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Bob Ryan: Why 1986 Celtics Are The Greatest Team Of All Time

BOSTON (CBS) -- The great Bob Ryan joined Toucher & Rich on Tuesday morning to discuss a variety of topics around the basketball world.

With the Golden State Warriors seemingly on the verge of a second straight title, the discussion's been launched as to whether the team is the greatest of all time. It's a question that can't really be properly answered, so Ryan was instead asked if the current-day Warriors could succeed in any other era.

"It's so funny, it would be as if you dropped in from an alien culture on another planet if you dropped this team into the 1986 NBA," Ryan said. "It's like an alien species. There were wild and crazy teams -- for example, San Antonio with Doug Moe, or any team that Doug Moe coached was an up-tempo, offensively oriented team whether he was in Denver or San Antonio. There's a certain similarity there -- there were very potent offensive players on his teams -- but the idea of the long-range carpet bombing to the extent that they use it with those guys [now], that didn't exist in those days. So it was a completely different game. Still the concept of basketball 30 years ago was inside-out. The preference was you threw the ball inside to big guys, and either they scored or they threw it back out. But now it's outside, outside, and farther outside. There have been games where I honestly, truly believe that they have never thrown the ball inside once to anyone asking them to score. And that is just so alien to the way the game was.

"So it's truly an apples and oranges discussion."

OK, but with the world's foremost expert on the 1986 Celtics on the line, the question had to be asked: Were the '86 Celtics or the current-day Warriors more impressive?

"It's a bias, naturally. I lived with that team and admired that team and believe that it's the best team at its best that there ever was," Ryan said of the Celtics. "Because of the combinations, they could beat you every way. They could beat you inside with Robert Parish and Kevin McHale, and even Larry Bird posting up. And then they could beat you outside with Bird shooting and Danny Ainge and Jerry Sichting and Scott Wedman -- they all were good shooters. And Dennis Johnson was a streaky shooter, but he could shoot and could make an occasional 3. And they could beat you that way. They could run; they ran well. They defended in the half court very well. They touched all the bases, they had that great bench.

"And they had that one trump card that I always like to cite as my reason why I believe it's the best team of all time: There have been other great sixth men in history ... but there was never, for that one year, a sixth man who affected the game in the way that Bill Walton did. He was a different kind of a sixth man. He gave them a dimension that no team had. He gave them the best one-two center punch in the history of the game, and that's unarguable. I don't think anyone would dare to contradict that statement that there never was a better one-two center punch in the league than Parish and Walton that year. That was a dimension that no team has. Now the game has changed so radically and everybody says the big men don't matter anymore. I think those big men would make it matter. I just think they would impose their will on the Warriors, and that's why it would be such a fascinating series."

Later, the conversation was steered toward free agency. What does Ryan think about the league's marquee players cherry-picking teams and teammates in the modern NBA?

"I can honestly tell you that I had this discussion with Bird back when he was playing, and he kind of brought it up, and he just thinks it's such a point of pride in sticking with the one franchise, your team, as he and Magic did. And even Michael didn't do it. But he and Magic did that. And the thing you have to remember is that they didn't have a choice. They didn't have the mobility. There are two people of consequence that I can cite prior to this world of free agency and so forth who were able to exert their will and kind of pout their way and leverage their way out of circumstances they did not like. And you won't be surprised when I tell you who they were. The first was Wilt Chamberlain, who did it twice, and the second was Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, who basically pouted and whined his way out of Milwaukee and got himself to L.A. where he had that second career that resulted in all of the championships. Before that, you couldn't do it. Bird and Magic, even if they wanted to do it, it wasn't that easy to do. They didn't have that mobility. These guys [today] have that choice. Philosophically, we don't like it. You and I, we don't like it. We want them to stay the course with their teams and not be trying to assemble personal all-star teams at all. It's just a way they're different. These guys are raised differently. They're AAU pups; they're loyalties are AAU teams, not high school teams. It's so different. Their whole sensibility, their whole breeding, is different. It's just different. And those of us who lived through the other era just have to come to grips with it."

Lastly, Ryan was asked what the Celtics should do this month with regard to having the No. 3 pick in the upcoming draft.

"The ideal scenario is that they get an established player to add rather than getting the third pick in the draft. Established -- somebody that can upgrade them in talent," Ryan said.

He noted that Jahlil Okafor from Philly would be a great addition, despite the defensive deficiencies, and that Kevin Love would fit the bill too.

"They need somebody who can score, somebody so that when you get to the playoffs, your 5-foot-8-inch guard isn't your primary scorer but is one of your scorers," Ryan said. "Two years in a row we found out that he has to have more help."

If Danny Ainge struggles to find a willing trade partner for that No. 3 pick?

"I can't tell you who the No. 3 should be, because after 1 and 2 -- Ben Simmons and Brandon Ingram -- there's a lot of dropoff, and I don't really know who they like and who they love," Ryan said. "I wouldn't care if they drafted Buddy Hield from Oklahoma, because he can shoot, and there's a lot of revisionist history going on about him now, he can't do this or he can't do that. Remember this: As the draft draws near, every year, always all you hear about is all the things these guys can't do rather than the things they can. It's just the way that they discuss them. And then all of these guys who can't do this or can't do that are playing against each other in the All-Star Game three years later. So you pay no attention to that."

Ryan also discussed the state of the Cavaliers, and he promoted an upcoming event -- Hoop Dreams -- at the TD Garden with Brad Stevens and Doc Rivers. For more info on Hoop Dreams, click here, and listen to the full interview below:


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