Jayson Tatum wants to be on the Mount Rushmore of Boston Celtics. Which begs a couple questions:
- Which four Celtics are up there now?
- Which person might Tatum eventually bump?
With most NBA teams, this would be a simple exercise. It’s far more complicated with the Celtics thanks to 17 banners and 23 retired jersey numbers (and a LOSCY). But let’s get the easy part of out of the way: Two of those spots are most certainly reserved for Bill Russell and Larry Bird.
That’s where things get tough. Are we limiting our Mount Rushmore of Celtics to simply players, which take the likes of Red Auerbach and Tommy Heinsohn out of the equation? Those two in particular are synonymous with the Celtics and bleeding green, but even Heinsohn’s eight titles as a player might not be enough to secure a spot based on playing accolades alone.
We feel confident suggesting that John Havlicek would spot third on most Mount Rushmore ballots, aided by eight titles and the distinction of scoring the most points in franchise history. Havlicek bridged the gap between the Russell era and the original Big Three, all while leading the team to titles in 1974 and 1976.
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Pondering the fourth spot is an easy way to ignite a feverish debate. Your age might ultimately dictate whether you lean towards Dave Cowens, Kevin McHale, or Paul Pierce. And if you’d prefer to state a case for Bob Cousy or Sam Jones, we’d absolutely listen.
When NBC Sports Boston attempted to rank the top 10 players in Celtics history back in 2020, McHale earned heaps of praise from his contemporaries, who didn’t want Bird’s accomplishments to overshadow just how good McHale was. Cowens deserves a lot of credit for being Havlicek’s sidekick during those titles in the 70s.
But we suspect that Pierce would be the current favorite for that final spot. His case is aided not just by having delivered Boston’s most recent title in 2008, but the longevity of his tenure. What’s more, Pierce navigated some extremely lean years before pairing up with Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen to end a 22-year title drought. His desire to see things through here and ultimately secure the top prize endeared him further to Celtics fans.
And, if you want to give Pierce bonus points, the Celtics were ultimately able to acquire Tatum (and Jaylen Brown, too) with the picks received from Brooklyn in the swap that delivered Pierce and Garnett to the Nets in 2013.
Tatum eventually could make this a much easier discussion. He’s got a chance to challenge Havlicek’s scoring mark after being the first Celtics player to average 30-plus points in a single season in 2022-23. If Tatum stays healthy and productive, there’s a real opportunity to sprinkle his name throughout the Celtics’ record books.
But even in stressing his desire to be on Boston’s Mount Rushmore, Tatum acknowledged that players here are ultimately judged by the banners they hang. He knows that his case hinges heavy on delivering the banner that has eluded him early in his NBA career.
“I would love to be on the Mount Rushmore of Celtics,” Tatum told The Messenger. “Bird, Russell, Paul Pierce, and those guys. They paved the way. The one thing all those guys have is chips. I have to get to the top of the mountain to even be considered as one of those guys. I want to be an all-time great, I want to be known as a winner, and I believe I will be.”
That Tatum is even entertaining the possibility of a career-long stay in green is an encouraging sign. He noted the bond he’s built with the Boston community after six years here, and those roots only fortify if he delivers a title.
But that title is crucial to his Mount Rushmore candidacy.