The 1984 NBA Finals had it all. The Boston Celtics matched up with the rival Los Angeles Lakers, pitting Larry Bird against Magic Johnson for the first time in the championship round. There was distrust and dirty play in a wild, seven-game series. Eight years after the fact, Bird said the deciding Game 7 featured the strangest pregame he’d ever been a part of.
Larry Bird and the Boston Celtics outlasted the Los Angeles Lakers in seven games in the 1984 NBA Finals
The Celtics had no business winning the NBA title in 1984. The Lakers went into the Boston Garden and stole home court away after a 115-109 victory in the series opener. Boston was on the ropes in Game 2 until Gerald Henderson’s steal saved the day.
With 18 seconds left in the game and the Celtics trailing by two, the Lakers looked to milk the clock and prepped for some aggressive Celtics fouls. James Worthy attempted a pass intended for Byron Scott, but Henderson stepped in, picked it off, and drove in for a game-tying layup. The Lakers couldn’t get a shot off in the final 13 seconds, and the Celtics won in overtime.
The Lakers sent a message in Game 3, blowing out the Celtics in LA, 137-104. They held a 76-70 lead in Game 4, looking to take a 3-1 series lead, but the Celtics got physical — perhaps dirty as well.
A day after Bird called his team “sissies” for their soft play in Game 3, Kevin McHale clotheslined Kurt Rambis, who was going in for a layup. Both benches cleared, halting play and LA’s momentum. The Celtics evened the series after a 129-125 victory.
The series went seven games with Boston taking care of business at home in the series finale with a 111-102 win.
Game 7 had the strangest pregame of his career, according to Larry Bird
Bird questioned his team’s heart, especially after Game 3 with his “sissies” comment. Asked what was needed to change things, Bird quipped, “Twelve heart transplants,” according to Sports Illustrated.
Game 5 was the famous heat game when game-time temperatures were 97 degrees, according to CBS. There was no air conditioning at the old Boston Garden. The Lakers brought their own supply of oxygen. LA coach Pat Riley said it was surreal.
“It was the most bizarre game of my career,” Riley said in the 1992 SI article. “Surreal. If I ever felt like I was in hell, that was it.”
Bird had no problem with the heat.
“Hell, what’s the fuss?” Bird said after going for 34 points and 17 rebounds in Boston’s win. “We used to play in conditions like that back home all summer. The heat just loosened me up.”
In Game 7, Bird said he never saw a stranger preparation for the winner-take-all matchup.
“It was the strangest pregame I ever remember,” said Bird. “M.L. Carr was walking around with goggles on. Danny Ainge had a stethoscope. He walked up to each of us to see if we had a heart. Cedric Maxwell just said, ‘Jump on my back, boys. It’s my turn.’ We were so loose. I think if we had lost, Red (Auerbach) would have killed us.”
The Celtics won Game 7 and somehow stole the series
In the deciding game, Maxwell delivered on his promise, although he later admitted he never issued the “jump on my back” comment.
“You can say ‘climb on my back,’ but what I actually said was an X-rated version,” Maxwell explained to The Boston Herald in 2008. “The ‘climb on my back, boys’ part didn’t really happen like that. It was a myth.
“Everyone might have been talking about it at that time, but I was just determined to come out and play a great game. I had been the MVP of the playoffs before. I felt like I had to have a big game against James Worthy in order for us to be successful.”
Maxwell led the Celtics with 24 points. He also collected eight rebounds.
Bird finished with 20 points and 12 rebounds but struggled with his shot. He made six of 18 attempts from the floor. Despite the Game 7 numbers, he was named the MVP of the Finals.
He averaged 27 points and 14 rebounds in the series, but more importantly, put Ainge’s stethoscope to the test.