Celtics Reminiscence: Don Chaney

Welcome to the second edition of Celtics Reminiscence! Today’s throwback? 70′s stalwart Don “Duck” Chaney, a steady shooting guard/lockdown defender and owner of two Celtics championship rings in 1969 and 1974.

Chaney starred at the University of Houston alongside future Hall of Famer Elvin Hayes. With the Cougars, Chaney played in two straight Final Fours and is regarded as one of the top players to ever come from the school. Among all Houston players to play in the NBA, Chaney averaged the ninth most points per game and sixth most steals as a pro. He also played in every minute of the UCLA vs. Houston clash regarded as the “Game of the Century”. The game was the first regular-season college game to be broadcasted nationally and Chaney played a big role in Houston ending UCLA’s 47-game winning streak.

Chaney’s collegiate feats earned him the 12th selection in the 1968 draft, joining a Celtics team in the midst of the greatest century in the history of team sports. He played sparingly in that rookie season, but appeared in seven playoff games and earned a ring as a part of player coach Bill Russell‘s final season. In his third year in the league, Chaney broke the Celtics’ starting rotation as the two-guard beside JoJo White and John Havlicek. That year, he saw his point total triple and massive improvements in every statistical category. Chaney stayed in the starting lineup for the next four years, with his best year coming in 1972-1973 when he had career highs in points per game, shooting percentage, free throw percentage, rebounds per game, and minutes played. During that stretch, Chaney’s reputation as a lockdown defender blossomed as he secured his spot on four consecutive All-NBA Defensive Teams. He played for two other teams, the Spirits of St. Louis (in the ABA) and the Lakers before being traded back to Boston in 1977. He would retire two years later but not before securing another All-NBA Defensive Second Team placement.

Chaney’s best moments as a Celtic clearly came in the 1974 Finals Series with the Milwaukee Bucks. Tasked with guarding the 35-year old shell of the former great Oscar Robertson, Boston coach Tom Heinsohn assigned Chaney to press Robertson at all times. The end results was a dismal series for Oscar as he averaged just 12.1 points per game while shooting only 43%, both much worse than his career averages. Despite the fact that he was 35 and would go on to retire after the series, Robertson’s usual production could have pushed the Bucks past the Celtics in the grueling seven game series. Although it may not be on par with a “Bird stole the ball!” or “Havlicek stole the ball!”, Chaney’s steal in game 6 led to a Havlicek bucket that sent the game into a second overtime and saved the series for Boston.

Since his retirement, Chaney has remained very active in the basketball world. Chaney spent 22 years as a coach, including 12 as a head coach in Houston, New York, LA Clippers, and Detroit. Despite his accolade of Coach of the Year in 1990 with the Rockets (52 wins), his coaching statistics are atrocious. Coaching in post-Thomas Detroit and post-Ewing New York, that 52 win season proved to be the last winning record a Chaney-led team would see. His 2-9 playoff record ranks as the the third worst percentage among all coaches with more than one playoff appearance. His regular season record of 337-494 also ranks as the third worst all time in the Wins over 500 statistic (a statistic that provides a level playing field for coaches,           Wins-Losses/2).

In some other cities, Chaney’s name may be met with coaching memory cringes. But here in Boston, the memories are full of successes. His Finals performance on Robertson was nothing short of remarkable and is a huge reason why he deserves to be remembered as one of the most beloved Celtics’ role players of all time.

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