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Potential TV shows/movies starring the 1980s Celtics

A light-hearted look at potential Boston-based artistic productions

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Just for fun, it occurred to me that the 1980s Celtic powerhouses were charismatic teams full of imaginary, potentially hoop-based TV and movie shows or roles based on their real life exploits.

While none of these shows or films made it to post production (yet), they might have been fun and interesting to relive on the big or little screen.

When Larry Met Salley (John)
The story of the epic 1987 Eastern Conference Finals, which Boston won 4-3. Bird averaged 27.1 points, 10.4 rebounds and 7.6 assists per game while shooting 94 percent (47-50) in the series.

In the final three pressure-packed games, Bird averaged 36 points, 10 rebounds and 6.7 assists per game while making all 29 free throws he attempted - plus one unforgettably great steal and assist. And he played 142 of a possible 144 minutes in that three-game span.

"Overrated"???!! Yes, righhhhht Isiah Thomas and Dennis Rodman, LOL! Are you kidding?

I think anyone would like to "have what Larry was having" if it meant they produced such ridiculous numbers, roughly what Thomas and the Worm COMBINED for in the series.

Bird's legendary steal of a Thomas pass that snatched victory from the jaws of defeat in game 5 remains one of the most iconic playoff moments in NBA history, and no doubt contributed to the sour grapes by Thomas in his post-game seven losing locker room comments.

Piston 6-11 rookie John Salley was a key reserve on the deep Detroit team that nearly upset the defending champions. Salley was a long-armed defensive expert on the Bad Boys who has often said Bird was the best player he faced. He was the one Bad Boy who showed some proper respect to the Legend.

Dennis the (defensive) Menace
Dennis "DJ" Johnson, with his long arms, leaping ability and competitive smarts, was the premier defensive guard in the NBA from the late 1970s through the mid-1980s.

What he lost in speed and quickness with age, he gained in basketball intelligence.

While DJ could be a bit enigmatic - see his intentional fouls late in game 7 with Boston ahead of Detroit and trying to run out the clock - he was a great clutch player. In his three seasons with Phoenix between his title runs with Seattle and Boston in a 14-year Hall of Fame career, DJ excelled but was dogged by being called a "cancer" by well-respected Sonic coach Lenny Wilkens and later drug rumors that were never proven.

Nevertheless, the asociation tarnished the one-time superstar and helped make him available to the Celtics in a 1983 trade for backup center Rick Robey and two draft picks, which turned out to be another Red Auerbach steal of a deal.

Calling himself a wild stallion who was hard to coach at times, especially in his early Seattle days, Johnson was 5-9 when he graduated high school as a little-used player with no future in organized basketball.

Sprouting to 6-4, he caught Pepperdine coach Gary Colson's eye in a junior college game. Johnson jumped center for the Waves, who almost upset UCLA in the 1976 NCAA tournament. Celtic great Bill Russell, who was with Seattle then, saw the defensive potential in Dennis and made the unheralded guard a hardship second round pick in the draft.

It turned out to be one of the shrewdest second round picks in modern NBA history.

Perhaps Russell, a similar defensive stalwart who was a late bloomer and also barely played in high school (he shared the 15th jersey with another player on a 15-man roster), sensed a kindred spirit in his fellow Bay area native.

Two years later, the unknown DJ (so nicknamed by CBS play by play man Brent Musburger because of a preponderance of Johnson's in the 1978-79 Finals) led Seattle to game seven of the NBA Finals, where he shot 0-14 in a close loss to Washington.

Coming back more determined the next year, DJ led Seattle to a rematch title win over the Bullets 4-1 and was named Finals MVP. He then was a major contributor on two Celtic title teams in 1984 and 1986.

Two of his greatest Celtic moments came when he hit a 20-foot buzzer beater to win game four of the 1985 Finals, and his 33-point masterpiece in a game six loss in the 1987 Finals, the last game of his 37 championship series contests. His teams were 3-3 in six NBA Finals series.

In one game vs. the Bullets in the Finals, the defensive menace blocked an amazing seven shots.

Danny "Touched by an Ainge-l"

The feisty redhead was renowned around the league for his tenacious play and had a reputation for being a whiner. But the athletic guard was one of the NBA's best competitors and was not afraid to give the hard fouls that are sometimes necessary.

The baby-faced Ainge took on the burden of the Celtic bad boy selflessly. Bird was too serious and great to be cast as th ebad guy, McHale was too gregarious and friendly, Parish too stoic and respectable, and DJ too nice to the opposition. That left Danny as the pest who always was getting in trouble.

As Bird said, Ainge was like the little brother you wanted to beat up but you could not stay mad at him because you liked him too much.

