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When Larry Bird came to the Boston Celtics, he quickly turned around a struggling franchise. When Kevin McHale joined the following season, the Celtics got over the hump.

After Bird won Rookie of the Year for the 1979-80 season, the Celtics pulled off one of the best trades in franchise history. The deal brought in McHale and Parish, and the Celtics won the first of their three championships of the decade for Boston’s new Big Three. Bird admitted the addition of McHale gave the Celtics a part of the game they desperately lacked.

Larry Bird, Kevin McHale, and Robert Parish won a title in their first year together

Red Auerbach pulled off one of his greatest trades just before the 1980 NBA Draft. Just after Bird helped take the Celtics from a 29-win team to one that recorded 61 victories, the Celtics GM went to work.

The Celtics held the top pick in 1980, courtesy of a previous trade with the Detroit Pistons. They sent that pick and the No. 13 pick to the Golden State Warriors. In return, the Celtics received veteran center Robert Parish and the third overall pick. With the No. 3 pick, the Celtics chose McHale.

Together, Parish and McHale made the Celtics instant threats in the Eastern Conference. McHale began the early years of his Celtics career coming off the bench and providing an offensive spark as a reserve. Bird, McHale, and Parish went on to become arguably the best frontcourt in NBA history.

In their first season together, they won 62 games and defeated the Houston Rockets in six games to win the 1981 NBA Finals. They went 63-19 the following season but fell to the Philadelphia 76ers in seven games in the conference finals.

In 1984, the Celtics returned to the championship round for the first of four straight trips. They defeated the rival Los Angeles Lakers in 1984 and then knocked off the Rockets again in 1986 for their third championship of the decade.

Bird said McHale and Parish gave the Celtics something they desperately lacked


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McHale and Parish went on to find a place in the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame. Parish became one of the best centers in the game, while McHale is known for having some of the best low-post moves in the game. While McHale had no problem on the offensive end, Bird said the duo’s shot-blocking ability is something the Celtics desperately needed.

“Once Dave (Cowens) retired and Robert got in shape, he showed us he was going to be a great player,” Bird said in his book Drive: The Story of My Life. “He was filling the lanes on our fast break, he was dunking, he was blocking hots, and he had a good outlet pass.

“Then, when you brought Kevin off the bench, it was double doses of everything. Kevin was the total package. He also rebounded and blocked shots and ran the break — and he was a killer inside.

“We didn’t really have a shot blocker the year before. The only team with fewer shot rejections than us was San Diego. When Robert and Kevin showed up, we went right to second place in blocks, trailing only San Antonio.”

Parish and McHale combined for 365 blocks in that 1980-81 season. Parish finished with 214, while McHale had 151 while playing just 20 minutes a game off the bench.

“Their presence certainly made me a much better defensive player,” Bird said. “I could now guard anybody I wanted because I knew I could run my man to either one of those big men.”