- Peter May, Celtics reporter, ESPNBoston.com
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The Boston Celtics have always had a proprietary interest in the Basketball Hall of Fame. It may be partially due to geography; the team in Boston is the NBA's closest to the shrine in Springfield, Mass. It may be because the Hall and the Celtics' dynasty emerged at nearly the same time, the Hall inducting its first class in 1959 (despite the absence of a physical structure, which would come nine years later) while the Celtics were amassing titles with stunning regularity in the late 1950s and '60s.
The Hall doesn't make its inductees wear a hat, so to speak, at the enshrinement ceremony. They don't have to choose a team. But if they did, and if Dennis Johnson could come back from the dead for the induction Friday and make his choice, it would almost certainly be as a member of the Celtics. That's how so many remember him and that's how the Hall is promoting his induction, in pictures wearing a Celtics uniform.
The man known as DJ won two titles with the Celtics and was an almost automatic All-Defensive Team selection. But he also won a title with Seattle and was MVP of the NBA Finals in 1979. He was first-team All-NBA with the Suns. But he spent more years in Boston than in either Seattle or Phoenix, not that that really matters. He is remembered as a Celtic. Period.
Bill Walton is the same way. Or, shall we say, thinks of himself in that manner, even though he played only 90 games for the Celtics. He didn't get to the Hall for what he did in Boston. He'd still be in Springfield had he never set foot in the old Boston Garden, based on what he did at UCLA and his one, brief shining moment when he led Portland to the NBA title in 1977.
Walton spent three years with the Celtics, but in only one of them (the unforgettable 1985-86 season) did he make any meaningful contribution. After that, he was mostly hurt -- he missed his third season entirely -- which, sadly, also was his story in Portland and with the Clippers. But he likes to remember himself as a Celtic, in part because of his big role on an NBA championship team surrounded by Hall of Famers. He won the Sixth Man Award that season.
According to the Celtics media guide, DJ will be the 33rd inductee in Springfield with Celtics ties. But that list covers anyone in the Hall who had anything to do with the Celtics, even if it was the proverbial cup of coffee. There is Bob Houbregs, who was inducted in the mid-1980s. He played a grand total of two games for the Celtics in the 1954-55 season.
Dominique Wilkins is on the list. He spent one season in Boston and it went so well that he took an offer in Greece the following year. Bob McAdoo was almost villainous in Boston, in part because of his game but also in part because, through no fault of his own, he arrived in Boston at the whim of an owner who dealt away three No. 1 draft picks Red Auerbach had hoarded to rebuild the team.
Pete Maravich? Twenty-six games in 1979-80. Dave Bing? One season, 1977-78, long after he had established himself as an elite player with the Pistons. "Wide Clyde" Lovellette is in the Hall, but not for the 106 games he played as a Celtic.
Then there's John Thompson, who was enshrined as a coach (Georgetown) but played for the Celtics. Dave Gavitt was enshrined as a contributor, not for what he contributed when he ran the Celtics, but for what he did for college basketball. Wayne Embry played for the Celtics, but went in as a contributor, and it wasn't for the bruising picks he set that earned him the Johnny Most moniker "Wayne the Wall."
But if the list was modified to "Individuals Who Contributed Mightily To The Success of the Celtics On and Off the Court,'' then DJ would certainly be there. Auerbach and Walter Brown would be Nos. 1 and 1A. Then would come Bill Russell and, after that, take your pick. Bob Cousy, Bill Sharman, Tommy Heinsohn, John Havlicek, Sam Jones, Dave Cowens, Frank Ramsey, Tiny Archibald, Larry Bird, Kevin McHale, DJ and Robert Parish.
They are all, with the possible exception of Archibald, remembered as Celtics uber alles, even though many played elsewhere.
Is there another Celtic on the horizon who should ready his resume for a Springfield inclusion? Sure. There are four on the current Celtics whose names may well be called: Shaquille O'Neal, Kevin Garnett, Ray Allen and Paul Pierce. Of those four, the latter is likely to be a Celtic lifer. Both Allen and Garnett had been in the league for at least a decade before becoming Celtics, but they won a title in Boston. Shaq? If he had to choose, he'd have to go in as a Laker. Gary Payton is likely to get strong support when he becomes eligible and, lest we forget, he was on the 2004-05 Celtics.
Jo Jo White? He has two rings and was named MVP of the 1976 NBA Finals. He was a seven-time All-Star. He had a stellar career at Kansas. But he remains your classic borderliner.
Danny Ainge? He wasn't an elite NBA player, but he was good enough to make an All-Star team and be a critical part of two NBA title teams. He was, however, a truly elite college player and the Hall isn't for professionals only. (One Celtic on the list of 33 is Andy Philip, who was inducted for his performance at Illinois.)
Ainge won the John Wooden Award as the College Player of the Year in 1981. Unlike many Wooden winners, he went on to enjoy success in the NBA and, since retiring, has won an Executive of the Year Award in rebuilding the Celtics.
One thing is certain: If Ainge ever does get the call, he'd join the list of those who contributed to the Celtics' success. He'd be one of the few who could say he did it on the floor AND in the office. But for now, he'll have to celebrate vicariously the induction of his backcourt partner through all those Glory Years in Boston.
Longtime Celtics reporter Peter May is a contributor to ESPNBoston.com.
The late Dennis Johnson is the 33rd Celtic to be honored in Springfield.