As the Golden State Warriors sit two games away from completing their historic season with another NBA championship, it’s hard not to wonder if they’re the greatest team of all time.
But the team that hoisted the Larry O’Brien Trophy exactly 30 years ago might have something to say about that.
Wednesday marks the 30th anniversary of the 1985-86 Boston Celtics’ NBA title, which they clinched in a 17-point Game 6 victory over the Houston Rockets on June 8, 1986. It was a fitting end to a season in which the Celtics finished with a 67-15 record, went 40-1 at home and employed the league’s Most Valuable Player (Larry Bird) and Sixth Man of the Year (Bill Walton).
Those Celtics were the perfect confluence of talent, chemistry and competitiveness. After a crushing loss to the rival Los Angeles Lakers in the 1985 NBA Finals, legendary Celtics executive Red Auerbach acquired Walton from the Los Angeles Clippers in a now-famous trade, adding a former league MVP to a superteam that already included the likes of Bird, Kevin McHale, Robert Parish, Dennis Johnson and Danny Ainge.
Amazingly, Walton didn’t even start for the Celtics, but his infectious energy and willingness to fill any role was immeasurable.
“Bill had zero agenda. He didn’t care. He just wanted to win,” McHale recently said at a reunion event in Boston for the Celtics’ 1966, 1976 and 1986 championship teams. “If he played two minutes, he come in and go, ‘That was the best win in the history of the NBA.’ And if he played 32 minutes, he’d come in and say, ‘That was the best win in the history of the NBA.’ ”
The Celtics had plenty of reasons to celebrate that season. They demolished teams by an average of nearly 10 points per game and steamrolled through the playoffs, going a combined 11-1 against the Chicago Bulls, Atlanta Hawks and Milwaukee Bucks before taking care of the Rockets in the Finals.
Simply put, the Celtics were the best team in the league, and they knew it.
“They took the floor in every game that year thinking, ‘We are better,’ ” the Boston Herald’s Steve Bulpett told NESN.com. “I remember talking to McHale about this. He said, ‘Look, we just know we’re better at this many positions. Three and sometimes four positions a night, you can guarantee it.’ They just felt they were going to win games.”
“That Celtics team could control every game it played,” Walton added at the Celtics’ reunion event. “We lost 15 games that year, all to the worst teams in the league. It was a traveling circus.”
If Boston was an über-talented circus, Bird was its ringleader. The 1985-86 campaign was one of the best of Bird’s career, capped off by a triple-double performance in Game 6 of the NBA Finals that the Hall of Famer himself insists was the best game he ever played.
“I don’t rank, rate or compare championships, coaches, concerts, children or congratulations. I just enjoy them all. But Larry was the best player I ever played with,” Walton said. “He was Mozart. He was Michaelangelo. He was Steve Jobs. He did things that I never saw anybody do.”
If there was any damper on the ’86 title, it’s that the Celtics couldn’t exact their revenge on the Lakers, who surprisingly fell in five games to the Rockets in the Western Conference finals. But that hardly changes the fact that the 1985-86 Celtics were a one-of-a-kind juggernaut that had the talent and the willpower to defeat any opponent in their way.
“We had a bunch of competitive guys. The competitiveness overrode everything,” McHale said. “Our practices sometimes were way more competitive than some of the games we played.”
Would Boston’s ruthless competitiveness be enough to defeat today’s Warriors, who boast record-shattering shooters in Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson? We’ll just pass along this Walton anecdote and let you be the judge.
“At the start of this season people started sending highlight videos around of our Celtics team, with the ball movement, the execution, the dominance,” Walton said. “I sent that to our son, (Warriors assistant coach) Luke (Walton), and he said ‘Wow, I’ve watched this three times already, Dad. I’ve got to take this into our video session.’ You’ll have to ask him if he ever did.”
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