McHale's Arm-y
Even though he had the widest and most array of low-post moves in NBA history, based on creativity, superior footwork, high skill, touch and underrated leaping ability, Kevin McHale's extremely long wingspan was credited too much for his sucess.

After all, there have been many tall guys with exceptionally long arms who could not play nearly as well as the crafty, skilled McHale. His smarts and competitive fire were masked by his gregarious, outgoing persona. But make no mistake, Kevin was a fierce battler.

He played the grueling 1987 playoffs on a broken foot against doctor's advice in pursuit of a fourth title. Almost 30 years later, McHale still walks with a limp due to his valiant play during that heroic run that fell just two games short of another NBA crown.

Mad Max
Joining the Celtics in the late 1970s post-apocalpytic years AJ (After John Havlicek) and BB (Before Bird), Cedric Maxwell was an underrated inside force who led the NBA in field goal shooting.

A solid defender and fine offensive rebounder, Max was a clutch performer. Featuring an array of unorthodox interior moves, the long-armed 6-8 forward was named MVP of the 1981 NBA Finals as the Celtics completed the rise from the ashes of the late 1970s to the top just a few years later.

And in game seven of the epic 1984 NBA Finals vs. the Lakers, Cornbread scored a game-high 24 points inside as he abused Earvin Johnson in the post.

A knee injury in the 1984-85 season helped derail the Celtic repeat hopes and led to some bitter, ill-advised comments after he failed to rehab it properly. He was traded to the Clippers for Bill Walton, but welcomed back into the fold years later and has served as a Celtic radio analyst for several years.

Fred "Mr. Roberts"
Although Celtic fans might mostly view the inconsistent but talented Roberts as being closer to his nickname of Norman Bates of Psycho infamy for his erratic play, the high-flying 6-10 forward was a solid, talented player.

The underused reserve, much like the Henry Fonda "Doug Roberts" character in the popular play and 1955 movie set on a World War II ship ironically (or aptly) named "The Bucket", was very eager to see more action.

Two of Fred's BYU teammates, Danny Ainge and Greg Kite, also played several seasons for the Celtics. Kite did yeoman work for Boston as he played on four NBA Finalists and two champions in his first four NBA voyages with the Celtics from 1984-87, all with Ainge. Roberts joined them from 1986-88 in Beantown.

Fred did start a few playoff games for an injured McHale in the 1987 eastern semis vs. Milwaukee, but barely playe din some other games. He did score 16 points in just 11 minutes off the bench in game two of the 1987 Finals at LA, but played only 13 total minutes over the final four games, including a DNP in the epic game four where the tired Celtics wore down amid some horrible officiating and lost by one point.

The solid Fred Roberts, stolid and stoic much like Fonda, later had a 35-point playoff game for the Bucks against Detroit, and became a school teacher after retiring from the NBA.

He later would say that altohugh he wished he could have played more, especially in the injury-plagued Celtic run to the 1987 Finals in that grueling 23-game playoff gauntlet, he marveled at how the Celtic starters played "like warriors."

Hollywood handsome swingman Scott Wedman, a 6-7 vegetarian sharpshooter for the Celtics from 1983-87, could also play the same role as an underused supersub. A two-time All-Star with Kansas City in 1976 and 1980, he became Larry Bird's backup - a job lonelier than the Maytag repairman - at just age 30 when he had many good years left.

Even though the muscular weightlifter set an NBA Finals record by making all 11 of his shots, including four triples, for 26 points in the 148-114 Memorial Day Massacre of the Lakers in game one of the 1985 Finals, he was grossly underused by coach Jones. The remaining five games of the series, he played just 82 total minutes.

The misuse was illustrative of his five years in Boston, which were plagued by injuries in later times.

A one-time all-defense pick, he was athletic enough to play big guard and would have been perfect to use more against the big guards of the Lakers.

In game three of round one in the 1985 playoffs vs. Cleveland, Wedman scored 30 points in place of an injured Bird on 13-20 shooting. But the next game, he was back to the bench, forgotten again in just 17 minutes.

The Odd Couple
Kevin McHale (playing Oscar Madison) and Larry Bird (as Felix Unger), the NBA's greatest forward tandem, were opposites in many ways. The loose-limbed, loosey goosey McHale was outgoing and never stopped talking, and didn't take himself too seriously. Before injuries in 1987 he was a fine leaper, something obscured by the length of his wingspan.

When hurt, McHale could be seen eating pizza on the bench behind a towel. In his rare moments on the bench, Bird would intently study the game and opposition like a coach during a film session as if his life depended on it. His ability to dissect and devour opponents was frighteningly Hannibal Lecter-like in its genius.

