Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum have their banner, in a city that demands nothing less: Aldridge


BOSTON — They all know what they signed up for when they get here.

They are everywhere, every place you look, in every highlight reel, every throwback jersey, always in the air in this town. Their names, still, roll off the tongue. Russell, Cousy, Sam and K.C. Jones. Heinsohn, Havlicek, White and Cowens. Bird, McHale, Parish, and DJ, KG, Pierce and Allen.

And Red Auerbach. Always, Red Auerbach.

You can have all the individual accolades you can stuff into your carry-on bag.

But until you hang a banner here, you ain’t jack.

“The only way you can get rid of all the ghosts,” said the Celtics’ great play-by-play man, Sean Grande, toward the end of Boston’s 106-88 finals clincher over the Mavericks Monday, “is to become one of them.”

So, Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown have ascended. They are now sewn, comfortably, into the fabric of the franchise that, again, has won more NBA championships than anyone else. Banner 18 will go up next fall, breaking the current tie with the Lakers, after Boston completed one of the most dominant seasons in recent league history with a 4-1 triumph over the Mavericks. After a combined 1,288 regular and postseason games, the Two Js finally have their championship pelts. They are no longer “what if?” They’re local royalty.

“I told Brown, ‘Welcome to the club,’” said Cedric Maxwell, the 1981 Finals MVP for Boston.

“That’s what Jo Jo White told me — the Green is about winning the championship, putting up another banner,” Maxwell said. “You can talk about MVPs and All-Star games and all this other stuff. But until you actually achieve and get that banner. … these guys are legacies now. They have joined the club. And when you talk about join the club, that’s what it’s all about. You can’t ask for any more than that. You can’t fake it. .  … now, Tatum has gotten a ring. So, what it does is, it eliminates all the pressure.”

Monday, the Celtics won their 80th game this season, including their 16 playoff wins, against just 21 total losses. That total percentage of .792 for the entire season puts this Boston campaign into the top 10 all-time winningest seasons in NBA history.

NBA champions, highest win percentage, regular season and playoffs

Season, team, regular season, postseason, total record, percentage
1995-96 Chicago Bulls: 72-10, 15-3, 87-13, 0.87
2016-17 Golden State: 67-15, 16-1, 83-16, 0.838
1971-72 L.A. Lakers: 69-13, 12-3, 81-16, 0.835
1996-97 Chicago Bulls: 69-13, 15-4, 84-17, 0.832
1966-67 Phila 76ers: 68-13, 11-4, 79-17, 0.823
1985-86 Boston Celtics: 67-15, 15-3, 82-18, 0.82
1982-83 Phila 76ers: 65-17, 12-1, 77-18, 0.811
2023-24 Boston Celtics: 64-18, 16-3, 80-21, 0.792

To win a championship here is to pay it forward and backward, to generations past and future.

Brown, the finals MVP, teared up at the podium, thinking about his late grandmother. When he left, he ran into Celtics governor Wyc Grousbeck, who hugged him. Assorted Jrue Holiday and Al Horford relatives danced and took pictures. Kristaps Porziņģis, a bit player Monday after limping through 16 minutes off the bench with his lower leg injury, walked around the TD Garden floor from interview after interview with no shoes on. It hurt less to walk around in his socks. So many of them had had so much heartbreak in so many postseasons. That is not normal around here. Going 16 years without a parade was starting to grind, heavy.

Bill Russell won 11 championships, tying him with the Montreal Canadiens’ Henri Richard for the most individual titles ever in the four major U.S. team sports. Sam Jones won 10. Tom Heinsohn, K.C. Jones, Satch Sanders and John Havlicek won eight rings each. “Jungle” Jim Loscutoff and Frank Ramsey won seven. (So did Robert Horry, the only non-Celtic with that many rings.) Bob Cousy won six. Their retired jerseys stand sentinel alongside the banners above TD Garden, constantly tinging the current franchise in the sepia tones of never-forgotten eras.

