Who are the best centers in Celtics history? Ranking the Top 10
When you look back at all the great Boston Celtics teams, the man in the middle at center often served as the anchor at both ends of the floor. Success offensively frequently centered around the Celtics’ ability to play inside-out basketball, with the center playing a pivotal role either as a scorer or someone who kept the defense honest by keeping the ball moving.
And at the other end of the floor, Boston’s centers have often been the last line of resistance for Boston defensive units that were among the league’s best. Those 17 banners, more than any NBA franchise, are a testament to how the Celtics have navigated the always-rugged terrain of the NBA to find success on levels with a consistency no other franchise can claim.
And the players who have held things down at the center position have been pivotal to that success, many of whom went on to have Hall of Fame careers.
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10. Al Jefferson
In his three seasons in Boston, there was no denying Jefferson’s growth as a big-time scoring big man in the NBA.
He had the kind of low-post scoring prowess that probably reminded former Celtics big man Kevin McHale of himself, which is in part why McHale, then the GM of the Minnesota Timberwolves, made the inclusion of Jefferson a must in the Kevin Garnett trade of 2007.
Jefferson would go on to be a productive scoring big man, averaging a double-double in four straight seasons in addition to averaging 16 points and eight rebounds per game for nine consecutive seasons.
However, team success continued to elude him for most of his career with four playoff appearances while never advancing past the first round before announcing his retirement from the NBA this last spring.
9. Bill Walton
One of the most colorful players to ever play for the Green and White, Walton’s best years individually were behind him by the time he arrived in Boston in 1985. However, he still had enough left to remind us all why he was a dominant college player at UCLA in addition to winning an NBA Finals MVP award in Portland in 1977.
Walton came up big during 1986 when he was named the NBA’s Sixth Man of the Year after averaging 7.6 points and 6.8 rebounds. His play was among the many factors to come into play as Boston put away the Houston Rockets in the NBA Finals in six games to bring home Banner 16.
8. Kendrick Perkins
The mean scowl and those bone-crunching screens he set to free up Ray Allen, Paul Pierce and Eddie House and just about any other Celtic during the late 2000s for jumpers only begin to define the impact Perkins had on the Celtics. He was their 21st century enforcer, the one dude no one wanted to mess with.
But more than toughness, Perkins provided a presence that made the Celtics nearly invincible when the playoffs rolled around.
He averaged 5.4 points and 5.8 rebounds during the regular season, but increased those numbers to 6.9 points and 6.8 rebounds in the playoffs for Boston. More than anything else, Perkins impacted winning when it mattered most. In fact, Boston was 8-2 in playoff series in which Perkins was in the lineup at the start and conclusion of the series.
7. Arnie Risen
A four-time All-Star prior to becoming a Celtic, Risen (pictured, left) was one of the NBA’s top players before being traded to Boston where he would eventually assume a backup role to Bill Russell.
However, Risen was able to step his game up when it truly mattered.
During Game 7 of the 1957 NBA Finals against the St. Louis Hawks, Risen had a double-double of 16 points and 10 rebounds. The 16 points were the most points he scored during the playoffs that year.
Risen retired following the 1958 season and would eventually be inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame.
6. Al Horford
Horford’s arrival in Boston by itself would have made him a contender for all-time Top 10 status among centers. He came to Boston from Atlanta after signing a multi-year deal as an unrestricted free agent, Boston's first free agent signing of an All-Star still in his prime.
During his three seasons in Boston, Horford was a vital cog in the team’s ascension from a borderline playoff team into one with legit aspirations of deep playoff runs.
While some jokingly referred to him as “Average Al” at times, there’s no mistaking the impact he made both on and off the court for Boston during his three seasons, which included a trip to the 2018 Eastern Conference Finals where Boston lost to Cleveland in Game 7.
Horford spent this past season with the Philadelphia 76ers after signing a multi-year deal in the offseason after opting out of the final year of his deal in Boston.
5. Ed Macauley
Ed Macauley (pictured, right) was one of the first great stars for the Celtics. In six seasons in Boston, Macauley averaged 18.9 points, 8.1 rebounds and 3.7 assists and was named an All-Star each season.
He used his speed, quickness, a good shooting touch and savvy basketball instincts to be an impact player around the basket despite being 6-8 and weighing less than 200 pounds.
He retired after 10 years and at the age of 32, was inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame — the youngest NBA player to be so honored.
4. Kevin Garnett
The bulk of his career was spent playing one of the two forward positions. But near the end of his time in Boston, as well as with Brooklyn and later Minnesota during his second tour of duty with the Timberwolves, Garnett slid over and played center.
And much like we had seen throughout his career in whatever position he played, Garnett did not disappoint.
He has always had an impressive array of skills offensively, but Garnett always took a tremendous amount of pride in what he has done defensively.
And the league always took notice, evident by him being named to an All-NBA Defensive team 12 times while also leading the league in rebounding four times.
3. Dave Cowens
Only 6-9, the future Hall of Famer created major matchup problems offensively. He was too fast for most bigs to keep up with, and his strength and hustle made him tough to contend with when matched up with players his size or smaller.
Cowens’ all-around game could not have been more on display than during the 1977-1978 season when he led the Celtics in points, rebounds, assists, blocks and steals — one of five players in NBA history to do so in a single season.
His individual statistics rank among the Celtics all-time greats, but for this franchise, it always comes back to winning titles, and that's something Cowens played a major role in helping come to fruition in 1974 and 1976.
2. Robert Parish
A nine-time All-Star, “Chief” was as rock solid a center as the NBA has seen. He was not a flashy scorer, but had a nice touch around the rim and could definitely get you buckets. He wasn’t a lockdown defender, but nothing came easy when Parish was guarding you.
And on a Celtics team loaded with future Hall of Famers and stars, often it was Parish’s play that shined brightly and maybe most important, helped the team win.
Parish spent 14 of his 21 seasons in Boston, averaging a double-double of 16.5 points and 10.0 rebounds per game while shooting 55.2 percent from the field. His presence at center was among the many keys to Boston’s dominance during the late 1980s which included three NBA titles (1981, 1984 and 1986).
1. Bill Russell
Not only was Russell a major factor in the Celtics’ dynasty, but he’s regarded by most as the greatest winner in professional sports, amassing 11 NBA titles as a player during 13 seasons which included two (1968 and 1969) as a player/coach.
He brought a pioneering spirit as a player by delivering an elite level of defense at a time when most of the NBA’s top players were defined more for what they could do as scorers.
But Russell’s elite defense set him apart from others.
And in doing so at such an elite level, ut cemented his place as one of the greatest — if not the greatest — player in NBA history.