that stood until Kyle Korver broke it in 2013 — a span of nearly two decades. The current record holder is Stephen Curry, who made at least one 3-pointer in 157 consecutive games.
45. Kevin Gamble
The inevitable decline of Larry Bird and Kevin McHale afforded a number of players an opportunity for increased playing time for many, including Kevin Gamble.
The 6-5 Gamble spent six seasons (1988-1994) in Boston after what had been a vagabond of a basketball career with stops in Portland, the CBA and overseas before eventually catching the eye of the Celtics. He would prove to be a key performer in 1991 when he averaged a career-high 15.6 points per game.
46. Kenny Anderson
The widely accepted canon for Kenny Anderson’s basketball career is somewhere between his lofty status as one of the best high school players ever and his time with the New Jersey Nets (now in Brooklyn) after they selected him with the No. 2 pick in the 1991 NBA draft.
But in terms of postseason success, Anderson’s four-plus seasons (1998-2002) in Boston stood out for all the right reasons.
Anderson’s floor leadership during the 2002 playoffs was instrumental in Boston advancing to the Eastern Conference Finals — it had been more than a decade (1988) since the Celtics went that deep into the postseason — where they were knocked off by Anderson’s former team, the Nets.
47. Walter McCarty
Walter McCarty made quite an impression on Boston Celtics fans during his playing days, but no one seemed to love “Wahl-tah” more than Tommy Heinsohn.
While there’s no official tally, would anyone be surprised if McCarty was the franchise’s all-time leader in Tommy Points?
McCarty spent eight seasons with Boston, averaging 5.7 points per game while shooting 34.9 percent from 3-point range.
And while the numbers won’t wow you, the hustle and multiple effort plays he made consistently stood out to many — maybe no one more than two-time Hall of Famer Tommy Heinsohn.
48. Tony Battie
When the Boston Celtics acquired Tony Battie via trade from the Los Angeles Lakers, few would have envisioned how Battie being a Celtic would impact the franchise.
When teammate Paul Pierce was stabbed 11 times in 2000 at a local nightclub, it was Battie who rushed him to New England Medical Center to be treated.
Battie’s quick-thinking saved Pierce’s life, extending a basketball career in Boston that put Pierce on the short list of all-time great Celtics.
49. Tony Allen
Tony Allen showed signs of being an above-average defender early on his career with the Boston Celtics.
But it didn’t take long before his suffocating, in-your-face brand of basketball ranked among the best in the NBA while providing Boston with a piece to its championship puzzle that was among the more below-the-radar contributions to them bringing home Banner 17.
Allen’s greatest team success came as a Celtic, but he would go on to become the face of the Memphis Grizzlies franchise with his “Grit and Grind” brand of basketball that ended with him having his jersey No. 9 retired.
50. Chauncey Billups
The career arc of Chauncey Billups was defined by his time in Detroit. He led the Pistons to the franchise’s third NBA title, in 2004, along with being named NBA Finals MVP that year.
But for Celtics fans, he serves as yet another reminder of the many bad decisions made by Rick Pitino, who drafted Billups and then traded him away during his rookie season.
Billups, a five-time All-Star, held no grudge against the organization.
This was evident by him — along with former Celtics assistant coach Tyronn Lue — strongly encouraging Kevin Garnett to come to Boston, where he helped lead the franchise to an NBA title in 2008.