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ThePTExperience1969
LSU Fan
Baton Rouge, LA
Member since Apr 2016
10814 posts

What would the 1980s Celtics accomplish if Ralph Sampson went pro in 1980?
In the spirit of the Len Bias what if recently offered here, I offer another

Those who read the Bill Simmons book probably have some familiarity with this, those who don't and didn't know about this, I want to set the stage:

-1980 Boston Celtics conclude a 61-21 turnaround season led by Larry Bird and advance to the 1980 Eastern Conference Finals where they lose to the Philadelphia 76ers in what Brent Musberger described as "the upset of the year"
-In 1979, Boston acquires two Detroit first round draft picks in exchange for Bob McAdoo. The 1980 Detroit Pistons (coached by Dick "Biased against LSU" Vitale) finish with the worst record since the 1973 Philadelphia 76ers, their 1980 first round pick (now Boston's) qualifies for the no. 1 overall pick coin flip and Boston wins the coin flip
-In 1980, much-hyped 7'4 Virginia freshman Ralph Sampson concludes a stellar freshman season where he averages 15-11 and 5 blocks a game, appears on the cover of Sports Illustrated, earns ACC Rookie of the Year, leads the Cavaliers to the NIT title, and played for the US men's national team in the 1979 Pan American Games (setting the stage for Sampson: one of the most hyped high school recruits in history not named Lew Alcindor, Wilt Chamberlain, Bill Walton, Moses Malone and the valedictorian of a LOADED 1979 college basketball recruiting class)
-While the rest of the league basically decides that Joe Barry Carroll is the 1980 no. 1 overall pick for some reason, Red Auerbach and Co. resolve to pursue and select Sampson no. 1 overall should he declare hardship, they start lobbying him

What happens?

Ralph "improbably" (according to Bill Simmons) declines and Boston trades the pick (and the 13th pick) to Golden State for their no. 3 pick and Robert Parish, they select Kevin McHale and proceed to win 3 NBA titles in 6 seasons and advance to 5 NBA Finals in 7 seasons

Golden State selects Joe Barry Carroll no. 1 overall and he proceeds to achieve not much of anything from a basketball perspective and earns the nickname Joe "Barely Cares" from Peter Vecsey

Ralph proceeds to play an entire college career at UVA and graduates, enjoying arguably the most accomplished personal college basketball career of all-time despite never advancing past the Final Four semifinals (and only advancing to one Final Four period during those years). His numbers basically remain the same, he never improves, plays on a dreadful Houston team his rookie season. Bill Simmons argues Ralph wasted 4 seasons of his formative years when he could've learned the ropes (and earned mean money) playing with Bird on the arguable greatest basketball franchise of all-time. Ralph ultimately plays only 4 healthy NBA seasons and files for bankruptcy years later.

Red publicly flips out about Ralph's rejection, arguing that Ralph was being "hoodwinked by glad-handlers" and adding that the "people advising him to stay in school...are taking away earning potential he'll never get back, and they're forgetting that if he gets hit by a car, it's the end of the line."

What if Ralph enters the 1980 Draft and the Celtics select him? Do they duplicate or exeed what they do with the Big 3? Does Ralph suffer that injury in Boston Garden that alters the rest of his career (and knees)? I have no clue, those 80s Celtics teams were special in that window but my God Bird and a green Ralph Sampson coming off a stellar freshman season where he made UVA relevant in basketball for the first time, that's a Magic-Kareem combo ready to buttfrick the NBA.

Discuss


Keys Open Doors
Duke Fan
In hiding with Tupac & XXXTentacion
Member since Dec 2008
28187 posts

re: What would the 1980s Celtics accomplish if Ralph Sampson went pro in 1980?
It was a blessing in disguise. Sampson would have been awesome for the next 6-7 years, but McHale and Parrish combined are certainly better.

Most likely Sampson ends up being worse than McHale but better than Parrish for that period. However, he may have even been worse than both McHale and Parrish while still being an All Star in many years.


GeauxAggie972
LSU Fan
Poterbin Residence
Member since Aug 2009
24493 posts

re: What would the 1980s Celtics accomplish if Ralph Sampson went pro in 1980?
Glad you got motivated by my thread

I think the knee issues were going to hit him no matter what team he was on. Like Keys said too, the duo of McHale and Parrish outweigh what Sampson would bring.

If they kept their picks, there is no one at 13 that could combine with Sampson enough to keep that train going. That's the problem, they hit the jackpot with both McHale and Parish


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30
Scoob
LSU Fan
Near Exxon
Member since Jun 2009
12602 posts

re: What would the 1980s Celtics accomplish if Ralph Sampson went pro in 1980?
quote:

It was a blessing in disguise. Sampson would have been awesome for the next 6-7 years, but McHale and Parrish combined are certainly better.

Definitely the case. Sampson was a bit overrated as a center. He had game, but not franchise level stuff. Olajuwon was an upgrade at center the next year, and Sampson wasn't the dominating power forward they'd hoped he could be.

Meanwhile, Parrish was adequate at center, and McHale was an absolute nightmare down low. Perfect compliment to Bird.


