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There was clearly no love lost between the Boston Celtics and the Detroit Pistons in the 1980s. That was never more evident during the 1987 Eastern Conference Finals, a series Larry Bird and the Celtics literally stole from the Pistons.

Game 5 had everything — drama, physicality, and a surprise outburst from mild-mannered Celtics center Robert Parish. Parish had enough of Pistons center Bill Laimbeer’s antics and sent him to the floor with a couple of blows to the back of the head. When it was all said and done, Celtics president Red Auerbach backed Parish and ripped Laimbeer.

Robert Parish finally had enough of Bill Laimbeer during the 1987 Eastern Conference Finals

To be blunt, Bill Laimbeer was not well-liked by the Boston Celtics. Known as an agitator, the 6-foot-11 center did more damage with his elbows than his jump shot. Whenever there was a fight involving the Pistons, Laimbeer was sure to be involved — or he at least started it.

In Game 3 of the 1987 Eastern Conference Finals, Laimbeer took down Bird with a hard, unnecessary foul. The play caused a brief skirmish, and Laimbeer was ejected. While things were getting sorted out, Bird fired the basketball at Laimbeer, earning an ejection of his own.

In Game 5, Parish had enough of Laimbeer. As the two battled for a rebound, Parish uncharacteristically lost it. While in the paint, Laimbeer had his back to Parish, who swung twice and connected with Laimbeer’s head, bringing him to the floor. Surprisingly, no foul was called, although the league reviewed the incident and suspended Parish for Game 6.

“In the heat of the battle, it was the first time I had lost control of my emotions and my temper,” Parish told former teammate Cedric Maxwell on the Cedric Maxwell Podcast on CLNS. “We had exchanged a few unpleasantries toward one another and a few elbows. I couldn’t believe I lost my composure like that. That’s the first time ever.”

Auerbach backed Parish for his outright assault on Laimbeer


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Most remember Game 5 of the ’87 conference finals as the game when Bird stole the ball and quickly dished to Dennis Johnson for the game-winning layup. The improbable victory in the final seconds gave the Celtics a 3-2 series lead. Although they lost Game 6 in Detroit, they closed out the series with a Game 7 victory in Boston, earning their fourth straight trip to the NBA Finals.

The day after the game, Auerbach sat down with sportscaster Len Berman and discussed Parish’s suspension and $7,500 fine.

“Let me tell you about that,” Auerbach told Berman in the YouTube video posted by MasterofPuppets. “The cameras just got the part where Robert got mad. Nobody saw Laimbeer’s elbow that hit him in the neck, right by the Adam’s Apple. All he did was react.

“People are sick and tired of this guy with the baby face, putting his hands up all the time, ‘Who me?’ Meanwhile, he’ll sucker punch you. As I said once before, it couldn’t have happened to a nicer guy.”

Berman then asked if Parish’s punishment was justified.

“I think it was very excessive, but at the same time, I could understand what (commissioner) David Stern is trying to do,” Auerbach said. “(He’s) trying to cut down on all the violence. It’s a shame it had to happen to Robert Parish because our ballclub, I always feel, are retaliators, not instigators. Detroit, they did it against Atlanta. They are the instigators.”