It was during the late 1930s, from within the House of Ruth, that the first sports dynasty emerged. From the banks of a hamlet known as the Bronx, pinstriped warriors known as Gehrig and DiMaggio ruled supreme on through the mid-1940s. From that time on, other dynasties began to emerge around the Great Lakes region. Under the direction of a general known as Brown, a solider named Graham and his contingent dominated the nation's gridirons from their lakeside fortress in Cleveland, while a bespectacled fighter known as Mikan held national court in the Twin Cities.
Neither the turbulence of war and political assassinations, nor the flower-powered years of psychedelic love, did anything to interrupt the 1960s dynasty of a fierce battalion from Green Bay whose legendary general named Lombardi preached that winning wasn't everything, but the only thing.
Gridiron dynasties continued throughout the 1970s and 1980s. Disco and a presidential resignation did nothing to distract troopers from Pittsburgh who bore the names of Bradshaw, Harris, Swan and Greene. They were too busy chalking up four World championship victories, a record that stood until the following decade when a gunner named Montana joined forces with his boys from the bay -- Rice, Taylor, Craig and Lott, to do them one better.
The '80s also saw the reemergence of Mikan's hardwood dynasty from the late '40s and early '50s. This time it sprouted up in the west and was led by legends known simply as Magic and Kareem. The nation's midsection became the empire for the 1990's dynasty, a dynasty built by one unparalleled emperor -- Michael.
Looming large against these historic dynasties is another. It is one that rivals the best of them, and began in 1957, in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. It was a dynasty that dominated the hardwood courts of America for well over a decade -- the Parquet Dynasty of the Boston Celtics.
The first sign of this dynasty began when the Celtics reached the 1957 playoffs with an impressive record of 44 wins and 28 losses. They fought their way through the early rounds of those playoffs to face the St. Louis Hawks in the NBA Finals. Heavily favored, the Celtics lost the first game of the Finals in double overtime, and by game four the series was tied at two games apiece. The series ended up going the distance and the final game has been called one of the most memorable games ever played in the National Basketball League's history.
Although the Celtics took the upper hand throughout the contest, the Hawks kept battling back and were still holding on into double overtime. With only a few ticks remaining on the clock, Jim Loscutoff sunk a free-throw to put the Celtics up by two. Seconds later, when the buzzer reverberated through the Boston Garden, the boys from Boston had themselves a 125-123 win and the franchise's first championship.
And so the Parquet Dynasty began. It was to become a dynasty that would see Red Auerbach's boys chalk up eleven NBA titles over the following thirteen seasons.
It was a dynasty that saw Bill Russell patrol the boards and Bob Cousy run the fast break as Bill Sharman, K.C. Jones and Tom Heinsohn rounded out the team that would become known as -- "The Franchise."
The season after their inaugural championship win saw the Celtics post a 52 and 20 record. The team led the NBA in field goals, rebounds, assists and points per game, and yet, it was no walk in the park to get past the tough Syracuse Nationals (who would go onto become the Philadelphia 76ers) in the playoffs. They did finally squeak a second finals appearance with a 5-point win in game seven.
While the Eastern Division Finals gave them a challenge, the Championship Series was a bit of a cake walk as Boston proved that the upstart Minneapolis Lakers and their brash young star, Elgin Baylor, were not yet up to the task. The Celtics' success continued the following season. Each of Boston's starters, Heinsofn, Russell, Sharman, Cousy and Frank Ramsey averaged better than 15-points per game and the 1959-60 Celtics pulled off a 17-game winning streak as they sailed to winning the division title by ten games.
That season's Eastern Division Finals featured a match-up between Russell and the NBA's hottest sensation -- Wilt Chamberlain of the Philadelphia Warriors. Chamberlain, in his rookie season, had averaged 37.6 points and 27.0 rebounds during the regular season and was named the League's MVP. But, despite the superstar presence of Chamberlain, the Celtics proved to be formidable opponents and sent the Warriors home to the City of Brotherly Love following game six.