The grim Bird was monstrously driven, serious and consumed by the game. He was a great shooter, while Kevin was a supremer inside player. He was noted for saying Kevin "could be the best player in the league if he worked harder."

An exasperated Bill Fitch, their first coach from 1980-83, asked Kevin why he couldn't be more like Larry in his single-minded devotion to basketball. "Because I have a life," answered McHale.

Bird, who often took two showers a day growing up, was meticulous and somehwat anal like neatnik Unger (Tony Randall in the TV show, Jack Lemmon in the film). McHale was much more devil may care and slovenly, like sportswriter Madison (Jack Klugman in TV, Walter Matthau in the film).

Ironically, the two could have been college teammates at Indiana. But Bird dropped out of IU in 1974 after just 24 days. A year later, Bob Knight and the Hoosiers were one of the few major colleges to recruit McHale seriously. But Knight decided against giving McHale a scholarhsip due to his then-spindly frame, which he felt woul dnot survive the rigors of the rugged Big 10.

McHale of course went on to become one of the greatest low-post players in league history, and Knight made up for his mis-diagnosis by naming Kevin him to his 1979 Pan Am team. McHale shot over 59 percent from the field and scored just under 10 ppg as America won gold in Puerto Rico with a 9-0 record.

However, when between the lines the odd couple shared a high hoops IQ, great competitiveness, great skill and heart. Bird also has an underrated sense of humor ("Larry is a funny guy," McHale has said), as did the prankster McHale. And Larry also possessed a pretty strong low-post game, while Kevin became an excellent outside shooter with his textbook shooting form.

In the 1986-87 season, Bird and McHale became the first - and nearly 30 years later - still the only forward duo from the same team to be named first team All-NBA.

Mr. Bill
The oft-injured Bill Walton had one great year with the Celtics, when he earned Sixth man of the Year honors in helping Boston roll to the 1985-86 crown.

His numerous foot and hand injuries however, would shorten his career and Celtic stint. Much like Mr. Bill of Saturday Night Live fame, he was always getting crushed and hurt. Oh nooooo! Walton broke his nose over a dozen times, his wrist multiple times, and endured over 20 foot operations.

During his bearded late 1970's Portland run, he could also have been Grizzly Adams or the Mountain Man, a nickname he disliked that Musburger placed on him in the Portland 1977 playoff run to the title behind MVP Walton.

Hail to the Chief
Was there a show with this name? If not, there should have been.

Robert Parish's nickname, bestowed on him by the observant Cedric Maxwell, actually came from his stoic resemblance to the character Chief from the mid 1970s classic movie "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest."

Parish's high cheekbones also resembled stereotyped Native American facial features.

One might say that Robert's accurate high-arching, high-release jumper was a cuckoo looking shot, but it was deadly accurate.

K.C. and the Sunshine Band
While not a movie or TV show, the 1970s musical group was quite popular. Headlined by a white singer backed by an all-black band, they produced many hits.

Celtic two-time champion coach K.C. Jones was an accomplished lounge singer himself who coached a largely white band of players. The 1985-86 champion Celtics featured eight white players on a 12-man roster.

The arrival of Bill Walton in 1985 turned an often grim group that took on Bird's uber-serious personality into a much more light-hearted, fun-loving group. The energetic, attention-loving Walton took Ainge's place as the butt of the team jokes for his past politics, beard and ponytail, vegetarianism, his over the top hyper personality and general eccentricity. And he loved every minute of it.

Behind the scenes, the quiet K.C. was beloved by his team for running the ship with a gentle but firm, player-friendly hand.

Special mention: Hondo, the 1953 western film that earned John Havlicek his nickname. A friend of Havlicek thought John resembled John Wayne, the title character, in the movie and began calling his buddy Hondo. The nickname stuck.

David "the Sheriff" Thirdkill. Scar-faced 6-7 defensive stopper Thirdkill could have been Matt Dillon of "Gunsmoke" fame, or maybe even better Cleavon Littles of "Blazing Saddles."

Hard-driving 1979-83 Celtic head coach Bill Fitch, an actual former military drill sergeant, as the mean instructor in "An Office and a Gentleman" with whipping boys McHale or Parish starring in the long-suffering Richard Gere role.

Or perhaps Fitch could have been the gruff but somewhat likeable Sgt. Vnce Carter in the TV comedy "Gomer Pyle", a spin-off from "The Andy Griffith Show."

I think Kevin McHale would serve well as kindhearted smalltown sheriff Andy Griffith from tiny rural Mayberry, N.C./Hibbing, Minnesota. He showed well in a guest starring role on the Boston-based TV sitcom "Cheers."

To contact the author directly, you can email Cort Reynolds at

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