The story is simple: A hockey lifer looks to find a way to fill his arena during off-days, discovers a soon-to-be-launched basketball league, gets himself a franchise, outfits it in one of the most distinguishable uniforms ever and proceeds to change the history of sport with one of the most successful and iconic teams ever.
When a series of exhibitions in the early 1940s transformed Boston Garden landlord and former Team USA hockey coach Walter Brown into a certifiable basketball nut, he decided to establish a franchise of his own in the soon-to-be-founded Basketball Association of America, the predecessor to the NBA. Brown wanted his new team to acknowledge the sport’s rich history as well as represent Boston. And so he borrowed from a New York City–based club, the Original Celtics, leaned on Beantown’s high concentration of Irish residents and dubbed his new baby the Boston Celtics. Naturally, he insisted that his team wear Celtic green. The rest, as they say, is history.
In 1950, Red Auerbach joined the Celtics, and with him came his brother Zang, who went to work on the team logo—a leprechaun in a green vest smoking a pipe. Soon it evolved into what we recognize today, the leprechaun with a bowler hat and shamrock-covered vest spinning a ball on his finger. And the shamrock itself eventually graced the band of the team’s shorts and the backs of its jerseys—not that the Celtics needed luck.
Six years after Auerbach arrived on the scene—10 years after the franchise played its first game—he traded for St. Louis Hawks draft pick Bill Russell, the man who would forever define what it meant to be a Celtic. Teaming with Bob Cousy and John Havlicek, Russell led the Celtics to win a whopping 11 NBA titles in 13 seasons between 1957 and 1969. Basketball fans around North America came to identify the Celtics with the principles that fuelled those title runs: hard work, team-oriented play and, most of all, winning.
Not surprisingly, the striking green jersey and shorts with white trim and a simple “CELTICS” written across the chest has remained virtually untouched through the years. No matter who is wearing a Celtics uniform, it conjures images of the legends who’ve made it what it is today: the gold standard of the NBA.
This story originally appeared in Sportsnet magazine. Subscribe here.