In last week’s first installment of #86Celtics, we talked about Red Auerbach’s creativity and competitive spirit, and how he utilized both to assemble one of the greatest starting fives of all time. Today, we talk about the sixth man on that squad. The 1986 NBA Sixth Man of the Year. A guy who tapped into the physical and spiritual essence of that legendary starting five and took it to the next level like a giant red-haired, rosy-cheeked bong hit.
Of course we’re talking about Bill Walton — and you know Bill Walton. He’s still one of the most fantastically ridiculous characters, not just in basketball, or in America, but in the history of Western Civilization. He’s a 63-year-old man who, just this past New Year’s, attended a Grateful Dead concert dressed like this.
Above all else, Bill Walton was a damn fine basketball player. He’s a Hall of Famer. He’s a former NBA and Finals MVP. He accomplished so much in the face of losing the majority of his prime to injuries . . . and if not for those injuries, he might have put together one of the most dominant careers in NBA history.
Then again, if not for those injuries, he may have never landed in Boston.
But before we get to everything that happened after Walton joined the Celtics, let’s take a look at how the Celtics acquired him -- because it was crazy. It was a three-month soap opera that featured two of the most colorful players in the NBA: Walton (then a member of the Clippers) and Cedric Maxwell. At the top of each team’s respective food chain stood two of the most notorious personalities in league history: Red Auerbach and then-51-year-old Donald Sterling. There was also a brief Lakers cameo, plus appearances by Bruce Springsteen, future NHL commissioner Gary Bettman and Dodgers third baseman Bill Madlock. Again, it was crazy. It’s one of those periods of time that you read about and wonder: “Man, can you imagine what this would’ve been like if Twitter existed back then?”
Yes, yes we can imagine. But first a little background:
The story begins on June 10, 1985, the day after the Celtics fell to the Lakers at home in Game 6 of the NBA Finals. The season was over. Emotions were high. And while there was plenty of blame to go around, the Celtics -- especially Red Auerbach -- pinned most of it on Cedric Maxwell. Long story short, Max had undergone arthroscopic knee surgery that February and the team didn’t think he’d worked hard enough in rehab. They didn’t think he was in adequate shape for the playoffs. By the time the Finals rolled around, Maxwell (who averaged 11 points in the regular season) played only 10 minutes a game and scored a total of 13 points.
This drove Red Auerbach insane. Especially since he’d just signed Maxwell to a hefty three-year extension. So Red went into that offseason dead set on shipping Cornbread out of town. (And, for good measure, Auerbach called the editor on his latest book, still in production, and had every positive mention of Maxwell deleted.)
Anyway, on this afternoon, the day after that horrible loss to the Lakers and the death of another championship dream, Auerbach held a meeting at the Garden -- it was him, general manager Jan Volk, head coach K.C. Jones, assistant coach Jimmy Rodgers, and some guy named Larry Bird -- to discuss the previous season and the upcoming offseason. At one point Red’s secretary came over with a message:
Bill Walton called.
By the time Red called back, Walton had already left on a European vacation, so the conversation had to wait. But everyone knew what Walton was calling about. He wanted another ring. From the Celtics perspective, there were obviously still questions about Walton’s health and durability but there was also reason for optimism. In the two seasons prior to that phone call, the former MVP played in 55 games and then 67 games -- and he felt good. He wanted one more chance to play for something meaningful before his body gave up again, and he knew it wouldn’t be long, and that's why he was calling.
Either way, before even speaking with Walton, Auerbach told Jan Volk to get the ball rolling with Clippers GM Carl Scheer. The next day, Volk connected with Scheer on the phone, and now let’s watch the madness unfold as it would across the 2016 Twitterverse.
June 11: Negotiations begin.
Adrian Wojnarowski: The Celtics and Clippers are engaged in trade talks surrounding Bill Walton and Cedric Maxwell, sources tell Yahoo! Sports.
Chris Broussard: The Celtics and Clippers are engaged in trade talks surrounding Bill Walton and Cedric Maxwell, sources tell ESPN.
