When you count 17 championships in your history and a bevy of Hall of Fame players like the Boston Celtics, fans and collectors tend to take notice. Rookie cards are often the main focus for many collectors and the Celtics feature a massive list of appealing options. Check out the top vintage Boston Celtics rookie cards below and the top modern options on the next tab.
As is the case for all cards, but especially vintage cards, condition is key when it comes to value for Boston Celtics rookie cards. Vintage cards are frequently found in graded form as the higher grades can yield a much stronger value.
The list below includes some of the biggest names from the Boston Celtics' past. The actual ranking is based largely on card values, but, when values were close, overall relevance was taken into account. For the purposes of this list, vintage is considered to be anything from before 1980.
For more team information, check out our comprehensive Boston Celtics Collecting Guide.
Top Boston Celtics Vintage Rookie Cards
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Cedric Maxwell won two titles with the Celtics in the 1980s and was the MVP of the 1981 Finals. He also had his number retired by the team. Known as "Cornbread," Maxwell's rookie card is found in 1978-79 Topps and goes for just a few dollars.
Another player with a retired number, Dennis Johnson played for the Seattle SuperSonics and Phoenix Suns before joining the Celtics. The team won two titles with Johnson and he was later inducted into the the Hall of Fame. His rookie in 1978-79 Topps is a great budget option.
Spanning the better part of three decades, Robert Parish played for four teams during his Hall of Fame career. Parish earned all nine of his All-Star nods in Boston and helped the team win three titles. The durable Parish still leads the NBA in total games played and was named to the 50th Anniversary All-Time Team. Despite all this success, Robert Parish rookie cards are easy to find and cheap to buy.
Tom "Satch" Sanders spent his entire career in Boston, winning an impressive eight titles. His number was retired by the team and Sanders would later coach the Celtics for one season before being replaced by the player that checks in at number 13. Although his rookie card is part of the popular 1969-70 Topps tall boy release, collectors will not have to lay out too much to acquire the oversized card.
A two-time champion with the Celtics and the 1976 Finals MVP, Jo Jo White spent the majority of his career in Boston. Although his number has been retired by the team, White is still waiting to hear from the Hall of Fame. His rookie card is found in 1970-71 Topps and is one of the most generic-looking cards on the list.
Yes, that Don Nelson. It can be easy to forget that before he was a seasoned NBA coach with the Bucks, Warriors, Knicks, Mavericks and Warriors, Don Nelson was actually a good basketball player. Nelson won five titles with Boston. His rookie card in 1969-70 Topps came several years and two teams after his actual debut.
An unlikely center at 6'9", Dave Cowens played much bigger than his height indicated. After a decade in Boston, Cowens had two titles, seven NBA All-Star appearances, the 1971 Rookie of the Year and the 1973 MVP to his name. The Hall of Fame player had his numbered retired by the Celtics and his rookie in 1971-72 might have the best overall design on the list.
Compared to others on the list, Nate Archibald's career with the Celtics was rather short. Despite just five seasons in Boston, "Tiny" Archibald won a title and three All-Star trips. His rookie is also from 1971-72 Topps and showcases the start of his career with the Cincinnati Royals.
Another player with a short career in green and white, Bailey Howell made the most of his four seasons, winning two titles and earning two All-Star spots. His rookie is found in 1961-62 Fleer, which is generally considered one of the top overall products in basketball collecting history.
Also available in 1961-62 Fleer, K. C. Jones spent his entire NBA career with Celtics. His eight NBA titles puts him a rare class and his number was retired by Boston. Like many in the early years of the NBA, the rookie card for the Hall of Fame player missed his actual debut by a few seasons.
A Hall of Fame guard who played his entire career for the early-Celtics' dynasty, Frank Ramsey won seven titles and his number was retired by the team. His rookie in 1957-58 Topps is part of the more plentiful options, which keeps values in check.
Generally considered to to be one of the greatest Celtics of all-time, John Havlicek won eight titles with Boston along with 13 All-Star appearances and the 1974 Finals MVP. His rookie in 1969-70 Topps can be found for surprisingly low amounts given his relevance to the game.
One of the best shooting guards of the 1960s, Sam Jones won a whopping ten titles with the Celtics on the way to a Hall of Fame career. His first card is another key rookie for the Celtics found in the 1961-62 Fleer set.
One of the first star players for the Celtics, Ed Macauley put together six All-Star seasons in Boston but missed out on the title run. The Hall of Fame player was part of the trade in 1956 that brought Bill Russell to Boston and send Macauley to the St. Louis Hawks. His rookie card in 1957-58 Topps was actually for his second-to-last season in the NBA.
Clyde Lovellette only played for the Boston Celtics for two years but the team won the title both years and he was a key contributor. Although he is in the Hall of Fame, most of that was based on his play before he got to Boston. His inclusion on this list is mainly a result of the value for his rookie card in 1957-58 Topps.
