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The Boston Celtics made a series of strategic moves that enabled them to reach the NBA Finals four years in a row and win three championships in just seven years. Those moves included the acquisition of Dennis Johnson in the summer of 1983. Surprisingly, when Larry Bird heard about the deal, his first reaction wasn’t all optimistic.
While Johnson proved to be the defensive linchpin the Celtics desperately needed in their plans, there was a bittersweet aspect to the trade that brought him to the Celtics. When Rick Roby was traded to the Suns, Bird, who considered him his “best friend in the game,” was saddened by his departure.
Bird on Robey’s departure
The three-time MVP shared his thoughts on Airplane’s arrival in his autobiography, Drive: The Story of My Life.
Bird acknowledged that Johnson’s addition to the team has had a positive impact, but he also has a personal view of the trade, as it was the first time he had seen a close friend be traded away for purely business reasons. I couldn’t shake the sides.
“The next bomb was really personal,” Byrd said. “The Reds traded Rick Roby to Phoenix for Dennis Johnson. I certainly wasn’t upset that they traded Dennis Johnson. I like his style and I think he’s going to take us to Phoenix. I was confident that he would help me, but I was sad that they traded Rick away. This was the first time someone really close to me had been trafficked. I thought about all the fun we had.
Johnson’s arrival changed the fate of Boston Celtics
After winning the NBA championship in 1981, the Celtics went on to suffer two losses each to the Philadelphia 76ers and Milwaukee Bucks. Recognizing the need for change, the team turned to the five-time All-Star to add defensive tenacity.
With his smooth transition to the team and deft way of filling holes on the roster, Johnson made a huge impact. After being added to the starting lineup in 1983, the Celtics reached the NBA Finals four years in a row.
Johnson averaged 12.6 points, 6.4 assists, and 1.2 steals per game in seven seasons with the Celtics, showing off his ability as a two-way player. At the end of his 14-year NBA career, he was named to nine All-Defensive teams.