It’s been thirty years since the Celtics 1980’s dynasty began to come to an end. After winning the NBA Championship with arguably the best team in the history of the NBA in 1986, the Celtics were once again loaded and primed to repeat as champions in 1987. Granted, their core was getting older. By the end of that season, Robert Parish was 33, Dennis Johnson was 32, Larry Bird was 30, and Kevin McHale was 29. Bill Walton, who was the NBA’s best sixth man in the previous season, played just ten games. The Celtics went 59-23 and made it to the NBA Finals again, but lost to the Lakers in six games. Because of that, this team is not discussed like some of the other great Celtics teams. However, the Big Three of Larry Bird, Kevin McHale, and Robert Parish was never better.
This was the best front court in the history of basketball. All three players could score at will in the low post. They were all solid mid-range shooters. They were all great rebounders. Given the vast decline of quality big men in the NBA over the past twenty years, it’s likely that we’ll never see a better front court.
Let’s take a look at The Big Three’s numbers in 1986-87.
Larry Bird: 28.1 points; 9.2 rebounds; 7.6 assists; .525 FG%; .910 FT%
Kevin McHale: 26.1 points; 9.9 rebounds; 2.6 assists; .606 FG%; .836 FT%
Robert Parish: 17.5 points; 10.6 rebounds; 2.2 assists; .556 FG%; .735 FT%
In a word: Ridiculous. If you disagree that this is the best front court of all-time, please send along three front court players who had better combined numbers than the above in a season. Good luck! It’s basically three players all averaging a double-double and Bird close to averaging a triple-double. His average game that year was 28 points, nine rebounds, and eight assists a game while playing on a team that had three other Hall of Famers in the starting five. Much different than Russell Westbrook piling up stats with no talent around him!
What made this group great was their ability to beat you in a number of ways. McHale was virtually unstoppable in the low post. He shot 60% from the field and these weren’t all shots close to the rim. He was a very good outside shooter. Parish from fifteen feet in was close to automatic. Then, of course, Bird could basically do whatever he pleased. He could score inside and outside. When the game was on the line, there was no one better. He was also the best facilitator at the forward position in the history of the NBA. He made McHale and Parish better players.
It’s been thirty years so it’s understandable that this group has been forgotten over time. Now, when we say Big Three everyone remembers Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett, and Ray Allen. Great group. Nothing like this one. Many of you never had the privilege of watching Larry Bird, Kevin McHale, and Robert Parish play together during the 1980’s. The 1986-87 Celtics who didn’t even win title would beat the 2007-08 Celtics very easily. The numbers just don’t match up for the 2008 team. It wouldn’t have been close.
It’s been 30 years since this group dominated the game down low. No chucking threes. No one-on-one isolations. No slow pace. Instead, passing and low post scoring were the priorities. The NBA will never be the same. What a privilege it was for Boston fans to get to see Larry Bird, Kevin McHale, and Robert Parish play together in their prime years. There will likely never be a better front court trio.