Paired with Bob Cousy to form an elite backcourt for Boston, Bill Sharman won four championships with the Celtics and was an eight-time All-Star. Like many at the top of the list, collectors can find the rookie card for the Hall of Fame guard in 1957-58 Topps.
One of the longest-running names associated with the Celtics, Tom Heinsohn spent his entire playing career with Boston and later coached the team before becoming a broadcaster. Heinsohn won eight titles as a player and two more as a coach and was inducted into the Hall of Fame. He was also a six-time All-Star and NBA Rookie of the Year in 1957. Heinsohn has the most valuable vintage rookie card for the Celtics outside of Cousy and Russell.
A Boston legend and all-time great in the NBA, Bob Cousy is a name that is near and dear to fans of the Celtics. He won six championships and was a 13-time All-Star on his way to a Hall of Fame career. Despite not being one of the short printed cards, the Bob Cousy rookie card in 1957-58 Topps has good value and higher grades can reach into the four-figure range.
Without a doubt, Bill Russell is the greatest Celtic of all-time. After a draft trade brought him to Boston, Russell won eleven championships and five MVP awards. Fittingly, his rookie in 1957-58 Topps is also the top card for any Boston Celtics fan to own. The iconic card is very pricey and even low grades normally go for $500+.
The Celtics were basically an unstoppable force in their early days, winning 11 titles in 13 seasons and totaling 13 before 1980. Modern times have not been quite the same, but the team has still claimed four championships since 1980. The following list includes the top modern options for the Boston Celtics. The most current releases are generally low numbered and feature autographs, so this list is based more on the player's accolades than card value, but both are considered.
Top Boston Celtics Modern Rookie Cards
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Reggie Lewis was a talented player for the Celtics as they neared the end of the of Larry Bird-era. A scoring threat at his peak, Lewis was an All-Star in 1992. An untimely death in 1993 abruptly ended his career and the Celtics honored him by retiring his number. His rookie card in 1989-90 can be had for just a dollar or two.
One of the top Celtics during the 1990s, Dee Brown is largely remembered for his dunking skills and he won the 1991 Slam Dunk Contest. His 1990-91 Fleer Update rookie is very inexpensive and was originally available as part of a factory set.
Although his lifestyle caught up to him in the end, at his peak, Antoine Walker was a star for the Celtics. He was a three-time All-Star during seven seasons in Boston before a trade sent to Dallas. He later returned to Boston for part of a season. His Chrome rookie from 1996-97 is overshadowed by several big names and can be found for budget prices.
Somewhat undervalued in his early years given his high-profile teammates, Rajon Rondo has emerged as one of the top point guards in the NBA. The team's rebuild hinted that Rondo's time with the Celtics was coming to a close and that was finally realized in a late-2014 trade with Dallas. Regardless, Rajon Rondo is a top modern option for fans and collectors of the team. His limited rookie card from Exquisite is the clear favorite based on the brand recognition, on-card autograph and patch piece.
Danny Ainge's spot on the list is partially based on his strong playing career and also a result of his role in orchestrating the trades that brought Ray Allen, Kevin Garnett and Rajon Rondo to the Celtics. As a player, Ainge was a key contributor to two championships for the Celtics in the 1980s and was an All-Star in 1988. Following his retirement and a head coaching stint in Phoenix, Ainge was named the Director of Basketball Operations for the Celtics in 2013. His rookie card in 1986-87 Fleer won't set you back too much.
His time in Boston was not too legthy, but Ray Allen helped bring the winning ways back to the Celtics along with Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce. Fans will always remember him fondly for his role in helping take the 2008 title. Although there are multiple options, collectors can find his most popular rookie card in 1996-97 Topps Chrome.
A prolific player on offense and defense, Kevin Garnett brought his trademark intensity to Boston and was a huge part of their late-2000s resurgence. While the team was unable to build on their 2008 title and he eventually left the team, Garnett remains a fan favorite. Collectors are partial to several Kevin Garnett rookie cards but his 1995-96 Finest card appears to be the top choice.
One of the greatest modern Celtics, Paul Pierce is highly regarded by the fan base. While many felt he would be a Celtic for life, Paul Pierce left during the team's rebuilding period. This does not mean that "The Truth" will be forgotten and his rookie cards remain popular with collectors. 1998-99 SP Authentic is the overall favorite for rookie collectors.
A dominant inside scorer and overall physical player, Kevin McHale was one of the most important players for the Celtics in the 1980s. He was part of three titles for the team and was a seven-time All-Star. Although it is one of the older modern options on the list and McHale remains a popular player, his rookie from 1981-82 is not very expensive.
While Bill Russell was the most decorated player for the Celtics, Larry Bird brought them back to the top. "Larry Legend" is the Boston Celtics. Three NBA titles, two Finals MVPs and 12 All-Star appearances put him in a special group, even among Hall of Fame players. His rookie card in 1980-81 is one of the greatest all-time basketball cards and also includes the rookie card for Magic Johnson and a veteran card for Julius Erving. Collectors looking for a cheaper option should check out his other cards from the set which pair him with other players.