Season Review: 1980-81

Take a look back at the 1980-81 NBA season in which the Celtics emerged as NBA champions.

The Celtics defeated the Rockets to win their first title during the Bird-Parish-McHale era.


The biggest news of the season came a full four months before the season started.

On June 9, 1980, Celtics GM Red Auerbach pulled off the type of trade that had earned him a reputation for thievery in his more than three decades in the league. Auerbach dealt the first and 13th picks in the 1980 Draft to Golden State for the third pick in the 1980 Draft and four-year veteran center Robert Parish. The Warriors selected Purdue center Joe Barry Carroll with the first pick and tabbed Mississippi forward Rickey Brown 13th. The Celtics took forward Kevin McHale of Minnesota, and thus added Parish and McHale to a frontcourt that already featured Larry Bird and Cedric Maxwell. In short, the Celtics’ “Big Three” that fueled their title runs throughout the 1980s was built.

The 1980-81 season was a relatively strange season. The reigning champion Lakers saw Magic Johnson go down with torn cartilage in his left knee, causing him to miss 45 games. The Lakers never really recovered, and fell in the first round of the Western Conference playoffs to the Houston Rockets.

The Rockets were the surprise of the playoffs, led by rebounding champion Moses Malone, becoming just the second team in NBA history to make the Finals despite finishing the regular season with a losing record (40-42).

The Celtics swept Chicago, defeated Philadelphia in seven games after trailing 3-1, and overmatched Houston in six games to win their first title of the Bird-Parish-McHale Era.

A shot by Larry Bird late in the fourth quarter of Game 1 of The Finals remains a staple that series and on the all-time NBA playoff highlight reel.

The Celtics defeat the Rockets for their 14th NBA championship

Bird launched an 18-footer from the right side, knew instantly that the shot was off, hustled in to rebound his miss, caught the ball as his momentum was carrying him to the baseline, switched the ball to his left hand in mid-air and swished a 12-footer. The Boston Garden faithful fell about the place.

“It was the one best shot I’ve ever seen a player make,” Auerbach claimed.

In conjunction with the NBA’s 35th Anniversary, pro basketball writers selected their “All-Time NBA Team.” It included Bill Russell, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Elgin Baylor, Wilt Chamberlain, Bob Cousy, Julius Erving, John Havlicek, George Mikan, Bob Pettit, Oscar Robertson and Jerry West. Auerbach was selected as coach.


Eastern Conference first round

Chicago defeated New York (2-0)

Philadelphia defeated Indiana (2-0)

Western Conference first round

Houston defeated Los Angeles Lakers (2-1)

Kansas City defeated Portland (2-1)

Eastern Conference semifinals

Philadelphia defeated Milwaukee (4-3)

Boston defeated Chicago (4-0)

Western Conference semifinals

Kansas City defeated Phoenix (4-3)

Houston defeated San Antonio (4-3)

Eastern Conference finals

Boston defeated Philadelphia (4-3)

Western Conference finals

Houston defeated Kansas City (4-1)

NBA Finals

Boston defeated Houston (4-2)


Points — Adrian Dantley, Utah Jazz (30.7)

Assists — Kevin Porter, Washington Bullets (9.1)

Rebounds — Moses Malone, Houston Rockets (14.8)

Steals — Magic Johnson, Los Angeles Lakers (3.43)

Blocks — George Johnson, San Antonio Spurs (3.39)

FG % — Artis Gilmore, Chicago Bulls (67.0)

FT % — Calvin Murphy, Houston Rockets (95.8)

3PT % — Brian Taylor, San Diego Clippers (38.3)


Most Valuable Player — Julius Erving, Philadelphia 76ers

Rookie of the Year — Darrell Griffith, Utah Jazz

Coach of the Year — Jack McKinney, Indiana Pacers

All-Star Game MVP — Tiny Archibald, Boston Celtics

Finals MVP — Cedric Maxwell, Boston Celtics