1981 Finals MVP Cedric Maxwell speaks to the crowd during the unveiling of the Celtics vault.
Reminder Publishing photo by Ryan Feyre

SPRINGFIELD — A two-year passion project brimming with Boston Celtics pride has come to fruition at the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame for a limited time.

“The Vault: Boston Celtics Unlocked” was officially unveiled at a ribbon cutting on May 31 with the likes of state lawmakers, fans, Hall of Fame representatives and 1981 NBA Finals MVP Cedric “Cornbread” Maxwell.

“It really details the lineage of the Celtics’ history,” said Hall of Fame President and CEO John Doleva, of the new exhibit. “It’s just such an intense experience; it’s beautiful.”

With the Celtics currently entrenched in their second NBA Finals run in three years, the unveiling of the vault could not have come at a better time, according to Matt Zeysing, vice president, curator and historian at the Hall of Fame.

For the last 22 months, Zeysing and a team of over 20 people worked with the Boston Celtics organization, former players and private collectors to assemble a shrine of memorabilia that traces the storied history of the Celtics.

Artifacts from past and present represent indelible moments in the franchise’s illustrious lineage. Authentic game-worn jerseys from former and current players like Paul Pierce, Ray Allen, Larry Bird, Bill Russell, Jaylen Brown, Jayson Tatum and Al Horford line the walls of the vault.

According to Zeysing, Tatum’s in particular was the jersey he wore in his debut game as a rookie with the Celtics in 2017, and Allen’s was from Game 6 of the 2008 NBA Finals when the Celtics defeated the Los Angeles Lakers to win the title.

Meanwhile, one of Bird’s jerseys is the one he wore in the 1982 All-Star game.

Other memorabilia in the vault include players’ shoes, championship rings, the original Larry O’Brien NBA Finals trophy from when Walter Brown served as Boston’s first owner, and one of Hall of Fame coach Red Auerbach’s famous cigars he used to smoke during an era where the Celtics won eight straight championships.

A walkthrough area lined with photos of the Celtics’ greatest players and a famous quote from Auerbach sets the mood just prior to entering the green-drenched vault. Videos of iconic past and present game moments in the franchise’s history accentuate the exhibit’s atmosphere.

In all, there are around 71 artifacts in the vault, according to Zeysing, and new items will be added as the weeks and months go by.

“We wanted to take it to the next level,” Zeysing said. “We hope that Celtics fans, and basketball fans in general, can get a snippet of what Celtic pride means.”

The exhibit, which will be available to the public for the next several months, is part of a new rotating series the Hall of Fame is introducing where a specific theme will occupy “the vault.” According to Zeysing, the themes will vary and maybe even focus on a specific player like Michael Jordan or Steph Curry.

To celebrate the unveiling of the Celtics vault, the Hall of Fame also hosted a speaker session where Maxwell, Lt. Gov. Kim Driscoll, Zeysing and Kate Fox, director of the Massachusetts Office of Travel and Tourism, gave their thoughts on the importance of the vault.

Maxwell, a two-time champion and longtime broadcaster with the Celtics, said the vault brought back memories of all the players he followed and played with.

“The vault is amazing,” said Maxwell, whose 1981 Finals MVP trophy is also on display in the exhibit. “I’m just fascinated by the history and what you guys have done here. Massachusetts is my home now; it’s humbling being here.”

Driscoll, a former college basketball player herself, emphasized the importance of an exhibit like this, and how its impact reaches beyond the state and throughout multiple generations.

“I’m so grateful to the Hall of Fame for giving not only those of us who are here today, but the thousands of individuals, young and old, of every age, who will come through this exhibit, learn more, see artifacts, have an opportunity to take in a first-class experience and an attraction, and stay longer and visit the other aspects of things that we have happening here in Springfield,” Driscoll said.

In his remarks, Zeysing provided the ethos of the vault experience.

“I truly believe that a young person who walks through this space is going to be inspired to be a champion, and I believe that any older fan is going to fall in love with the memories of being in the driveway pretending to be Larry Bird or Bob Cousy or Hondo [John Havlicek],” Zeysing said. “I deeply believe that right now we all need heroes, and there’s no finer assemblage of heroes than the Boston Celtics.”

The vault, made possible through the help of MassMutual, is now open to the public.