At 2:45 a.m. Friday morning, Celtics fan Brian Babz and his friend “Caveman” were already outside TD Garden, starting celebrations early before the duck boats got rolling at 11 a.m.

Babz says he’s been running on adrenaline since the Celtics clinched their 18th banner Monday night.

“It’s been a long drought for Boston sports parades, a long five years,” he said. “And we wanted to make sure we got the most prime spot, right in front of the TD Garden and just soak it in.”

He recalled the Celtics’ “dominant” championship run packed with unforgettable moments, like Payton Pritchard’s half-court shot in Game 5 of the Finals — the game that ultimately won them the title.

“You know what? The Boston Celtics have now established that they are the team of Boston — sorry, Patriots,” Babz said.

Although rainy weather was in the forecast for later in the day, the only precipitation at Friday’s parade was the green-and-white confetti that fell like happy tears on Boston’s streets.

Jaylen Brown showed off his Bill Russell NBA Finals MVP trophy and Jayson Tatum cradled the Larry O’Brien Championship Trophy as the convoy of duck boats snaked its way through the city. Fans stood on the sidewalks, clung to poles and climbed on top of bus stops to get a better look at their heroes.

Over a million fans were expected to show up, though it felt like more than that were there just on the final stretch of the route down Boylston Street. It was a fitting celebration for a championship 16 years in the making.

Two men scream into the camera. They're wearing Boston Celtics gear.
Brian Babz and “Caveman” showed up before 3 a.m. to find a spot to see the Celtics championship parade Friday morning.
Mark Herz GBH News

The duck boats were the coda on a season for the history books: This year’s NBA Finals victory makes the Boston Celtics the first team in the league to ever win 18 NBA titles.

“When you talk NBA, you’re talking Boston Celtics first and foremost,” Rusty Sullivan, executive director of the Sports Museum at TD Garden, told GBH’s Morning Edition.

Melissa Ferguson from Dorchester said it was special to see the team get its 18th championship.

“They’re such a young team,” she said. “They play well together ... no real controversy within the team, just injuries. Just a great team. I’m just so happy for them.”

Her daughter, Mynaja Ferguson, was just as excited.

“It just has been fun growing up all here, all our lives, just seeing the Patriots, the Bruins, the Celtics, the Red Sox. We have the best city in the world for sports, so it’s always a fun time to just see us win.”

As the city celebrates, some will be remembering the Celtics’ other historic firsts. Part of that history includes the team becoming home to the first Black player drafted into the NBA, Charles “Chuck” Cooper, in 1950.

“The Celtics are just a special organization,” said Chuck Cooper III, the Hall of Famer’s son. “This really started in 1950 when they drafted my father. Walter Brown hired Red Auerbach as the coach. And he immediately acquired Bob Cousy and drafted my father, two All-American basketball players in college. And that was the Celtics’ first winning season.”

“People ask me: Why do I think the Celtics win?” Cooper added. “Because they make great decisions. They have excellent leadership, even today from their ownership to their front office all the way through the organization.”

It was also the first NBA team with an all-Black starting five in 1964. One of those players was Bill Russell, who became the NBA’s first Black head coach when the Celtics hired him as player-coach two years later.

The Celtics are part of the fabric of the city’s Black communities, a welcoming organization in a region that is not always welcoming to people of color, journalist and historian Dart Adams said.

“When you grow up in Boston, especially in the inner city, basketball is everything. It’s culture,” Adams said. “The Boston Celtics are at the center of it. We learn life lessons from Boston Celtics basketball, how the game is supposed to be played, how we’re supposed to treat things in life, how to be a teammate, how to do everything to win.”

And the Celtics’ 2024 team “embodied all of that,” Adams said.

“It means a lot to the inner city of Boston because they identified with this team,” Adams said. “Black Boston loves the Boston Celtics. It might have been a different story in the ’80s when things were different, but the Boston Celtics are an inner-city team — totally embraced by the whole city.”

What won this year’s championship was “this team and the mental toughness that group showed, led by their stars in Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown,” NBC Sports Boston Celtics sideline reporter Abby Chin said. “Those two guys have suffered so much heartbreak in their basketball career. And it may seem like a silly thing, but to be so close so many times and not be able to get there, and the pressure that both of them are under, when you consider the crucible that is sports in Boston.”

So what’s next for the Celtics? Chin said their leaders are already focused on next season. And their odds at a serious championship run next year are pretty good, Chin said.

“I was inside the locker room for the champagne showers, and I will never forget [head coach] Joe Mazzulla — soaked in champagne — and he just looks at one of his assistants and he said, ‘I’m ready for practice tomorrow,’” Chin said. “Yes, he’s celebrating, enjoying this moment with his family and clearly everyone who he felt like was part of the journey for him. But there’s no question he is about the work and ready to get back to it.”

Updated: June 21, 2024
This story is being updated through the day on Friday with fan reactions, plus sights and sounds from downtown Boston, as the parade gets underway.