A Rock and Roll Field Trip to a Grateful Dead Concert With Bill Walton Propelled Larry Bird and the Boston Celtics to the 1986 NBA Title

The 1985-86 Boston Celtics team was a thoroughly dominant bunch that is still regarded today as one of the best in NBA history. Boston lost only 15 games in the regular season and three in the playoffs en route to its third championship in six years.

Aside from their actual prowess on the court, the Larry Bird-led Celtics were so superior over the rest of the NBA because of their impressive camaraderie inside the locker room. That camaraderie even spilled over to their outside lives, too, as the team joined noted Deadhead Bill Walton for a Grateful Dead concert in what was his first season with the team.

The unique field trip might’ve just been the spark that led the Celtics to a historic season and another NBA title.

The 1985-86 Boston Celtics remain one of the greatest teams in NBA history

Danny Ainge, Rick Carlisle, Larry Bird and Bill Walton.
Danny Ainge, Rick Carlisle, Larry Bird, and Bill Walton celebrate during the Boston Celtics NBA Championship parade in 1986 | Bill Greene/The Boston Globe via Getty Images

Stephen Curry and the 2016 Golden State Warriors.

Michael Jordan and the 1996 Chicago Bulls.

Jerry West and the 1972 Los Angeles Lakers.

The greatest team ever assembled in NBA history is a hotly debated topic today, but Larry Bird and the 1986 Celtics have to be involved in the conversation.

Boston finished the regular season with a 67-15 record, which is tied for the seventh-best mark in league history for an 82-game season. The Celtics also rattled off five different winning streaks of at least eight games throughout the season, including a 13- and a 14-game streak.

They breezed through the Eastern Conference playoff bracket with only one loss in 12 games before defeating the Houston Rockets 4-2 in the NBA Finals. It’s not supposed to be that easy, but that’s exactly how K.C Jones’ team made it look all year.

Larry Bird rented a “fleet of limousines” for the Celtics to attend a Grateful Dead concert

Success in the NBA has always been just as much about camaraderie as it’s been about outplaying your opponent on the court. A happy team is usually a winning team, and that was clearly the case for the ’86 Celtics.

Just a few games into the season, the Grateful Dead were scheduled to play a concert in Worcester, which is about an hour outside of Boston. Bill Walton, who was a new addition to the team that offseason and a famous Deadhead, was obviously planning on attending. Bird took it upon himself to get the new-look Celtics together for a team-bonding trip and help Walton feel more comfortable with the group.

While speaking to Jeff Zillgitt of USA TODAY Sports last year about the field trip, Walton explained that Bird and Kevin McHale approached him during practice and asked about the concert. They asked if he was going, and he said yes.

“Can we come, too?” they replied.

So, Bird rounded up the entire Celtics roster (except for Danny Ainge) and planned the whole trip.

“We all met at Larry’s (Bird) house. The whole team was invited,” Walton told Trill Withers on an episode of Legends Live. “And so here was a situation where Larry, Larry the ultimate teammate, was looking out for his guys. He arranged for a fleet of limousines, a fleet of limousines to take us from his house to the concert. So we get there and it was fantastic. We drive right into the arena, they pull up the gate, and all the limos pull in.”

Walton then introduced his teammates to every member of the Grateful Dead before rocking out to the band’s greatest hits.

And just like that, a superteam was born.

A rock and roll start to a magical season

There’s no better way to Walton’s heart than rocking out to some Grateful Dead with maybe the biggest Deadhead in the world. When Bird went out of his way to plan a team trip to the concert, Walton knew he made the right decision to join the Celtics.

The team became one that day to the sweet melodies of “Casey Jones” and “Friend of the Devil,” which propelled them to a historic season and an NBA title.

“It was incredible blend of two cultures that stand for so much of the same things: working together to make a better tomorrow with hope, optimism, peace and love – important values,” Walton told Zillgitt. “The surge of energy that comes from a Grateful Dead concert and a Boston Celtics game drives you to incredible heights of capability, creativity, imagination and performance.

“It’s on.”

All stats courtesy of Basketball-Reference

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