Even if the dead spots and cold showers for the visitors at the old Boston Garden are long gone, the demands of those teams still inform the players who wear the green and white today.

Banner 18. It sounded like a challenge as much as a tribute.

“The first thing you have to do when you come here is you have to embrace that pressure,” said Horford, who finally won his first NBA championship, in his 17th season.

“I was okay with being in that position,” Horford said. “I was okay when we were getting criticized, and we weren’t getting it done. Because I understood what it means playing here. And, to your point, finally overcoming that, and winning, and putting ourselves with the greats, this is special. Our group, we’ve had a lot of hardships the last few years. Last year, a heartbreaker against Miami in Game 7 (of the Eastern Conference final). The year before, (losing in the Finals to) Golden State. It’s been building up. But this team has been resilient. We’ve continued to work. I’m so proud of Jaylen. I’m so proud of Jayson.”

Kyrie Irving serenaded again with “Kyrie Sucks” chants all night, certainly understood that burden from firsthand experience. It wasn’t that long ago — really, it was 2018, not 1918 — when Kyrie was supposed to be the connector to the next great Boston team, with Horford and Gordon Hayward. Remember? He had won a championship — hell, he made the series-winning shot — for the Cavaliers in 2016, beating the 73-9 Warriors for the title. And that was a heavy, heavy lift, with LeBron James coming back after The Decision, and the city of Cleveland’s 54-year major sports championship drought.

Banner 18 was even heavier.

“The banners absolutely show judgment,” said M.L. Carr, the famous towel-waiving reserve on the Celtics’ ’81 and ’84 championship squads.

Irving was circumspect Sunday, when I asked him about the pressure of playing here from 2017 to 2019. He acknowledged that coming to Boston from Cleveland wasn’t “number one” on his list of preferred destinations, that he didn’t truly appreciate the history of the franchise, and that he should have counseled with some of the old heads, the guys responsible for so many of those banners. And he thus understood that he was partly responsible for the enmity that Celtics fans still carry towards him.

But that doesn’t mean he should be ignored when describing what it’s like for someone to come here with that pressure on them.

“You just expect to have a magnifying glass on you everywhere you go,” he said. “I don’t think Boston appreciates being kind of second class to New York in terms of the media capital of the world, but this is the media capital of the world as well. There’s a lot of history here off the court. The community has integrated into the Celtics’ team. That’s probably the best way I could say it. The community is what makes the Celtics great here, the Boston pandemonium. That’s what makes this space so loud and so special, and they take pride in it.

“If any player is coming here, getting drafted here, thinking about coming here for free agency, getting traded here, I just think do your homework and make sure you know what you’re getting yourself into. That’s something I could offer.”

It’s hard to stand in that spotlight. Light also creates heat. And high heat burns.

Sanders told me a story earlier this year about the late Sam Jones, who was, of course, like Sanders, also a Hall of Famer, and who was as clutch a player as ever lived. But even if the moment demanded he show how great he was, Jones often refused.

“He didn’t want to make any noise, any big sounds, and he certainly didn’t want to be in the category of Oscar (Robertson) or (Jerry) West — even though he was just as good a player,” Sanders said. “Capability? Yes. Wanting to be an outstanding scorer? No. In Russell’s last year, when he coached, the last minute, we were trying to get Sam to shoot the last shot, which he refused to do. Russ said ‘I’ll handle this.’ We got the ball, with seven or eight seconds to go, he just dribbled the ball right over to Sam and gave him the ball. Sam was so pissed. He did what he was supposed to do — he scored, and we won. But he was so pissed at all of us.”

There was no anger Monday night here, in the place where the standard never ebbs, and the pressure never dissipates. “Yeah, the doubters, they may be quiet now, but they will be back,” Brown said, and he was right.

Well, half-right. There will be questions, again, about this group. But they no longer have to deal with the ghosts. They are, now, the ghosts, who will be trotted out in future years, held up for another generation of Celtics as the type of team you have to be around here to hang banners, win championships, and be beloved forever.

(Top photo: Jerome Miron / USA Today)





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