The Boston Celtics almost repeated themselves as champions in the 1985 NBA Finals. They beat the Los Angeles Lakers in 1984 for their second title of the decade. They faced LA again the following year but just couldn’t get enough as the Lakers beat Boston in six games.
The core pieces were there for the Celtics. Larry Bird, Robert Parish and Kevin McHale arguably formed the best frontcourt in the league. Dennis Johnson and Danny Ainge gave Boston tremendous backfield. The Celtics needed bank help.
Celtics president and GM Red Auerbach took a risk. He turned to Bill Walton, a veteran and often-injured center. Like most trains from Auerbach, it ended well.
The Boston Celtics traded to Bill Walton prior to the 1985-86 season
The Celtics had four future Hall of Famers in their starting lineup (Bird, Parish, McHale and Johnson) in the 1985–86 season. It was the bank that needed work. Walton needed a change of scenery after playing seasons for the Clippers, who recently relocated to Los Angeles from San Diego.
Walton’s career was marred by injuries. He missed three full seasons with a foot injury after playing four strong seasons with the Portland Trail Blazers. Portland made Walton the first pick in the 1974 NBA draft after a distinguished collegiate career at UCLA. With Portland, he helped lead the Blazers to an NBA championship in 1977. Walton was also named league MVP for the 1977–78 season.
Walton hit a stretch where he missed three of the next four seasons. The one season he played came in 1979-80 when he appeared in 14 games with the San Diego Clippers. Walton then played three uneventful seasons with the Clippers. There was no winning culture. He needed a change, and the Celtics needed an experienced big man off the bench.
It was a perfect match. It was also a very different role for Walton. He was no longer the star of the team but found himself among several stars.
“It was a completely different role,” Walton told former Celtics forward Brian Scalabrine in a 2020 video released by the Boston Celtics. “I only played a few minutes per game. My main job was to tell Larry the game schedule and make sure he knew when the game started.”
The Celtics made a risky and expensive move to land Walton
Auerbach and the Celtics pulled the trigger for a deal to land Walton. The move was expensive, but it was worth it.
Boston clipped 1981 NBA Finals MVP Cedric Maxwell and a 1986 first-round draft pick for Walton. In addition, the Celtics agreed to pay more than half of Maxwell’s salary. It was quite a gamble for Boston, who was targeting Walton, who had spent nearly half his NBA life on the sidelines.
“If he stays healthy and happy, he’s going to put up another flag,” Celtics star Bob Cousy told Sports Illustrated at the time of the deal. “His presence is so significant.”
Walton knew immediately that Boston was the ideal place for him.
“The tremendous support from the community, the love of basketball — the bond that the fans have with the team, frankly, was kind of amazing to me,” Walton told SI when he arrived at training camp in 1985. “I definitely missed being with the Clippers. We had very, very intense fans at UCLA, and it was the same in Portland.
“And it looks like it’s going to get even bigger here. I almost can’t believe it.”
In his freshman year with the Celtics, Walton played the most games (80) in each of his pro seasons. He averaged 19.3 minutes and put up 7.6 points and 6.8 rebounds. He was named sixth man of the year by the NBA, and Boston beat the Houston Rockets for their third title of the ’80s.
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