That victory set the stage for a match-up between the Celtics and the Hawks for the third time in four years. That series went the distance and the seventh and deciding game at the Garden saw Russell snare 35 rebounds as Boston once again grabbed the championship crown.
The Celtics were crowned Eastern Division champs again in the 1960-61 season after chalking up 57 regular season wins. That year's playoff run proved to be a minimal challenge as Boston dropped only two games on their way to a third straight championship. Facing the Hawks once again in the Finals, Boston rallied to win in the fifth game, and Russell walked away with his second League MVP.
By the following season some of the Celtic players were beginning to show a bit of wear, tear and age. Sharman ended his playing career to become the head coach of the newly formed American Basketball League's Los Angeles franchise. Other than that the "Green Team" did what they had been doing for five years -- they won basketball games. And boy did they ever win them. By the end of the regular season Boston had become the first team in NBA history to ever win 60 games in a season and snagged their sixth consecutive Eastern Division title.
Facing Chamberlain and the Warriors again in the Eastern Division Finals, Wilt the Stilt was ruthless, averaging a whopping 50.4 points and 25.7 rebounds. The series proved to be a grueling slugfest and by game six the teams were split at three apiece. If the series was close, game seven was even closer and the Celtics advanced to the Championship game thanks only to a Sam Jones basket in the waning seconds to give them a 109-107 win.
The '62 Finals saw the Beantown boys face the Los Angeles Lakers who, thanks to Baylor, had staged an impressive 54-26 record during the regular season. Baylor continued to rally in the Finals scoring 61 points in game five and leading the powerhouse Lakers to a one game advantage going into game six. That was where the season ended for the Lakers. Boston whipped the Lakers in OT by three points where they solidly established their dynasty with a record four straight championships and five in the previous six years.
The 1962-63 season began with good news and bad news. The bad news was that Cousy would be hanging it up at the end of the year. The good news was that rookie John Havlicek had been snagged as a first-round draft pick and the experienced center, Clyde Lovellette was brought on to backup Russell. Boston again chalked up an impressive record of 58 games and went on to meet the Cincinnati Royals in the division finals. The Royals and Oscar Robertson gave Boston a run for their money taking them down to the wire in a seventh game that Boston ultimately won. Although the Royals had proven to be a challenge in the finals, a rematch with the Lakers in the championship series was a joke. The Celtics sent them back to La La Land as losers in six games and Cousy walked away with yet another ring.
As the following season rolled around, the big question was how Cousy's departure would affect the team. The answer was simple... it wouldn't. The Celtics chalked up 59 regular season wins thanks to Russell at center, the two guarding Joneses, forwards Heinsohn and Satch Sanders, and, of course, Havlicek, who averaged 19.9 points.
Breezing through post-season play, Boston handily defeated the Royals clearing the way to once again dispel Chamberlain and the Warriors for their sixth straight brass ring.
Before the Celtics took to the parquet of Boston Garden for the 1964-65 season, they were forced to say goodbye to their legendary owner. Walter Brown, who had been a major influence in the establishment of professional basketball and owner of the Celtics since 1946 passed away during the off-season and the team dedicated its season to his memory. Playing for their fallen owner, Boston rallied through eleven regular season games before being handed a loss. With Brown's spirit guiding them, the Celtics wrapped up the season with the incredible number of 62 in the win column.
Having bested Cincinnati by 14 games, the Celtics faced the Philadelphia 76ers in the playoffs. Philly had acquired Chamberlain during the season and The Stilt was hungry to finally do away with the team that had become a major obstacle to his having a shot at the championship. The series was nothing short of a duke out, and by game six Boston and Philly were tied at three games apiece.
Game seven was a legendary event. Boston had held their own throughout the contest and with two minutes left in the game, seemed to have everything under control -- everything that is except the victory thirsting Chamberlain who in just one minute and fifty-five seconds unilaterally brought the Sixers to within one point of Boston. As the clock began ticking off its final five seconds, Russell inbounded the ball with a pass that hit a wire supporting the basket and possession went to Philly. With time for nothing more than a Hail Mary, the Sixers' Hal Greer threw the ball to Chet Walker for the Sixers big play.
