The Boston Celtics and Brooklyn Nets have a rival history that dates back to when the fellow Eastern Conference squad resided in New Jersey.
Aside from the fact that the Celtics notched their 10th consecutive victory against the Nets on Wednesday night in a non-competitive fashion, both teams have served as homes to several memorable names throughout the years. All despite the fact that Boston holds a commanding 17-0 lead in NBA championships.
With that being said, here are six of the most noteworthy names who’ve taken the floor both in a Celtics and Nets uniform at some point in their career:
Kyrie Irving (2011-present)
Career-high with Celtics: 47 points on Nov. 20, 2017 (vs. Dallas Mavericks)
Career-high with Nets: 60 points on March 15, 2022 (vs. Orlando Magic)
When Irving arrived in Boston through a blockbuster trade that both ended the Isaiah Thomas era and the Cleveland Cavaliers super team led by LeBron James, the Celtics were poised to sit atop the East for years to come.
At least we thought, right?
Just about everything that could’ve gone wrong did. Irving’s tenure with Boston was filled with drama, injury stints and one dishonorable promise to Celtics fans that he’d commit long-term upon his 2019 free agency. Not to mention an awful “Uncle Drew” flick that was an hour and 44 minutes of life you’d never get back.
“I’ve shared it with some of my teammates as well as the organization as well as everyone else in Boston. If you guys will have me back, I plan on re-signing here next year,” Irving told Celtics fans at TD Garden in 2018, according to ESPN.
Irving proceeded to play 127 games for the Celtics through two seasons, including an absence in the 2017-18 playoffs with season-ending knee surgery when Boston fell just a win shy of an NBA Finals.
In Boston, Irving averaged 24.1 points, 4.4 rebounds and 6.1 assists. He struggled to prove his ability to fill the role that James did back in Cleveland and failed to lead a young Celtics core on the rise. Instead, Irving packed his bags and joined forces with Kevin Durant in Brooklyn, which also hasn’t gone well. Irving’s departure instantly sparked a rivalry between Boston and Brooklyn. Yet, relative to expectations, the Nets have been an utter failure thus far. They pulled a Hail Mary move with James Harden in 2021, which snowballed into a failed experiment and severed ties with head coach Steve Nash in 2022.
Brooklyn was assembled to win its first NBA title and they hadn’t even managed to surpass a 2021 conference semifinals appearance under Irving and Durant.
Paul Pierce (1998-2017)
Career-high with Celtics: 50 points on Feb. 15, 2006 (vs. Cleveland Cavaliers)
Career-high with Nets: 33 points on Jan. 27, 2014 (vs. Toronto Raptors)
Pierce, better known as “The Captain” and “The Truth,” played for four teams throughout his 19-year career. Yet, he’ll always be remembered as the Celtic after Pierce was selected with the 10th overall pick in the 1998 NBA Draft. And while most of that era was predominately filled with skepticism behind Pierce’s future due to an underwhelming supporting cast and ugly first season with ex-head coach Doc Rivers, patience was rewarded in 2007.
The Celtics were fresh off their 24-58 campaign and the front office got busy, which led to the arrival of Kevin Garnett, Ray Allen and Banner 17 following six games against the Los Angeles Lakers in June of 2008. And for the cherry on top, Pierce was named NBA Finals MVP after averaging 21.8 points, 4.5 rebounds and 6.3 assists. Pierce notched 10 All-Star appearances in 15 seasons with Boston and became the 23rd member to have his jersey number retired and hung in the rafters at TD Garden.
After a run worthy of Pierce sitting among the Celtics’ Mount Rushmore of legends, former president of basketball operations Danny Ainge made a tough call — one that paid dividends for Boston years to come. Pierce was traded along with Kevin Garnett, Jason Terry and D.J. White to the Nets in blockbuster fashion during the 2013 draft in exchange for five players and three first-round picks. And two of those first-rounders amounted to Jaylen Brown (2016) and Jayson Tatum (2017).
In Brooklyn, Pierce spent just one season and averaged 13.5 points with 4.6 rebounds in 75 games.
So while Pierce’s time in Boston started slow, he both provided one successful title run along with an opportunity to seize even more in the coming years upon his departure.
Kevin Garnett (1995-2016)
Career-high with Celtics: 31 points on March 5, 2008 (vs. Detroit Pistons)
Career-high with Nets: 18 points on Nov. 1, 2014 (vs. Pistons)
“The Big Ticket,” who only played six of his 21 NBA seasons with the Celtics, didn’t need much time to go down as one of the all-time greats in Boston’s history. Garnett spent his first 12 years with the Minnesota Timberwolves and quickly established himself as one of the league’s most elite big men. The surrounding cast around Garnett was only good enough for a single Western Conference finals appearance, though, plus seven consecutive first-round exits.
Like Pierce, Garnett needed a change. And that’s when Ainge made the call and swapped Al Jefferson, Ryan Gomes, Sebastian Telfair, Gerald Green, Theo Ratliff and two first-round picks for Garnett. That trade didn’t take very long to pay off as the All-Star delivered just what Boston needed. Garnett averaged 15.7 points and 8.3 rebounds in 396 games with the Celtics. He was an All-Star in all but one season and during the 2008 NBA Finals, Garnett led all but one game in rebounds.
Like Pierce, all good things must come to an end. And that was the case for Garnett’s time in Boston as Ainge packaged him to the Nets where he spent just two seasons. Garnett averaged 6.6 points with 6.7 rebounds and made just one playoff run alongside Pierce in 2014. The Nets were bounced in the second round by the Miami Heat, which signaled the end of Garnett’s glory days under the bright lights of playoff basketball.
