What is a Celtic? Explaining the origin of Boston’s nickname, NBA mascot history

The Celtics are synonymous with basketball.

No NBA team has won more championships. No NBA team has won more individual games. And no NBA team has played more games.

Boston’s basketball history is rich, and to many, the word, “Celtics,” just means basketball.

But while the Celtics and their name have been a part of the NBA for nearly 80 years, it’s likely not everyone knows how the team got its name or its mascot. 

Sporting News is taking a look back at the history of the Celtic name and mascot history in Boston.

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What is a Celtic?

To many in the United States, the first thing that comes to mind when hearing “Celtic” is the basketball team. But that’s not the case globally.

Celtic, internationally, is more widely recognized as the descriptor of Celts, which are people who speak using the Celtic language. The Celtic people have lived across Europe throughout history, though today are best known as Irish, Scottish Gaelic and Welsh people. Many most strongly associated “Celtics” as Irish.

When it comes to the team name, ironically, it comes from Boston’s fiercest sports city rival: New York. The New York Celtics were started in 1914 but disbanded due to World Were I. They were reformed after World War I and called the Original Celtics. They played at Madison Square Garden, but were also largely a barnstorming team, playing up to 205 games nationally, per the Basketball Hall of Fame.

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The Original Celtics stopped barnstorming in 1926 and joined the ABL in 1926, and won ABL titles in 1926 and 1927. They then returned to barnstorming in 1930 but stopped by 1941.

When Walter Brown formed Boston’s basketball team, he and Howie McHugh, who handled public relations, went through a range of nicknames, including the Whirlwinds, Unicorns and Olympics, per the Boston Irish Tourism Association. But Brown decided on the Celtics.

The reason was two-fold: first, the Original Celtics; second, Boston’s Irish population.

“We’ll put them in green uniforms and call them the Boston Celtics,” Brown said, per the Boston Irish Tourism Association.

Boston Celtics mascot

It didn’t take long before the Celtics adopted a mascot, Lucky the Leprechaun.

Red Auerbach, the coach of the Celtics, asked his brother to design a logo for Boston, per the Boston Irish Tourism Association. The mascot featured aspects of 1950s Irish Americans, which included a bowler hat, a pipe, shamrock clothing and holding a shillelagh.

The mascot has remained almost the same over the years. In early years, he was leaping in the air, but by 1968-69, he had moved down to a standing posture with his legs crossed and leaning on the shillelagh, per SportsLogos.net. Since then, a few minor color adjustments have been the extent of the changes.

How many NBA championships have the Celtics won?

The Celtics have won 17 championships, tied with the Lakers for the most in the NBA. Boston hasn’t won a title since the 2007-08 championship but was the most dominant team of the 1950s and 1960s, winning 11 championships in 13 seasons between 1956-57 and 1968-69.

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Here’s a look at every Celtics’ NBA Finals appearance:

Season Opponent Games Record NBA Finals MVP
1956-57 Hawks 7 W, 4-3 N/A
1957-58 Hawks 6 L, 4-2 N/A
1958-59 Lakers 4 W, 4-0 N/A
1959-60 Hawks 7 W, 4-3 N/A
1960-61 Hawks 5 W, 4-1 N/A
1961-62 Lakers 7 W, 4-3 N/A
1962-63 Lakers 6 W, 4-2 N/A
1963-64 Warriors 5 W, 4-1 N/A
1964-65 Lakers 5 W, 4-1 N/A
1965-66 Lakers 7 W, 4-3 N/A
1967-68 Lakers 6 W, 4-2 N/A
1968-69 Lakers 7 W, 4-3 Jerry West, Lakers
1973-74 Bucks 7 W, 4-3 John Havlicek, Celtics
1975-76 Suns 6 W, 4-2 Joe White, Celtics
1980-81 Rockets 6 W, 4-2 Cedric Maxwell, Celtics
1983-84 Lakers 7 W, 4-3 Larry Bird, Celtics
1984-85 Lakers 6 L, 4-2 Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Lakers
1985-86 Rockets 6 W, 4-2 Larry Bird, Celtics
1986-87 Lakers 6 L, 4-2 Magic Johnson, Lakers
2007-08 Lakers 6 W, 4-2 Paul Pierce, Celtics
2009-10 Lakers 7 L, 4-3 Kobe Bryant, Lakers
2021-22 Warriors 6 L, 4-2 Stephen Curry, Warriors

NBA Finals schedule 2024

Games 1, 2, 5 and 7 are scheduled to be played at TD Garden in Boston. The series will shift to the American Airlines Center in Dallas for Games 3, 4 and 6.

(1) Celtics vs. (5) Mavericks

Date Game Time (ET) TV/Live stream
June 6 Game 1 8:30 p.m. ABC, Sling
June 9 Game 2 8 p.m. ABC, Sling
June 12 Game 3 8:30 p.m. ABC, Sling
June 14 Game 4 8:30 p.m. ABC, Sling
June 17 Game 5* 8:30 p.m. ABC, Sling
June 20 Game 6* 8:30 p.m. ABC, Sling
June 23 Game 7* 8 p.m. ABC, Sling

*If necessary


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