But there was to be no big play -- at least not by Walker. The big play came from out of nowhere, in the form of John Havlicek, who streaked between Greer and Walker, stole the pass and once again sent Wilt home to lick his wounds.
The excitement of that series gave way to a NBA Championship series that, to be honest, was a bit of a yawner. Facing the Lakers again, Boston trounced Los Angeles who was minus the injured Baylor. They won the first game by 32 points and the last game by 34 points. Between those massacres the Lakers eked out only one win giving Boston their seventh consecutive championship and Auerbach honors as the NBA's Coach of the Year.
As the 1965-66 season geared up, the Celtics found themselves in a time of transition. Heinsohn had retired and three of the team's starters, the two Joneses and Russell, were finding themselves in the situation of wondering just how long they could get 30-year old bodies to do what they needed them to do. It was also to be Auerbach's last season as the team's head coach. Some thought that the dynasty was coming to a close and when the Sixers won 18 of their final 21 games, they did in fact end Boston's ten year reign as the top team in the Eastern Division.
But so what, the Celtics successfully battled Cincinnati in the playoffs to once again meet up with the Lakers in the 1966 NBA Finals. It was during that series that Russell announced that while he would be back the following year, it would not be solely as a player, but rather as Auerbach's successor. That announcement sparked the Celtics, who had dropped the first game, to make sure that Red went out with another championship ring. With an unprecedented eight consecutive championships the Boston Celtics were the undisputed kings of the court, but cracks were starting to show in the dynasty.
It was becoming more and more clear, as every game of the 1966-67 NBA campaign went by, that it was the Sixers and not the Celtics who were the powerhouse of the league. Still, under player/coach Russell the Celtics won 60 games, a record that earned them a shot at the New York Knicks in the division semi-finals. Beating the Knicks, Boston met up with Philly for a showdown in the Eastern Division Finals. The mighty Sixers showed no mercy and impressively downed the Celtics in the first three games. Boston hobbled to a win in the fourth game and was then fatally crushed the following evening.
It was the first time in ten seasons that the Boston Celtics would not be in the NBA Finals and the first time in eight years that another team would be crowned world champs.
But, dynasties die hard.
It was all too evident during the 1968-69 season that much of the Celtics' spark was gone. K.C Jones had departed during the off-season and the Sixers were desperately fighting to become the new kings of the NBA. The Celtics posted a 54-28 record and squared off with their rivals from Philly for the fourth straight season. The Sixers showed their strength in the opening game of the series, but the Celtics rallied back taking it to the distance. The seventh and final game was a true NBA thriller. With Boston holding a two-point lead with less than a minute left in the game, Russell came alive sinking a free throw, blocking a shot, grabbing a rebound and dishing out an assist. Boston had captured its ninth title in ten seasons leaving a bewildered Sixers team stunned.
For the sixth time Boston went on to face the Lakers for the championship. The Lakers with Baylor, Jerry West and Wilt Chamberlain were heavy favorites and handily won the first two games. The two teams fought their way through to a seventh game where, on the Lakers home court, Boston denied them the crown by two points. The following season the inevitable occurred: Sam Jones announced his retirement and Russell, after winning eleven championships in thirteen seasons, also called it quits. The once mighty Celtics, under new head coach, Tom Heinsohn, finished the regular season with a dismal 34-48 record. It was the first time in two decades that Boston did not appear in the playoffs.
The dynasty was officially dead.
The 1980s saw the Celtics once again become a team to be reckoned with thanks to Larry Bird, Robert Parish and Kevin McHale. Still, while their play was impressive and their contests with the Lakers legendary, it was far from a dynasty. In 1992, after playing for the United States Dream Team at the 1992 Summer Olympic Games in Barcelona, Spain, Larry Bird hung up his jersey for the final time. He had played on the Garden's parquet for thirteen seasons which saw him named Rookie of the Year, the NBA's MVP three times, and placed on the NBA All-Stars roster every year but one. He also walked away with three championship rings. The three NBA Finals in which Bird and the Celtics battled Magic and the Lakers will go down in history as some of the greatest games ever played. They were games that fanned the flames of popularity for the NBA and gave fans the opportunity to watch a man play basketball whose all-around talents, clutch play and ability to inspire his team will rarely be seen again.
