The NBA championship drought for the Boston Celtics had reached nearly three decades, so the team’s fans looked forward to the 1986 season with hope. Then, on April 27th, reigning MVP Larry Bird suffered a serious injury, one that would end his playing career. After Bird’s injury, the Celtics went on an absolute tear, winning 28 of their next 31 games. During that time, the team’s dynamic young star, small forward Danny Ainge, became the team’s leading scorer, averaging 27.4 points per game.
For many of us, music carries an important place in our lives — we can’t help but be affected by it, whether it’s a song, a field recording, a podcast, a concert, a live performance, a recording of a live performance, or even a song from a movie or TV show. In honor of the late, great Professor Charles “The Professor” Sanders who passed away a few weeks ago, I’d like to share a great story about a musical collaboration that took place a little over a decade ago. A few years prior to his death, my friend and collaborator Charles Sanders was a constant source of inspiration. Charles was a professor of music at the University of Massachusetts at Amher
One of the weirder aspects of the 1986 NBA Playoffs was the no-show of the Boston Celtics. The team came into the playoffs with the NBA’s best record, and it looked like they were going to unseat the Los Angeles Lakers. Then, five games into the playoffs, the Celtics seemed to just give up. Coach K would later say that the Celtics had a specific goal of losing the first two games of the series in order to rest their stars, and in Game 5 of the series, they beat a bad Detroit Pistons team in a close game in which they led by only two points in the fourth quarter.
The Boston Celtics of 1985-86 were a completely dominating team that is now considered as one of the greatest in NBA history. Boston won their third title in six years after losing just 15 games during the regular season and three in the playoffs.
Aside from their real on-court brilliance, the Larry Bird-led Celtics were so superior to the rest of the NBA because of their incredible locker room togetherness. In what was Bill Walton’s first season with the team, the squad joined renowned Deadhead Bill Walton for a Grateful Dead concert, demonstrating their togetherness.
The unusual field trip might have been the catalyst for the Celtics’ remarkable season and yet another NBA championship.
The Boston Celtics of 1985-86 are still considered one of the best teams in NBA history.
During the 1986 Boston Celtics NBA Championship parade, Danny Ainge, Rick Carlisle, Larry Bird, and Bill Walton celebrate | Bill Greene/The Boston Globe via Getty Images
The 2016 Golden State Warriors, led by Stephen Curry.
The 1996 Chicago Bulls, led by Michael Jordan.
The 1972 Los Angeles Lakers, led by Jerry West.
The best NBA team ever built is a contentious subject today, but Larry Bird and the 1986 Celtics must be included in the discussion.
The Red Sox completed the regular season with a 67-15 record, tied for eighth best in league history for an 82-game season. Throughout the season, the Celtics went on five separate winning streaks of at least eight games, including a 13- and 14-game run.
Before beating the Houston Rockets 4-2 in the NBA Finals, they breezed through the Eastern Conference playoff bracket with just one loss in 12 games. It’s not supposed to be that simple, but K.C Jones’ squad made it seem that way all year.
For the Celtics to attend a Grateful Dead performance, Larry Bird hired a “fleet of limos.”
Except for one player who will not be identified, every member of the 1985-86 Celtics traveled to watch the Grateful Dead with Bill Walton during the season. pic.twitter.com/Wxx0u6P8Rs
December 4, 2020 — Trill Withers (@TylerIAm)
In the NBA, winning has always been about teamwork as much as it has been about outplaying your opponent on the floor. A happy team is typically a successful team, and the Celtics of 1986 were no exception.
The Grateful Dead were set to perform in Worcester, approximately an hour west of Boston, only a few games into the season. Bill Walton, a newcomer to the club that summer and a well-known Deadhead, was clearly intending to attend. Bird took it upon himself to organize a team bonding trip for the new-look Celtics and to make Walton feel more at ease with the squad.
Last year, Walton told USA TODAY Sports’ Jeff Zillgitt about the field trip, saying that Bird and Kevin McHale approached him after practice and inquired about the performance. He replied yes when they inquired whether he was going.
“Can we come as well?” they inquired.
So, with the exception of Danny Ainge, Bird gathered the whole Celtics roster and arranged the entire trip.
“We all got together at Larry’s (Bird’s) place. On an edition of Legends Live, Walton informed Trill Withers that the whole squad was invited. “And so here we were in a position where Larry, the ideal teammate, was keeping an eye on his men. He had arranged for a fleet of limousines to transport us from his home to the performance. So we arrived, and everything was incredible. We pull straight inside the arena, they open the gate, and all of the limousines arrive.”
Walton then presented each member of the Grateful Dead to his colleagues before rocking out to the band’s biggest songs.
Suddenly, a superteam had been formed.
The season gets off to a rocking start.
There’s no better way to Walton’s heart than rocking out to the Grateful Dead with perhaps the world’s largest Deadhead. Walton realized he made the correct choice to join the Celtics when Bird went out of his way to arrange a team trip to the concert.
The beautiful melodies of “Casey Jones” and “Friend of the Devil” united the squad that day, propelling them to a historic season and an NBA championship.
Walton told Zillgitt, “It was an amazing mix of two cultures that stand for so many of the same things: working together to create a better future with hope, optimism, peace, and love – essential ideals.” “The rush of adrenaline that accompanies a Grateful Dead show or a Boston Celtics game propels you to new heights of capacity, originality, imagination, and performance.
“It’s going to happen.”
Basketball-Reference.com provided all stats.
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