Why the 1985-86 Boston Celtics Team Is the Best in NBA History
1985-86 Boston Celtics
We made a case for the 1985-86 Boston Celtics as the best NBA team in history.
With apologies to the 1995-96 Chicago Bulls, the 1986-87 Los Angeles Lakers, and the 2016-17 Golden State Warriors, the 1985-86 Boston Celtics are the best team in NBA history.
Yes, they didn’t have a 72-win season like the Michael Jordan-led Bulls. They didn’t have the offensive prowess of Stephen Curry’s Warriors. They were, however, the best team, one that dominated at Boston Garden, losing once at home all season, with four future Hall of Famers in the starting lineup and another coming off the bench.
The 1985-86 Boston Celtics Had Everything
The Celtics won the second of their three championships in the 1980s when they rallied to knock off the Lakers in the 1984 NBA Finals. They sought a repeat in ’85, but the Lakers earned revenge by ousting the Celtics in six games.
The following season, the Celtics addressed their biggest weakness — the bench — and made one move that made all the difference. Boston turned to Bill Walton, a veteran and oft-injured center, landing him in a trade with the Los Angeles Clippers.
Led by Larry Bird, who was coming off two straight MVP seasons, the Celtics had four future HOFers in the starting lineup, including center Robert Parish, forward Kevin McHale, and guard Dennis Johnson.
It was a team that was built through the draft (Bird) and key trades in different years. The Celtics swindled the Warriors in the 1980 NBA Draft, sending the No. 1 pick and the 13th selection in exchange for Parish and the third pick. With that third pick, they selected McHale.
The Celtics also acquired Johnson in another lopsided trade. In 1983, Boston brought in D.J. from the Phoenix Suns in a deal for center Rick Robey.
The addition of Walton beefed up a thin bench. Walton played 80 games that season, averaging 7.6 points and 6.8 rebounds and giving Parish and McHale much-needed breathers. Walton was named the NBA’s Sixth Man of the Year. The Celtics also added Jerry Sichting, a sharpshooting guard, to come off the bench.
The Celtics Were a Complete Team That Made Plenty of Sacrifices
While Bird was the best player in the league, the Celtics didn’t have to rely on him as much as the 1995-96 Bulls leaned on Jordan. Jordan’s ’96 team that went 72-10 was more of a product of Jordan himself than the rest of his squad.
The Celtics had four legitimate stars. They were four unselfish players, who could’ve had much bigger numbers if they weren’t on the same team. McHale said it was those sacrifices that made them a championship squad.
“It’s the ‘we’ before ‘me,” McHale said to Cedric Maxwell during an episode of the “Cedric Maxwell Podcast.” “If you can’t enjoy your teammates’ success, you’re in the wrong business. You need to go play tennis because then you’re by yourself, and you can go yell at the linesmen or do whatever you want. But if you don’t enjoy your teammates’ success, you can only go so far.”
Parish, too, made his own sacrifices.
“(Coach) K.C. (Jones) always appreciated the sacrifices that I made on the offensive end,” Parish once told Michael D. McClellan of Celtic Nation. “There were only so many balls to go around, which meant that someone had to make some adjustments to make it all work.
“I’m a low-key guy who doesn’t need the limelight, and for me, it was never about putting up stats. With Larry and Kevin playing at such high levels, I didn’t get much credit for my offensive skills — that’s because they shot all the balls (laughs).”
Injuries took down the Celtics in the 1986-87 season. Walton played in 10 regular season games. McHale limped through the latter part of the playoffs with a fractured foot, but still they took the Lakers to six games in the 1987 NBA Finals.
For one season, the Celtics had it all. Everything worked out perfectly in Boston during the 1985-86 season.