For collectors, the cards of legendary Celtic players play a vital role in compiling a serious basketball collection, and the Bill Russell 1957 Topps # 77 is one of the biggest cards in the hobby. "This is clearly the most important Celtic card, and in fact, one of the most valued cards in basketball," says Sport Market Report's Joe Orlando. "It's a big card for a lot of reasons: First, it's Russell's rookie card and secondly it's THE key card in an extremely popular set. The other thing that makes it a standout is that it is a difficult card to find in high grade. The card has centering problems and it also suffers from many print defects. Finally, the card was short printed. So when you combine all of those elements, you can see why this is such a difficult and great card."
Bob Cousy's rookie card, the 1957 Topps # 17 is a part of the same set as the Russell card. As with the Russell card, centering and print problems were rampant. "That entire set had print problems," Orlando points out. "Many of the cards in the set have dark backgrounds with 'print snow' which is a cloudy print defect. The Cousy card has that problem, but it is another key card in a very important set."
Tom Heinsohn's #19 rookie card is also a part of the '57 Topps set, and like the Russell card was done as a short print. "That of course makes it difficult to find," said Orlando. "But, it is nowhere near as valuable as the Russell card." The fourth Celtic to appear in the 1957 Topps set is the #5 rookie card of Bill Sharman. The card is found in much lower price ranges than the others, but it is still a challenge to find one in a high grade and its importance comes by virtue of the fact that it is vital to completing the set.
K.C. Jone's rookie card is #22 in the 1961 Fleer set. Like the '57 Topps set, the '61 Fleer is chock full of Hall of Famers such as Wilt Chamberlain, Jerry West, Oscar Robertson and Elgin Baylor.
The cards in this set are also popular because they are bright, colorful and all-around aesthetically attractive. While '61 Fleer cards are difficult, there was a large find of them a while back. That find has made them even more popular, because while they are not common, they can be found. "I think that's an important point," says Orlando. "Because sometimes when a set is just too difficult or expensive, many collectors just give up on trying to complete it. The '61 Fleer set is fun because, while it is very challenging, it's also feasible."
No Celtic card set would be complete without a John Havlicek rookie card, which is # 20 in the 1969 Topps set. The '69 Topps set has always garnered high interest due to the fact that they were done in the "tall boy" format. These cards are beautiful with their neat, narrow borders and oversized status. However, it is their size that makes them difficult to find in high grades. Large cards have always seemed to get more wear and their thin boarders make centering a problem. The '69 Topps set is also desirable because, along with Havlicek, it also contains a huge card -- the rookie card of Lou Alcindor.
As for the more modern Celtics cards, Kevin McHale's rookie is #75 in the 1981 Topps set. It is fairly easy to find and is far and away the most popular card in what is really a rather unpopular set. "McHale never had the thunder of Bird or any of the big Celtic stars of the past," Orlando opined. "He never really had a great card following and, in addition, the '81 Topps set is not very desirable."
Another desirable rookie card that is part of a weak set is the inaugural card of Larry Bird. The card was issued in the 1980 Topps set without a number. "This is a really unique card," says Orlando. "It was a three panel card that along with Bird included Julius Irving and Magic Johnson. The card totally dominates the set that rather lags in popularity. But this is a tremendous card. It's the first time Bird appears on a card and he's with Magic who he was always so closely associated with. Even though it's a great card with great desirability, it's available at rather affordable prices due to the fact that the set, overall, is not very attractive."
Orlando goes onto say that while Bird's first appearance on a card may not be as much in demand as one may think, it's not because his collectibles are not hot. "Bird is solid in every collectible area -- cards, autographed material, game-used items, everything. He's like Aaron or Mays or Ali. Just as with them, there's a lot of his stuff out there. These guys are as big as you can get, but they have also always been willing signers. Their autographed material is available to anyone who wants it, but that doesn't mean their items can be had for a song. These players have become hobby icons, and so their memorabilia should remain in high demand for years to come."