In 1977–78, the Celtics owned two of the top eight picks in the 1978 NBA Draft. Since the Celtics had two draft choices, Auerbach took a risk and selected junior Larry Bird of Indiana State with the 6th pick, knowing that Bird would elect to remain in college for his senior year. The Celtics would retain his rights for one year, a rule that was later changed, and Auerbach believed that Bird's potential would make him worth the wait. Auerbach also felt that when the college season ended the Celtics would have a great chance to sign Bird. Auerbach was right and Bird signed soon after leading Indiana State to the NCAA Championship game, where they fell to a Michigan State University team that was led by Magic Johnson.
"The (1980s) Big 3"
Larry Bird was drafted 6th overall by the Boston Celtics and spent his whole career with the team. Robert Parish was traded to Boston and joined Larry Bird in 1980. Kevin McHale was drafted 3rd overall in the 1980 NBA Draft.The other important story of the Celtics' 1978–79 season was the ongoing dispute between Auerbach and new owner John Y. Brown. The dispute nearly led Auerbach to resign as General Manager for a position with the New York Knicks. With public support strongly behind Auerbach, Brown elected to sell the team rather than face the wrath of the city for being the man who drove Red to a hated rival. During his short ownership, Brown orchestrated a trade for Bob McAdoo that Auerbach despised, and the team unraveled. The Celtics would struggle through the season, going 29–53 without Bird. Newcomers Chris Ford, Rick Robey, Cedric Maxwell and Tiny Archibald failed to reverse the team's momentum.
Bird debuted for the Celtics during the 1979–80 season, a year after his selection. With a new owner in place, Auerbach made a number of moves that would bring the team back to prominence. Auerbach traded the unhappy McAdoo, a former NBA scoring champion, to the Detroit Pistons in exchange for guard M. L. Carr, a defensive specialist, and two first-round picks in the 1980 NBA Draft. He also picked up point guard Gerald Henderson from the CBA. Carr, Archibald, Henderson and Ford formed a highly competent backcourt, with their unique skills blending in perfectly with the talented frontcourt of Cowens, Maxwell and Bird, who would go on to win NBA Rookie of the Year honors. The Celtics improved by 32 games, which at the time was the best single-season turnaround in NBA history, going 61–21 and losing to the Philadelphia 76ers in the Eastern Conference Finals.
After the season, Auerbach completed what may be the most lopsided trade in NBA history. Auerbach had always been a fan of stockpiling draft picks, so even after the success of 1979–80 the Celtics had both the 1st and 13th picks in the 1980 NBA Draft left over from the M. L. Carr trade. Auerbach saw an opportunity to improve the team immediately, sending the two picks to the Golden State Warriors in exchange for center Robert Parish and the Warriors first round pick, the 3rd overall. With the draft pick, Auerbach selected University of Minnesota power forward Kevin McHale. With these three future Hall of Famers on the team the Celtics had a core in place to become a dominant team in the NBA.
The Celtics went 62–20 under coach Bill Fitch in 1980–81, despite losing center Dave Cowens to retirement late in training camp. Once again the Celtics matched up with the 76ers in the Eastern Conference Finals. Boston fell behind 3 games to 1 before coming back to win a classic 7th game, 91–90. The Celtics went on to capture the 1981 NBA Championship over the Houston Rockets, just two years after Bird had been drafted. Maxwell was named NBA Finals MVP. The following year the Celtics once again tried to come back from a 3-1 deficit against the Sixers in the rematch but this time lost Game 7 at Boston Garden. In 1983 the Celtics were swept in the playoffs for the first time against the...