The Celtics and Lakers did not get along during the first preseason meeting in Boston. The two teams argued all game long, with players who came into the game a little rusty trying to find their way back. In what was possibly one of the most intense games played that year–the blood on Michael Cooper’s nails is proof–Walton remembers it as an unforgettable moment in NBA history.

Bill Walton Recalls His 1st Boston Celtics vs. LA Lakers Bloody Preseason Meeting and Michael Cooper's Fingernails

In the 1980s, how major were the Boston Celtics vs. Los Angeles Lakers matchups? They were so significant that the NBA planned preseason games between the fierce rivals to give the clubs extra action after only meeting twice during the regular season.

What was the temperature of the rivalry? Bill Walton recalls facing the Lakers in his debut year with the Celtics. He recalled a brawl, a bleeding coach, and Michael Cooper’s fingernails from his first encounter with the rivalry.

As the last piece of the 1986 jigsaw, the Boston Celtics signed Bill Walton.


Bill-Walton-86-1024x683 On April 13, 2016, in Boston, Massachusetts, Bill Walton is honored during halftime of a game between the Boston Celtics and the Miami Heat at TD Garden. | Getty Images/Mike Lawrie

In the 1984 NBA Finals, the Celtics defeated the Lakers, although the Lakers outplayed them for the most of the series. The Lakers avenged themselves the next season by beating the Celtics in six games, including a Game 6 victory in Boston. The Celtics’ bench was in desperate need of help. Someone had to stand in for Robert Parish and Kevin McHale.

Then there’s Walton.

Walton, an often injured center, was acquired by the Celtics in a trade before to the 1985-96 season. He was as healthy and enthusiastic as he had been in a long time. After leading the Portland Trail Blazers to a championship in 1977, he realized he had a chance to be a part of another championship.

Walton stayed healthy in his debut year with Boston, appearing in 80 games throughout the regular season. He played his duty to perfection, averaging 19.3 minutes each game. Per game, he averaged 7.6 points and 5.3 rebounds.

The Celtics didn’t have to meet the Lakers in the Western Conference Finals that year because the Houston Rockets swept them. In six games, Boston defeated Houston in the NBA Finals.

Bill Walton recalls his first matchup between the Boston Celtics and the Los Angeles Lakers.

Since 1974, Walton has been a member of the NBA. Following a storied collegiate career at UCLA, the Blazers selected Walton first overall in the 1974 NBA Draft. He led the Blazers to a title in his third season. He was crowned the league’s MVP in his fourth season, averaging 18.9 points and 13.2 rebounds. Due to a foot ailment, he missed three of the following four seasons.

The Celtics make a trade for Walton on Sept. 6, 1985, with the Los Angeles Clippers in exchange for former NBA Finals MVP Cedric Maxwell and a first-round selection. He recalls his first encounter with the Celtics/Lakers rivalry in 1985 during a preseason game.

In April 2021, Walton informed Brian Scalabrine for Celtics on NBC Sports Boston, “My very first Celtics/Lakers matchup was an exhibition game in 1985.” “That year, there were four of them.”

“A fight broke out in the first one, right on the opening tip.” It was 20 minutes long. Everyone was a participant. Because Michael Cooper would never clip his fingernails, K.C. Jones eventually returned to the bench bleeding, cut, and scratched.

“His (Jones’) clothing were all tattered, and he looked at me with this glitter in his eye and said, ‘I love this game,’” says the narrator.

The NBA reaped the most benefit from the Celtics-Lakers rivalry.

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Basketball enthusiasts awaited the Celtics vs. Lakers matchups with bated breath. The issue was that throughout the regular season, there were only two of them. In 1985, the NBA rectified this dilemma by scheduling four preseason games between the two clubs. According to the Los Angeles Times, the first of two preseason games held at The Forum was completely sold out. It was the first time there had been a sold-out preseason game.

Cooper expressed his disdain for the Celtics even during the preseason.

According to the Los Angeles Times, Cooper said, “I don’t like them.” “However, I respect them.” You don’t have to like everyone, but Larry Bird, Kevin McHale, and Dennis Johnson must be respected.”

Walton thought the rivalry was insane when he first saw it. With three minutes remaining in the game, Lakers coach Pat Riley brought out Magic Johnson and James Worthy to preserve the 124-111 victory. Riley confessed that the game was more than simply a warm-up.

Riley noted at the time, “This was not simply an exhibition game.” “There was a bit more oomph to it.”

The rivalry, according to the late Dennis Johnson, brings out the best in both teams.

“Whether it’s a preseason game or not,” Johnson said after the game, “we tend to stir up a high level of energy in each other.” “They are the finest for what they accomplished last year.” I wish I could alter things, but I’m unable to do so. They’ve worked hard for it.”

After a demoralizing, series-altering loss to the Los Angeles Lakers in the 1987 Finals, Larry Bird and the Boston Celtics were denied a chance at a fourth NBA title.

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