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Bill Walton needed a change of scenery. The Boston Celtics needed Bill Walton.

In a risky move, the Celtics sent veteran forward Cedric Maxwell to the Los Angeles Clippers in exchange for the oft-injured Walton before the 1985-86 NBA season. Walton played a key role in securing Boston’s championship but not before admitting he was “startled” by the relationship Celtics fans had with the team.

Bill Walton was the perfect fit for the Boston Celtics

Bill Walton of the Boston Celtics battles for a rebound with Alton Lister of the Milwaukee Bucks during an NBA game circa 1986 at the Boston Garden in Boston, Massachusetts. | Focus on Sport/Getty Images.

After defeating the Los Angeles Lakers in the 1984 NBA Finals, the Celtics failed to repeat when the teams met again in 1985. The Celtics went out and strengthened their bench with the signing of Walton, who could come in and spell Kevin McHale and Robert Parish, who had their hands full against Lakers star Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.

Walton might be the biggest what-if story in the NBA. The Portland Trail Blazers made him the top pick in the 1974 NBA Draft after a stellar college career at UCLA. He was named NBA Finals MVP after guiding the Blazers to a championship in his third season. The following season, he was named MVP of the league.

After his MVP year, Walton missed the entire 1978-79 season with a foot injury. He came back in the 1979-80 season but appeared in just 14 games. Foot injuries kept him out of the NBA for the next two years.

He played the next three seasons with the San Diego/Los Angeles Clippers but wasn’t the player he used to be. The perfect scenario for Walton was to become a role player on a championship contender. Boston was a perfect fit. He enjoyed his new role.

“It was a completely different role,” Walton told former Celtics forward Brian Scalabrine in a 2020 video put out by the Boston Celtics. “I was only playing a few minutes a game. My basic role was to tell Larry (Bird) what the schedule was and to make sure he knew what time the game started.”

Walton got a warm welcome from the Celtics fans


With Bill Walton Discouraged Because of Injury, Larry Bird and Kevin McHale Remained Relentless With Him

Boston fans can be tough, but when you play hard for the Celtics, you’ve got fans for life. Despite his limitations from the foot injuries, Walton gave his all.

During the 1985-86 season, Walton logged 19.3 minutes per game for the Celtics. He averaged 7.6 points and 6.8 rebounds, helping the Celtics to a 67-win season. He played in 80 games, the most ever in his 10-year career. Walton was named the NBA’s Sixth Man of the Year.

Walton was a fan favorite in Boston. Even before he played a game for the Celtics, he could see the passion in the fans and how attached to the team they were. He admitted it scared him a little.

“The tremendous community support, the love of basketball, the relationship that exists between the fans and the team was sort of startling to me, frankly,” Walton told Sports Illustrated in 1986.

We had very, very intense fans at UCLA, and it was the same way at Portland. And it looks like it will be even greater here. I almost can’t believe it.”

Walton and Celtics fans were a perfect match. Even legendary Celtics point guard Bob Cousy knew how important Walton’s presence alone was in Boston.

“If he stays healthy and happy, he’ll hang another flag up,” Cousy said. “His presence is that significant.”

Cousy was right. The Celtics knocked off the Houston Rockets in six games in the 1986 NBA Finals.