Skip to main content

When you think about the Boston Celtics dynasty of the 1980s, Larry Bird always comes to mind. Bird teamed with Kevin McHale and Robert Parish to form what is widely considered the best frontcourt in NBA history.

While those three future Hall of Famers got plenty of well-deserved credit for Boston’s success, it was a fourth future HOFer the Celtics acquired right before the 1983-84 season. Dennis Johnson proved to be a key addition, leading the way to a championship in his first year with the team. The title led to a big payday for DJ, but money wasn’t everything.

Dennis Johnson was just what the Boston Celtics needed

The Celtics dynasty began when Bird came to Boston and made his debut during the 1979-80 season. He captured Rookie of the Year honors and turned a 29-win team into a contender that posted an NBA-best 61-21 record.

The following season, the Celtics swing a deal with the Golden State Warriors that pushed Boston over the top. Thanks to a previous trade with the Detroit Pistons, the Celtics held the top pick in the 1980 NBA Draft. They traded the No. 1 and No. 13 picks in the draft for Parish and the No. 3 pick. With the third selection, the Celtics took McHale.

In their first year together, Bird, McHale, and Parish teamed up to win the first of their three NBA championships of the decade. The Celtics defeated the Houston Rockets in six games. Boston, however, failed to return to the championship round the next two seasons. In the 1983 playoffs, the Celtics were embarrassingly swept by the Milwaukee Bucks in the conference semifinals.

The Celtics needed a defensive-minded guard and went out and traded for Dennis Johnson. DJ helped put the clamps on rival guards like Andrew Toney of the Philadelphia 76ers and Sidney Moncrief of the Bucks. In his first year with the Celtics, Johnson reached the NBA Finals. He played a significant role in the series against the Los Angeles Lakers that resulted in Boston claiming the 1984 NBA Finals in seven games.

The Celtics reached the NBA Finals in each of Johnson’s first four years with the team.

The Celtics rewarded Johnson, who then got his wish


The 1985-86 Boston Celtics Suffered a Late-Season Loss to the Nets, and Kevin McHale Taunted Bill Walton the Following Day

In September 1985, the Celtics showed their commitment and their appreciation for the 31-year-old Johnson. They inked the veteran guard to a four-year deal worth $3.2 million.

While the money was good, that wasn’t what was on his mind. He knew the core of the team was returning after falling to the Lakers in the 1985 NBA Finals. That played a key role in DJ returning to Boston.

“The guys I played with during my two years here had a lot to do with my coming back,” Johnson said after inking the deal, per United Press International. “We won a championship here (in 1984) and you can’t beat that feeling.”

Then he had one wish.

“I’d like to win one more,” he said.

The Celtics had just traded for Bill Walton to help strengthen their bench. They also added veteran guard Jerry Sichting. Johnson said the addition of Walton had to make Boston the favorite for the 1985-86 season.

“With the addition of Bill, there’s no way we can lose,” Johnson said then.

DJ was right. The Celtics won 67 games that year. That 1985-86 team goes down as one of the best in NBA history. They lost one home game all year and defeated the Rockets in six games for their third and final championship of the decade.