The Celtics also honored Garnett with a jersey retirement ceremony in 2022.
Kenny Anderson (1991-2005)
Career-high with Celtics: 33 points on Feb. 15, 2000 (vs. Utah Jazz)
Career-high with Nets: 45 points on April 15, 1994 (vs. Pistons)
Anderson began his career in New Jersey, where many viewed him as the next great point guard in basketball — a reputation he began to build as a high school prospect. That garnered attention and early reputation prompted New Jersey to take a chance on him with the second overall pick in the 1991 NBA Draft. After his rookie season, in which Anderson only saw the floor for 17 minutes a game, the Nets fully entrusted him to be the face of the franchise and flip the switch for the Nets upon Mookie Blaylock’s departure.
And that’s exactly what Anderson grew into.
In 1994, Anderson notched his first and only NBA All-Star appearance, which was heavily a result of the confidence instilled in him by former head coach Chuck Daly. With the Nets, Anderson averaged 15.3 points, 3.4 rebounds and 7.8 assists, but also played in just seven playoff games. And after bouncing around journeyman style across the league, Anderson was traded to the Celtics in a seven-player deal after he refused to play for the Raptors in 1998 following a league-wide lockout.
Anderson’s arrival in Boston was amid the unbearable Rick Pitino coaching era. While he did show signs of promise, the Celtics would be the team where Anderson hit a downward spiral, which reduced him to a shell of what he once was with the Nets, Charlotte Hornets and Portland Trailblazers. He averaged 11.3 points and 5.2 assists during his time in Boston, which was the last time Anderson recorded a double-figure scoring average for the remainder of his NBA career.
The Celtics and Anderson did share one deep playoff run in the 2001-02 season where Boston fell — ironically enough — just two games shy of the NBA Finals to the Nets. Anderson averaged 12.7 points and shot 40% from the field with 5.3 assists in the series, which served as the end of his best years.
Ahead of the 2022-23 season began, a retired Anderson made his pick between the two teams:
“I don’t see it but with Kyrie and Kevin Durant, anything is possible. It can happen,” Anderson told Brandon Robinson of Bally Sports. “But this year, the Celtics are motivated after how they lost last year in the championship — they are motivated.”
Joe Johnson (2001-2022)
Career-high with Celtics: 23 points on Nov. 3, 2001 (vs. Milwaukee Bucks)
Career-high with Nets: 37 points on Dec. 16, 2013 (vs. Philadelphia 76ers)
In 2001, the Celtics selected Johnson with the 10th overall pick in the NBA draft. And had history been left alone at that, Johnson would’ve served as one of Boston’s all-time great draft selections. However, at the time, Boston was under the dark-clouded Pitino era. As opposed to allowing Johnson to grow into the seven-time All-Star he became and play alongside Pierce for years to come, the Celtics elected to take an alternative route and foolishly make of the franchise’s worst decisions. Boston dealt Johnson along with two others to the Phoenix Suns in exchange for Tony Delk and Rodney Rodgers in 2002.
Johnson played 48 games into his rookie season with the Celtics and was primed to become of the league’s most prolific scorers, yet the Celtics played themselves. Over the course of the next 12 seasons, Johnson made five All-Star Games and average over 20 points on five consecutive occasions with the Hawks. Meanwhile, Delk and Rodgers were nothing more than subpar role players for the Celtics and further highlight what could’ve been had the team not overmanaged their assets.
While Pitino proceeded to prove he wasn’t cut out for the NBA, Johnson averaged 15.2 points and 4.2 rebounds in 120 playoff games, which included three playoff runs with the Nets from 2012-15. Johnson crossed paths with Pierce and Garnett following the iconic blockbuster for a 2013-14 run. At age 40 and after a four-year hiatus from the NBA, the Celtics signed Johnson in 2021 to a seven-day contract, far too late with “Iso Joe” already established as one of the organization’s all-time what if’s.
Stephon Marbury (1996-2009)
Career-high with Celtics: 11 points on March 27, 2009 (vs. Atlanta Hawks)
Career-high with Nets: 50 points on Feb. 13, 2001 (vs. Los Angeles Lakers)
Another local New York legend, Marbury or better known as “Starbury,” had a similar career path to Anderson. He was dealt from Minnesota to the Nets in a three-team trade that also involved the Bucks and 2008 Celtics champ Sam Cassell. Yet, the Nets weren’t destined for the playoffs with their best record (31-51) 20 games below .500 in 2000.
Meanwhile, Marbury did his part. In the midst of his prime years, Marbury averaged 23 points with 3.1 rebounds and 8.1 assists in a Nets uniform. In 2001, his final campaign with New Jersey, he made his first career All-Star Game and averaged a career-high 23.9 points and shot 44.1% from the field. After that season where Marbury flourished while the Nets were bottom-of-the-barrel, the Nets dealt him to the Suns in exchange for Jason Kidd.
Fast forward after an eight-year run with the Suns and New York Knicks and Marbury made his curtain call with the Celtics in 2009. Boston signed Marbury after he cleared waivers with the Knicks and once the Celtics were done dusting off the confetti from their NBA title over the Lakers.
“Our entire organization is confident in the belief that Stephon can play an important role in helping us to win another championship,” Ainge said, according to ESPN.
Well, that didn’t happen. Marbury proceeded to average just 3.8 points in 23 games played for the Celtics. Garnett suffered a leg injury, Boston was eliminated in seven games against the Magic in the conference semifinals and Marbury’s NBA career had reached its end once and for all.