Kevin McHale Insists the 1980s Boston Celtics Had the Perfect Coach: ‘It Was Like Playing for a Very Good Friend’
The current Boston Celtics are trying to become what the 1980s Boston Celtics once were. Loaded with talent, the 2023 version can’t seem to get it together as they find themselves down 3-1 to the Miami Heat in the Eastern Conference Finals despite being heavy favorites when the series began.
The Celtics of the 1980s were a much more talented and disciplined group that won three NBA championships and played in four straight NBA Finals. Led by Larry Bird, Kevin McHale, and Robert Parish, they put together a dynasty in the decade. McHale gave plenty of credit for that success to a change in head coaches.
The addition of Kevin McHale helped the Boston Celtics rule the 1980s
Larry Bird earned Rookie of the Year honors for the Boston Celtics during the 1979-80 NBA season. He helped turn around a franchise that won 29 games before he came to town by guiding the Celtics to 61 wins in his first season.
The following year, the Celtics pulled off one of the biggest trades in franchise history. Boston held the top pick in the 1980 NBA Draft and sent it, along with the No. 13 pick, to the Golden State Warriors. In return, the Celtics acquired veteran center Robert Parish and the third overall pick in the draft. With that No. 3 pick, the Celtics selected McHale.
In their first year together, Bird, McHale, and Parish won the first of three championships in the decade. They knocked off the Houston Rockets in the 1981 NBA Finals in six games. After two seasons of failing to return to the championship round, the Celtics reached the 1984 NBA Finals and returned for the next three seasons.
The Celtics and the Los Angeles Lakers took over the NBA in the ’80s. In every year of the decade, either the Celtics or Lakers reached the NBA Finals. They squared off against each other three times, with the Celtics winning in 1984 and the Lakers beating Boston in 1985 and 1987.
McHale, Bird, and Parish made up arguably the best frontcourt in NBA history. All three are Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Famers.
McHale gave plenty of credit for Boston’s success to K.C. Jones
Those Celtics of the ’80s were as talented as any. During their 1986 championship season, they had four Hall of Famers in the starting lineup and another in Bill Walton coming off the bench. Despite the boatload of talent, McHale gave tons of credit to head coach K.C. Jones.
“K.C. had a bunch of guys who were highly motivated and had high basketball IQs,” he said, per NBC Sports. “K.C. was great about asking, ‘What do you guys see? What do you want to do?’ He would always go up to me and say, ‘OK, you’re guarding this guy tonight. We’ll probably have you on this guy.’
“I guarded a lot of different people. He was great at saying, ‘Let’s start off here. If you’re not comfortable, we’ll go to some of your suggestions.’ I think he got it from Red (Auerbach), but he gave you a lot of responsibility and a ton of authority. If I suggested something, I was going to make damn sure it was going to work because that was my suggestion in front of the team.
“He had a bunch of guys who were responsible. Larry was a great team defender. Robert was in the back of that line, blocking shots and doing his thing. He was a great team defender. We were really in tune as a group, so K.C. knew how to manage a bunch of guys who were ultra-competitive. At times, he’d get mad, but he was a great guy for that group. He really understood us all.
“We had Bill Fitch in here (head coach of the ’81 championship team). Bill was a hard charger. He was a good coach but a real hard-charging guy who would jump your ass a lot. After games, K.C. would tell me to stop by the bar, and I’ll buy you a drink. I’d go in there, and it would be (Bob) Cousy and (Tom) Heinsohn and K.C. Come on now, there’s like 30 rings there. He was so supportive of me. We were very good friends. Playing for K.C. was really easy and smooth. It was like playing for a very good friend and a guy you really respected.”