On this day in Boston Celtics history, franchise legends Bill Russell and Sam Jones retired as champions, deciding to call it quits after winning the 1969 NBA Championship.
For Russell in particular, it was a sweet ending, defeating longtime rival big man (and good friend) Wilt Chamberlain and his Los Angeles Lakers four games to three in a 108-106 Game 7 triumph that is widely considered one of the biggest upsets in sports history. The Celtics were by then an old team and managed to make the Finals as a four seed, while Los Angeles had Hall-of-Famers Elgin Baylor and Jerry West in addition to Chamberlain, the latter winning the Finals MVP award in a loss, the only time that has happened in the history of the league.
It was Boston’s 11th championship, and that in a span of just 13 years.
Shooting guard Sam Jones played 12 seasons for the Celtics, winning 10 rings with the team, a feat only bested by teammate Bill Russell.
Jones was elected to five All-Star games and three All-NBA teams among many other honors and was inducted into the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame in 2006.
Russell of course bested Jones’ ten rings with an eleventh, the winningest player all-time in league history.
He would also win league MVP five times and be elected to a dozen All-Star teams (winning All-Star MVP in 1963), 11 All-NBA teams, and an All-Defense team in 1969 among numerous other honors.
Today in 1981, Larry Bird somehow anticipated a jumper he’d just released would miss its mark, and managed to collect the errant shot and lay it into the hoop while falling out of bounds in Game 1 of the 1981 NBA Finals against the Houston Rockets.
The play was so spectacular, that Celtics general manager Red Auerbach said it was the greatest play he’d ever seen.
Boston went on to win the game 98-95 and the series in six games
Five years later in 1986, guard “Pistol” Pete Maravich was inducted into the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame.
Maravich, an aging legend who came to play for Boston in the twilight of his career, helped a Celtics team with a young Bird play to a 61-21 record, the best in the NBA in the 1979-80 season. He averaged 11.5 points, 1.5 rebounds, and 1.1 assists.
It is also the date of the last game in the old Boston Garden, a 95-92 loss to Shaquille O’Neal’s Orlando Magic.
Horace Grant of the Magic scored the last official bucket in that hallowed building, a free throw. The building would sit vacant for three years before demolition in 1998.
It is also the anniversary of an overtime win over the Philadelphia 76ers in 2018 punctuated with an erroneous release of celebratory confetti at the end of regulation.
A late bucket from big man Al Horford would seal the 101-98 win in the extra period.
Rookie forward Jayson Tatum led the team with 24 points and 5 rebounds, guard Terry Rozier added 18 points and 7 boards, and wing Jaylen Brown chipped in 16 points and 9 rebounds off the bench.
“These are the kind of moments you want to be in as a basketball player,” said Horford via the Associated Press.
Finally, it is the day that former Boston No. 16 overall pick in the 1958 NBA draft Jimmy Smith passed away in 2002.
Smith never played for the Celtics, having hurt his knee while serving in the military. He instead made a career for himself as a civil rights activist and public servant but was widely seen as having very high potential as a player before his injury derailed his career as an athlete.
Rest in peace.
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