Ken Berger: LAC brass is split on deal. Coach Don Chaney (Maxwell’s former teammate) is pushing for it; others are concerned about his knee.
Darren Rovell: Surprised The Grateful Dead hasn’t scheduled a special concert in Boston yet. Big opportunity slipping away.
Adrian Wojnarowski: Clippers have walked away from trade talks, sources tell Yahoo! Sports. They need more information on Maxwell’s knee before proceeding.
Chris Broussard: According to sources, the Clippers are not interested in Cedric Maxwell at this time. They would like to examine his knee.
Stephan A. Smith: Oh so the Clippers don’t want Cedric Maxwell? I FIND THAT INTERESTING.
June 13: Walton had signed a four-year deal with the Clippers that previous summer. It was very complex, with many health-themed incentives and a few amazing Walton demands. One stated that the Clippers were required to supply him with eight tickets to all seven of Bruce Springsteen’s sold-out shows at the L.A. Sports Arena. Another stated that if the Clippers missed the 1985 playoffs, Walton could become a free agent.
Adrian Wojnarowski: Bill Walton has been granted free agency, sources tell Yahoo Sports. He’ll have until 7/31 to sign w/another team or return to Clippers.
Ken Berger: Source confirms that while Walton would love to join the Celtics, his dream is to play alongside idol Kareem Abdul-Jabaar in L.A.
Darren Rovell: SOMETHING’S BRUIN.
Larry Coon: In the event Walton doesn’t go to LAL, Celtics will still need to shed Cedric Maxwell’s contract in order to bring Walton on board.
Every White Sports Writer over 40: Who cares about the salary — tell us more about THE BOSS concerts.
June 18: NBA DRAFT NIGHT
Adrian Wojnarowski: The Knicks will select Patrick Ewing with the No. 1 overall pick, league source tells Yahoo! Sports.
Adrian Wojnarowski: The Pacers will select Wayman Tisdale with the No. 2 overall pick, league source tells Yahoo! Sports.
Adrian Wojnarowski: The Clippers will select Benoit Benjamin with the No. 3 overall pick, league source tells Yahoo! Sports.
Adrian Wojnarowski: With Benjamin set to fill the center role, the Clippers are now more inclined to let Bill Walton walk in free agency.
NBA: With the first pick in the Draft, the Knicks select Patrick Ewing.
Ken Berger: League source confirms that Cedric Maxwell is in LA tonight, currently headed to Inglewood for a physical with Clippers team doctor.
Adrian Wojnarowski: The Sonics will select Xavier McDaniel with the No. 4 overall pick, league source tells Yahoo! Sports.
Adrian Wojnarowski: The Hawks will select Jon Koncak with the No. 5 overall pick league source tells Yahoo Sports.
Adrian Wojnarowski: The Kings will select Joe Kleine with the No. 6 overall pick, league source tells Yahoo Sports.
NBA: With the second pick, the Pacers select Wayman Tisdale.
Marc Stein: The Clippers tested Maxwell’s legs with a “Cybex” machine and his left is still 25% weaker than the right. Not a good sign.
Adrian Wojnarowski: The Warriors will select Chris Mullin with the No. 7 overall pick league source tells Yahoo! Sports.
Adrian Wojnarowski: The Mavericks will select Detlef Schrempf with the No. 8 overall pick, league source tells Yahoo! Sports.
NBA: With the third pick, the Clippers select Benoit Benjamin.
Marc Stein: Source confirms Cedric Maxwell failed his physical due to his left knee. LA will not pursue a trade for the forward.
Stephen A. Smith: Oh, so people can just FAIL physicals now? Like it’s some kind of TEST? I’ve got four syllables for that, America: PRE-POST-ER-OUS.
Chris Broussard: The Knicks will select Patrick Ewing with the first pick in the draft.
June 21: A few days after the draft, the NBA met in San Francisco for its annual league meetings. But Red Auerbach flew out west a day early to take care of a little business.
