6.19.2008

Seeds for Banner 15

The seeds for Flag No. 15 were planted in the visitors locker room in Milwaukee's Mecca last May 2.

The Celtics had just been humiliated for the fourth straight and final time by the Milwaukee Bucks. Bill Fitch was blaming the media. Kevin McHale was worrying about free agency. Tiny Archibald was sulking. Larry Bird merely said, "This just wants to make me work harder than ever. I'm going to punish myself all summer so this doesn't happen again next year."

While Bird went back to French Lick, Ind., the Celtic summer of '83 got off to a raucous start. It would prove to be the most newsworthy off-season in franchise history, but it paved the way for a smooth sail to the NBA championship.

Team owner Harry Mangurian promised changes after the Milwaukee massacre. The first change came on May 24 when Mangurian announced his intention to sell the team.

Three days later, Bill Fitch tendered his Nixonian resignation. It was two weeks before Red Auerbach ended speculation by naming K.C. Jones as the new head coach of the Celtics. Chris Ford was brought in as a new assistant on June 9.

Auerbach became the star of the league meetings. The Knicks were negotiating with McHale. In an obvious attempt to box out New York (by putting the Knicks over their salary cap), Auerbach signed New York free agents Marvin Webster, Sly Williams and Rory Sparrow to contracts totaling $1.4 million per year.

On June 27, the Celtics traded Rick Robey to Phoenix for Dennis Johnson. A day later, Boston drafted Brigham Young's Greg Kite in the first round and Mississippi's Carlos Clark in the fourth.

On July 1, the Celtics signed a four-year lease with the Garden, ending speculation that the team would move to Worcester, Hartford or Providence.

The Knicks matched Boston's offers to all three free agents (Williams was subsequently traded to Atlanta), then dropped out of the McHale sweeps, claiming they were "used," by McHale and agent John Sandquist. On July 21, McHale signed a $4 million, four-year deal. Archibald was released the next day.

After widespread reports that local businessman Steve Belkin would buy the team, Belkin dropped out of the running when stories circulated linking him indirectly to bookmakers, and the Celtics were purchased for $15 million by Don Gaston, Alan Cohen and Paul DuPee.

Free agent M.L. Carr signed a two-year contract Aug. 20. Dennis Johnson worked out with Celtic rookie hopefuls later in the month.

Meanwhile, Bird (scheduled to be a free agent at the end of the 1983-84 season) made it clear that he would not discuss or negotiate his contract once the veterans reported to camp. After futile talks between Celtic officials and Bird's agent Bob Woolf, Bird entered the negotiations and hammered out an agreement with Auerbach.

The day before training camp started, Bird signed a seven-year deal that will pay him approximately $1.8 million per year.

There was one more crisis. Angered over McHale's pact, Robert Parish threatened to sit out unless the Celtics renegotiated his $650,000 per year contract. Assistant GM Jan Volk opened discussions with Parish's latest agent.

John Schweitz was the favorite to unseat Charles Bradley for the final roster spot when camp opened. Schweitz, Bradley, Clark and Winfred King were still with the team when exhibition games started.

Parish was AWOL when the team flew west for four exhibition games in Phoenix and Los Angeles.

The highlight of the preseason came on a Sunday night when three fights broke out in a Celtic-Sixer exhibition at the Garden. After Bird and Marc Iavaroni were tossed by nonunion officials, Auerbach came across the floor, implored the refs to let Bird stay and wound up challenging Moses Malone to a fight. The fires were burning. The tone was set.

Bradley and Schweitz were the last players cut. King was scheduled for shoulder surgery and placed on the injured reserve list, and Parish was pacified with a one-year extension and an interest-free loan.

The roster was set. Bird and McHale were locked up. DJ, Kite and Clark had replaced Robey, Bradley and Archibald. Jones had replaced Fitch. Cohen, Gaston and DuPee had replaced Mangurian. The Celtics were ready to start a new season.

Ironically, after a summer of turmoil, the Celtics were a symbol of stability for the next 7 1/2 months. Boston was one of only two NBA teams to go the entire season without a single roster move.

The Celtics' season debut was inauspicious. Parish opened the season with a six-point clunker, the Celts gave up 70 points in the first half and were beaten by the Pistons, 127-121.

They didn't lose again for almost three weeks. Boston won nine in a row, a league-high streak which it would match twice before the season ended.

After that first streak, the Celts lost four straight. The losses started in Utah and continued at home against the Knicks and on the road in Philly and New York. Boston would have trouble with the Sixers (2-4) and Knicks (3-3) all season.

Bird was en route to an MVP year. Parish and McHale had all-star seasons, and it was obvious that Dennis Johnson gave the Celtics a new weapon - a post- up guard who could stop the Sidney Moncriefs of the world.

There were three regular-season embarrassments. The Celtics were routed by Bill Fitch's Rockets in Houston and twice on Sunday afternoon national TV games (in Milwaukee and at home against Philly). Those proved to be aberrations.

When the world-champion Sixers started to struggle, the Celtics continued winning. Boston moved into first place Dec. 30 and never vacated the spot. The team fulfilled its pledge of having the best record in the league by the All- Star break, making K.C. coach of the East All-Stars.

Taking advantage of an injury-free season, the Celtics had a 6 1/2-game lead by the time they headed west. Bird went crazy on the Coast, averaging 27 points, 13 rebounds and 13 assists as Boston won its first three games. The Celtics' Atlantic Division lead was up to nine games when they returned home.

As the regular season ground to its anticlimactic conclusion, the Celtics prepped for the playoffs and ripped off their third nine-game winning streak.

There were doubts about the Boston backcourt and doubts about the Celtics' inability to beat good teams, but the doubts were all erased during eight weeks of playoff pressure.

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