No. 2: Boston Celtics

Originally Published: June 11, 2009
By John Hollinger | ESPN.com

Larry BirdAndrew D. Bernstein/NBAE/Getty ImagesLarry is just one of the many legends to wear green and carry the Celtics to a record 17 NBA titles.

Fans of the Boston Celtics have bragging rights over the fans of every other NBA team except one, and even that comes with an asterisk. While Boston trails the Lakers in both the post-1968 and overall rankings, Celtics fans can point out that Boston has won 17 championships, while the Lakers have 14. And nine of those championships came at the expense of L.A., most recently last season's six-game win.

The Kevin Garnett era is only the latest incarnation of Boston's excellence. The Celtics had a run of three titles and five conference championships during the Larry Bird years in the 1980s, grabbed a pair of rings with Dave Cowens and John Havlicek in the 1970s and, of course, won 11 titles in 13 seasons with the Bill Russell-led teams in the 1950s and 1960s.

It was a different league then, with only eight teams until the late 1960s, which undoubtedly made it a bit easier to a claim a ring, compared to today's 30-team maelstrom. On the other hand, 11 titles in 13 seasons -- including eight consecutive -- is an unparalleled stretch of dominance in North American pro team sports. The highlight of the streak was an almost surreal ability to win Game 7s -- Boston won all 10 it played between 1957 and 1969.

But the Celtics trail the Lakers overall in this exercise because of the gulfs of subpar play surrounding their championship teams. Boston went eight years without a winning season in the '90s and was terrible before Russell arrived; overall, the Celtics have had seasons with 15, 19, 20, 22, 22, 24, 25 and 29 wins. Contrast that with the Lakers, who have won fewer than 30 games only twice -- both seasons coming half a century ago -- and it's no surprise that L.A. has won more games, more playoff games and more playoff series than Boston, and has nearly as many All-Star appearances.

Yes, there were some low moments -- the years of M.L. Carr and Rick Pitino and the 18-game losing streak in 2006-07 come to mind -- but a list of Boston's all-time greats can hang with anyone's this side of L.A.'s. Bob Cousy, Bird and Russell each can argue to be the best ever at his position, Havlicek was almost certainly the best sixth man ever and Cowens won an MVP award. That's before we get into all the other no-doubt Hall of Famers: Garnett, Paul Pierce, Kevin McHale, Robert Parish, Sam Jones, Tom Heinsohn, Bill Sharman and the cigar-chomping genius behind it all for three decades, Red Auerbach.

Next »