Adrian Wojnarowski: Red Auerbach + Bill Walton met today at LAX and had a long talk about the potential of Walton coming to Boston, source tells Yahoo! Sports.
Ken Berger: League source confirms that the Celtics are still hell bent on trading Maxwell — but his knee and contract are issues.
Darren Rovell: Twitter poll — Vote A for “MAX (well) contract” or B for “Maxwelling in the knee”
June 22: At the league meetings in San Francisco . . .
Marc Stein: Bill Walton was examined today by Celtics physician Thomas Silva. No X-rays were taken but the Celtics are content with what they saw.
Adrian Wojnarowski: Celtics + Clippers brass are currently in Red Auerbach’s suite discussing results of Maxwell’s physical, sources tell Yahoo! Sports.
Adrian Wojnarowski: Auerbach is irate, a source tells Yahoo! Sports: “Doctors + Cybex machines don't mean (bleep)! I've never seen a machine rebound + score.”
Ken Berger: Maxwell has received permission from the Celtics to rehab his knee in LA w/the Clippers conditioning coach. Interesting development.
Adrian Wojnarowski: Still no deal, but the Celtics remain hopeful that they can ditch Maxwell before Walton signs elsewhere, a source tells Yahoo! Sports.
July 1: Back in L.A., Walton finally visits the Lakers.
Adrian Wojnarowski: Sources says that the Lakers have determined Walton's knees are in bad shape. He did not pass his physical, a source tells Yahoo! Sports.
Ken Berger: Says one source who saw the x-rays: “That can’t be a human foot.”
Marc Stein: LAC refutes Lakers findings: “There's nothing wrong with his knee other than tendinitis, which a lot of veterans play with,” says source.
Stephen A. Smith: Now I am hearing WHISPERS around this league about what’s going on here, AND I DON’T LIKE IT, Skip Bayless. (1/4)
Stephen A. Smith: On one hand, I’m hearing that Billy Walton is just OUT OF SHAPE. And the Lakers were NONE TOO HAPPPY. (2/4)
Stephen A. Smith: I’ve heard Los Angeles thinks his knees are fine but don’t want him, and failed him just TO SCARE the Celtics. (3/4)
Stephen A. Smith: And I’ve also heard that he’s just done, Skip. D-U-N. The man just doesn’t have anything in the tank. HIS BODY’S SHOT. (4/4)
Ken Berger: Despite rumors, Celtics still have faith in Walton. Volk: “We made our judgment based on our physicals. I have a very extensive report.”
Darren Rovell: VOLK OF CONFIDENCE
Adrian Wojnarowski: Spurned by the Lakers, a source tells Yahoo! Sports that Bill Walton is more inspired than ever to find his way to Boston.
July 24: With only a week of negotiations left before Walton returns to L.A., the Clippers and Celtics realized that both contracts would have to be renegotiated for the teams to stay under the salary cap. Meanwhile, Maxwell’s knee was improving, so Walton tried to get an extension on his free agency -- but the Clippers weren’t having it. They had the Celtics and Walton right where they wanted them. So the July 31 deadline passed, and L.A. had the leverage.
There was only one problem.
Adrian Wojnarowski: Sources tell Yahoo! Sports that there’s growing frustration in the Clippers organization w/owner Donald Sterling. He’s not making this easy.
Ken Berger: One Clip exec: “He’ll take the elevator down + ask the operator what he thinks, and by the time he reaches the lobby he’ll change his mind.”
Adrian Wojnarowski: Cs source tells Yahoo! Sports: “Donald’s the nicest, sweetest guy who will give you two dimes for a quarter + think he’s doing you a favor.”
Marc Stein: Boston thought there was an agreement: Maxwell and first rounder for Walton. But with every call, Sterling moves the goal post.
Adrian Wojnarowski: Jan Volk just called Clippers GM Carl Scheer and called off trade talks. The Celtics are done jumping through hoops for Sterling.
Darren Rovell: The hula hoop was first sold in America by Wham-O in 1957. They stole the idea from Australia. Big miss by the Aussies not trademarking.
