The Celtics is the most storied franchise in all of basketball. Times were great in the 60's when I first started following the Celtics. Every year was a championship year. There were a few years in the 70's when the Celtics faltered, like the 1969-70 season where they finished out of the playoffs for the first time in 20 years. But 2 years later they were back in the playoffs and 2 years after that, they were champions again. After winning the championship again in 1976, the Celtics once again hit a dry spell that lasted until the 1979-80 season when Larry Bird joined the team. The 80's were a fun time to be a Celtics fan as they were contenders every season and won 3 more championships.
In 1986, the Celtics and their fans were on top of the world. They had just dominated the league during the season and then bulldozed their way through the playoffs. They had a 67-15 regular season record and went an unprecedented 41-1 at home that season. They lost only 3 games in the playoffs on their way to the Celtics 16th championship. Even though they had finished at the top, they also had the 2nd pick in the draft from the Gerald Henderson trade. They would use the pick to select Len Bias who had the potential to be as good as Michael Jordan. Then, tragedy hit. Len Bias died from a cocaine overdose less than 48 hours after being selected by the Celtics.
Over the next 21 years, things went from bad to worse for the franchise. In the late 80's and early 90's, there was always hope because they had Larry Bird. When Larry was on the court, anything could happen. But, injuries had slowed even Larry Bird to the point where he couldn't work the magic that he once did. Then in 1992, Larry Bird retired, but Reggie Lewis had developed into a great player and there was some hope that the team could build around him. But then, tragedy once again. Reggie Lewis died of a heart condition in 1993. The Celtics petitioned David Stern for some salary cap relief but were turned down. Many Celtics fans have never forgiven Stern for tying the Celtics hands like that. They would not recover from this for many years to come. The 1993-94 Celtics finished 32-50 and out of the playoffs once again.
The most painful season for most Celtics fans was in 1996-1997 when the Celtics went 15-67. It was hard being a Celtics fan that season, there was hope that things would get better as the Celtics had the best chance to get the first pick, which would be Tim Duncan who had the potential to turn a franchise around. The Celtics instead got Rick Pitino, but not the #1 pick and Pitino made an even worse mess of the team than it was previously. But, one thing he did right was pick Paul Pierce in the 1998 draft. With one player after another, the Celtics have tried to build around Paul Pierce and every year, it was the same old story. The Celtics would improve to be a mediocre team but they would never come close to contending.
Then on May 9, 2003, the day Danny Ainge was named Celtics Executive Director of Basketball Operations, the Celtics fortunes began to turn around. Red Auerbach had this to say of Danny when he appointed him to be Celtics GM:
"I know that it will be a great relationship because he is a worker. He has a great personality, he's smart and bleeds green!"
Danny came into the job with a 5 year plan. His plan was to gather as many good young players and trading chips as he could get. The plan was working as Danny had amassed a team of good young players, several draft picks and some expiring contracts.
Last season started off with promise but then once again, hardship hit as Pierce went down with a serious injury for the first time in his career. The rest of the team was also hit with injuries as they lead the league in player games missed due to injury. They would go on a heartbreaking 18 game losing streak and finish with the second worst record in the league. Just as they had 10 years before, the Celtics had their hopes pinned on the lottery. They had the second best chance of getting the top pick and there were two franchise players at the top of the draft. Once again, lottery luck (or David Stern's fixing the lottery again) went against the Celtics as they dropped to the 5th pick.
The hopes of Celtics nation dropped along with those ping pong balls. Rumors swirled about players like Kevin Garnett and Shawn Marion, but both players had said that they would not come to Boston and since both were in the last year of their contract, it would not be feasible to trade for them only to have them leave after one year. The Celtics could get another good young player, but a championship seemed so far away and we had already waited 21 years for a contender in Boston.
Then on draft night, Danny made a trade that at the time seemed like too little too late as he sent Delonte West and Wally Szczerbiak to Seattle for Ray Allen and the 35th pick, which became Big Baby Davis. What could a 32 year old sharp shooter with two bad ankles do for this still very young team. But on July 31st, the fortunes of a once proud franchise turned around as Danny made the trade of Al Jefferson, Gerald Green, Sebastian Telfair, Ryan Gomes and Theo Ratliff along with 2 draft picks for Kevin Garnett. In that one move, the spirits of a downtrodden Celtics nation went through the roof.
Having given up half the team for Ray and KG, the bench was a concern, but with the signings of Eddie House, Scot Pollard and James Posey, and the emergence of Leon Powe, things were looking good. This season was a wild ride with the Celtics winning 66 games, sweeping the Texas triangle, and basically dominating every opponent. And it culminated in the team's 17th banner. And the 17th championship is the sweetest one of all because of all the tragedy and hard times we had to go through to get it.