The Trade That Set Up an ’80s Dynasty: Boston Celtics Championship History Moment No. 9

It was almost unfair the Boston Celtics had the first pick in the 1980 NBA Draft. What was really unfair was what they did with it.

The Celtics were far from the worst team in the 1979-80 season. That was Larry Bird’s rookie year, and they went from a 29-win team in ’79 to winning 61 games in Bird’s first season. They obtained the first pick in the ’80 draft after working out a compensation deal with the Detroit Pistons.

The legendary Red Auerbach then orchestrated one of the best deals in franchise history. It was a move that set the stage for three championships in the decade and five NBA Finals appearances in the ’80s.

In honor of the Boston Celtics’ 17 championships, we’re highlighting 17 signature moments, both good and bad, that took the Celtics from a woeful 22-38 BAA debut in 1946-47 to the current iteration of the longtime powerhouse franchise that’s now coming off an NBA Finals appearance. The 17-part series on the Celtics’ championship history will run through the summer and take us to the beginning of the 2022-23 NBA season, one Boston hopes ends with Banner No. 18.

The Boston Celtics trade the No. 1 pick in the 1980 NBA Draft

The Boston Celtics acquired Robert Parish and Kevin McHale during the 1980 NBA Draft. | Getty Images

Bob McAdoo played 20 games for the Celtics during the 1978-79 season, yet he was the catalyst for the Celtics securing the top pick in 1980. In the offseason of 1979, the Celtics signed M.L. Carr, who was coming off a big year with the Detroit Pistons, to a free-agent deal.

Back then, compensation was awarded to a team that lost a player to free agency. After some serious negotiation, the Celtics sent McAdoo, a Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Famer, to the Pistons for two draft picks. One of those picks became the first selection in 1980.

The prize of the ’80 draft was center Joe Barry Carroll out of Purdue. The Celtics liked him, but they also eyed Minnesota’s Kevin McHale.

Auerbach put together a package deal, trading the top pick and the No. 13 selection to the Golden State Warriors for fourth-year center Robert Parish and the third overall pick. With that third pick, the Celtics snagged McHale. The rest is history.

While Carroll had a solid NBA career, Parish and McHale were Hall of Famers. The two teamed with Bird to form arguably the best frontcourt in NBA history. Together, they won championships in 1981, 1984, and 1986. They reached the NBA Finals four straight times from 1984 to 1987.

Boston’s 1985-86 team is considered one of the best ever.

It didn’t take long for Parish and McHale to have an impact with the Celtics

In their first year together, Boston’s Big Three earned the first of their three championships. Parish played four seasons with the Warriors, averaging 13.8 points and 9.5 rebounds. He just came off a season where he put up 17.0 points and 10.9 rebounds before Boston acquired him. Parish admitted he needed to make some serious changes when he came to Boston.

He admittedly arrived out of shape. The Celtics ran practices much differently than Golden State did. There was a lot more intensity, and that took some getting used to on Parish’s part. Celtics coach Bil Fitch made him work, knowing Parish had all the makings of a superstar.

“Coach Fitch set the mindset during training camp,” Parish said during a 2020 appearance on The Cedric Maxwell Podcast. “Toughest training camp I’ve ever been in. I was out of shape, and I’ll be the first to admit that because I did not prepare properly. Oooh, it was grueling. I’m not gonna lie.”

Fitch knew then what he had in Parish.

“If Robert would zero in on basketball for the next five years, he could be thought of in the same light as Kareem Abdul-Jabbar,” Fitch said then, per Sports Illustrated.

“He can become even more intense, and he hasn’t touched the potential of his passing game. A year from now, he’ll pull rebounds off the square on the backboard and kick them out before he hits the ground like Wes Unseld does.”

Boston Celtics coach Bill Fitch on the newly-acquired Robert Parish in 1980

Parish played 21 years in the NBA, appearing in more games (1,611) than anyone else. McHale is a two-time winner of the Sixth Man of the Year Award. He averaged 17.9 points and 7.3 rebounds in his 13 seasons. Together, they helped build that Celtics dynasty of the ’80s.

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