Let me say this up front: The Celtics don’t need to retire any more numbers. They’ve already retired 21 of them, and if they keep going at this pace we’re going to be seeing some weird jersey numbers in 30 years.
That said, when the guys at 48 Minutes of Hell (among other bloggers) started the movement to retire Bruce Bowen‘s number in San Antonio, I looked at the list of retired numbers for all 30 teams to see if there is any precedent for granting the honor to a limited player like Bowen. Turns out there is—provided that player brought something special to the team, won a title or two or contributed uniquely to his community.
So a few of the TrueHoop Network bloggers decided to look through their own team’s histories and find their own Bruce Bowen—the guy who, by traditional standards, doesn’t deserve to have his number retired, but someone the fan base wouldn’t mind seeing honored in this way despite his limitations as player.
For the Celtics, this is difficult. We’ve already honored the ideal candidate–Jim Loscutoff, a bruising 6’5” forward known for his defense and rebounding. Loscy scored just 3,156 points in nine seasons, all with Boston, but he was a key contributor to seven championship teams. As many of you probably know, the team wanted to retire his number —18—but Loscutoff requested that future Celtics be allowed to wear it. Dave Cowens was the last Celtic to wear the number, which is now retired; the C’s raised a banner with Loscy’s name instead.
But we have an assignment to do, so we’re going to do it: Whose jersey would you put in the rafters despite a career not quite worthy of the Hall of Fame? Here’s my list of possibilities:
• Danny Ainge: The GM obviously gets major extra credit for building the 2008 championship team, but Danny was a key player for 7 1/2 years in Boston, before the team dealt him to the Kings for Ed Pinckney and Joe Klein in a deal that enraged Kevin McHale. (The rationale went that Bird was hurt and the team needed front court depth). In his prime in Boston, Ainge was a double-digit scorer who slowly learned to shoot three-pointers and could create an offense—people forget that he averaged 5 assists per game on the greatest team of all time, one filled with wonderful passers.
He was feisty (he once fought Tree Rollins and called him a “sissy”), his teammates loved him (he referred to himself as “the go-between” for Bird and McHale, who sometimes clashed) and he started for the frickin’ 1986 Celtics. Enough to get #44 up in the rafters?
• Paul Silas: A beast and a double-double machine for the two Celtics title teams of the mid-1970s. A major knock against him: He played just four seasons in Boston. The Celtics dealt him to Denver in a disastrous three-way trade after their owner, Irv Levin, refused to pay Silas the $80,000 difference between the team’s offer and what Silas wanted. The deal infuriated Red Auerbach, Tom Heinsohn, and, most famously, Cowens, who considered Silas a selfless rock the C’s replaced with stat-hungry gunners.
For his career, Silas averaged 9.4 points and 9.9 boards per game and finished with nearly 12,000 points. Not bad. But probably not enough to ever see the rafters, right?
• M.L. Carr— I know what you’re saying. No way. Not after his disastrous run as GM and coach plunged the Celtics into depths of embarrassment usually reserved for the Clippers and (now) the Knicks. It was bad enough to make people forget Carr could score before he moved from Detroit to Boston in 1979, and that he remained a go-to defensive stopper for the Celtics through the early 1980s. He was also something of an occasional enforcer. He scuffled with Dr. J in the 1980 playoffs and knocked Andrew Toney to the floor in the 1981 regular season finale against the Sixers—the team the C’s knew they’d almost certainly play in the Eastern Conference Finals a couple of weeks later.
People also forget Carr’s heroics in that series, which the C’s should probably have lost. They were down six points in Game 5 (and trailing 3-1 in the series) with about two minutes left when the Sixers went on a turnover binge which included a Carr steal. He also made two super-clutch free throws to tie that game in the last 30 seconds.
After that season, Carr became mostly a towel-waving bench-warmer. But he had some big moments with the team, and he clearly loves the organization.
Though he can’t really get credit for this, Carr’s decision to sign with Boston as a free agent in 1979 spawned a transaction in which the Pistons, entitled to compensation for Carr, demanded Bob McAdoo, a player the Celtics hated. But the Pistons coach, Screamin’ Dickie Vitale, loved McAdoo, and the Celtics wrung two 1980 first-round draft picks (in addition to Carr) out of Vitale in exchange for McAdoo in a combination free agent signing/trade. One became the first overall pick in the 1980 draft.
The C’s used that pick to pull off arguably the greatest trade in NBA history–that pick (Joe Barry Carroll) plus the #13 pick to the Warriors in exchange for Robert Parish and the #3 pick (Kevin McHale). Ow.
A couple of other candidates, plus Jeff Clark of CelticsBlog weighs in, after the jump.Some other possibilities:
• Gerald Henderson: Played five season with the C’s and won two titles. Clutch steal in Game 2 of the 1984 Finals helped the C’s grab that game en route to winning the series. The C’s dealt him to Seattle after the 1984 season in exchange for the draft pick that eventually became Len Bias.
• Don Chaney: Damn near a Celtic lifer from 1969-80 who played on two title teams.
Am I missing anyone?
I also reached out to Jeff Clark over at CB, and he too tabbed Ainge was the most deserving among the bunch.
Jeff also took the thought exercise to another interesting place:
I know this isn’t exactly what you are looking for, but it is an interesting dilemma about Ray Allen and Kevin Garnett. Both are HOF bound, both were instrumental in raising banner 17, but how long do they need to play for Boston to be considered more than just short-timers? If they win 2 do they automatically go up even if they retire the next day?
Since the Celtics have such a shortage of numbers left, I would be in favor of keeping the standards pretty high. Obviously Pierce has earned the right but Antoine Walker didn’t. It’s all about Championships, which is why there’s so many retired numbers already.
I agree completely on Pierce and ‘Toine, though I have a soft spot for the latter. My initial thought is that a second title could get KG’s #5 up to the rafters, only because he’s going to play five seasons in Boston barring a trade, while Ray Allen might be gone after just three. Those two seasons make a difference to me. Three seasons is still mercenary-short. Five seasons is half of a decent NBA career.
But both of those guys are unquestioned stars who should have their numbers retired somewhere. The guy among the current C’s who comes closest to fitting the Bowen definition is Kendrick Perkins. He’s not a star, and he may never score 12 points per game in any season. But he’s becoming an elite defender, he has a chance to be the heart of the team going forward and the fans love his intensity. Will #43 be in the rafters some day? It’s not out of the question.
Some other TrueHoop Bowens:
• Hoopinion starts with Mookie Blaylock, one of the more underrated 1990s ballers.