August 15: The talks stopped, and Red Auerbach went in for a gall-bladder operation. A few days later, he was recovering at home when received a phone call from Scheer. Now the Clippers were a little desperate. Scheer told Red that the two sides should try and work it out, and that this trade was meant to be . . . and Red lost it.
Adrian Wojnarowski: League source tells Yahoo! Sports that Red Auerbach has taken the first-round pick off the table in a potential Walton/Maxwell swap.
Tony Massarotti: AUERBACH’S EGO AT IT AGAIN. It’s enough already, people. Haven’t you had enough???
Ken Berger: Source says Carl Scheer tried to laugh off Auerbach’s new demand, and proceed with negotiations. Red immediately hung up on him.
Chris Broussard: Hearing from sources that the hula hoop was first sold in America by the Wham-O toy company in 1957.
August 27: Two weeks went by without much conversation, and Volk had the same answer every time he was asked for an update: “It’s not going to happen today. This is a recording.” In the meantime, the Celtics tried to mend fences with Maxwell, and just about the time they realized that the relationship was far past the point of no return, Auerbach received another phone call from Walton that changed everything.
Adrian Wojnarowski: The Clippers and Cavaliers have engaged in talks surrounding Bill Walton, a league source tells Yahoo! Sports.
Marc Stein: According to source, Celtics suddenly have renewed interest in Walton/Maxwell swap. Willing to give up pick + eat half of Maxwell’s contract.
Adrian Wojnarowski: Celtics have agreed to trade Cedric Maxwell + a first to the Clippers for Bill Walton. Boston will pay half of Maxwell's $800,000 contract.
Ken Berger: The only thing holding up the deal now is whether Maxwell and Walton pass their physicals, according to a source.
Darren Rovell: Let’s Get Physical by Olivia Newton John was nominated for a Grammy in 1981.
Adrian Wojnarowski: Walton and Maxwell have both passed their physicals, league source tells Yahoo! Sports.
August 31: All that was left now was for the league to approve the trade under the salary cap, and for that they would need approval from NBA counsel Gary Bettman. However, Bettman was on vacation in Bermuda and couldn’t be reached for two days. Still, both sides assumed they were in the clear. Scheer went to watch the U.S. Open in New York. Volk was getting ready for a vacation to St. Martin. Clippers general counsel Arn Tellem, who had worked out the deal, headed over to the Dodgers game with plans to meet his wife up in Napa for the weekend.
Adrian Wojnarowski: The NBA has rejected the trade between the Celtics and Clippers, a league source tells Yahoo! Sports.
Larry Coon: Maxwell + Walton both needed renegotiated deals. The NBA believes Maxwell’s deal, while moved around some, is essentially the same deal.
Stephen A. Smith: Now I only have one question for you, Skip Bayless. WHO GOES TO BERMUDA IN THE SUMMER?
While at the game, Tellem caught a glimpse of Dodgers third baseman Bill Madlock and had an idea. He’d renegotiated Madlock’s deal with the Dodgers earlier that year, by basically creating a new contract for the same amount of money. They had just rearranged how and when it hit Madlock’s bank account. He called Volk from the game, hatched a new plan, and immediately sent it back to the league.
Larry Coon: The Clippers basically added a few years to the contract and guaranteed some deferred money, and that should be enough for Bettman.
September 2: It took two more days, but they got Bettman the contract and he approved it. Maxwell was already on the West Coast and couldn’t wait to start his new beginning. Meanwhile, Walton was so inspired that he gave up $110,000 from his old contract just to get this new one done. Then, on September 7, the Celtics and Clippers held dueling press conferences on opposite coasts.
Marc Stein: Maxwell at his presser: “I'm just taking up Bill Walton's spot. Don has already told me I don't have to practice.”
Adrian Wojnarowski: Volk to reporters: “This was the most difficult trade I've ever had to make.”
But no matter the struggle, Volk had to be pleased with the results —
The #86Celtics had their sixth man.