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SoulBrotha91
LSU Fan
Birmingham, AL
Member since Aug 2019
510 posts

re: What would the 1980s Celtics accomplish if Ralph Sampson went pro in 1980?
quote:

Dick "Biased against LSU" Vitale


That dude can suck a dick, should be sued for disparagement

quote:

Boston acquires two Detroit first round draft picks in exchange for Bob McAdoo


quote:

no. 1 overall pick coin flip and Boston wins the coin flip


no wonder the Celtics won all the titles they did, Red's a fricking genius at running shite LONG LIVE RED

quote:

In 1980, much-hyped 7'4 Virginia freshman Ralph Sampson concludes a stellar freshman season where he averages 15-11 and 5 blocks a game, appears on the cover of Sports Illustrated, earns ACC Rookie of the Year, leads the Cavaliers to the NIT title, and played for the US men's national team in the 1979 Pan American Games (setting the stage for Sampson: one of the most hyped high school recruits in history not named Lew Alcindor, Wilt Chamberlain, Bill Walton, Moses Malone and the valedictorian of a LOADED 1979 college basketball recruiting class)


DAMN that dude definitely should've gone pro after one year I mean we're talking about the Boston Celtics with great management and Larry Bird here instead of you know University of Virginia basketball that chokes in the tournament consistently

quote:

While the rest of the league basically decides that Joe Barry Carroll is the 1980 no. 1 overall pick for some reason


Yeah this is dumb but perimeter players didn't possess the same value as frontline players at the beginning of the three point era so makes sense people like Carroll get selected ahead of Dunkenstein

quote:

Ralph "improbably" (according to Bill Simmons) declines and Boston trades the pick (and the 13th pick) to Golden State for their no. 3 pick and Robert Parish, they select Kevin McHale and proceed to win 3 NBA titles in 6 seasons and advance to 5 NBA Finals in 7 seasons


Red always had legendary Plan Bs too, having read the Simmons book as well just awesome learning that Red played 7D chess while the rest of the early NBA played checkers, checks out

quote:

Golden State selects Joe Barry Carroll no. 1 overall and he proceeds to achieve not much of anything from a basketball perspective and earns the nickname Joe "Barely Cares" from Peter Vecsey


haha yeah def didn't work out for either party

quote:

Red publicly flips out about Ralph's rejection, arguing that Ralph was being "hoodwinked by glad-handlers" and adding that the "people advising him to stay in school...are taking away earning potential he'll never get back, and they're forgetting that if he gets hit by a car, it's the end of the line."


Red's argument's probably right here

quote:

What if Ralph enters the 1980 Draft and the Celtics select him?


Hard to match arguably the greatest frontline in NBA history, they enabled all the mid and long-range shooting the backcourt did and made the Celtics almost impossible to defend. It's just so hard because, according to the Simmons book, Red thought Sampson had the athletic ability and instincts to become the next Russell in 1980 and like OP and many writers and analysts at the time said Ralph Sampson was one of the most hyped college recruits in basketball history who headlined a loaded 1979 recruiting class. Him learning the ropes with Bird, Tiny, and Max at a precocious big-time basketball age vis a vis doing the bull shite he did at the University of Virginia for three more seasons and a bad Houston team the next (albeit certainly not failures since he attained many accolades along the way) man maybe Ralph becomes the player everyone always applied the future tense to, the next great one. Considering Red was still a beast at hustling, safe to say they probably win a couple of titles at least, wonder how they'd enhance the front line still.


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Rep520
Arizona Fan
Member since Mar 2018
10324 posts

re: What would the 1980s Celtics accomplish if Ralph Sampson went pro in 1980?
quote:

It was a blessing in disguise. Sampson would have been awesome for the next 6-7 years, but McHale and Parrish combined are certainly better.


This. They wound up deeper, which, with Sampson's fragility helped more.

They probably would have won with him in the early 80's, but he broke down earlier than McHale and Parish. By 87-88, he was a limited contributor.


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SoulBrotha91
LSU Fan
Birmingham, AL
Member since Aug 2019
510 posts

re: What would the 1980s Celtics accomplish if Ralph Sampson went pro in 1980?
quote:

This. They wound up deeper


The 80s Celtics are probably one of the great what if dynasties of all-time which is an ironic thing to say since they did win 3 titles in the decade and advanced to 5

1982: Tiny dislocates shoulder in playoffs, Celtics get eliminated by Sixers in ECF in 7 with Henderson replacing
1985: Larry plays the last half of the ECF and the entire Finals with injured elbow and right index finger and his stats decline as a result, Celts lose to Lakers for first time
1987: injuries galore for everyone except Bird, somehow they advance to the Finals and extend the Lakers to 6 games (probably should've been 7)

quote:

Sampson's fragility helped more.


Playing 3 more seasons for a UVA team that didn't accomplish much in NCAA tourney play and a rookie season for a bad Houston team except for the legendary Celtics can't have helped

quote:

They probably would have won with him in the early 80's, but he broke down earlier than McHale and Parish.


It's a great hypo since we'd have to recontextualize everything about whether Ralph playing pro and playing for a team executing the style of play the Celts executed at the time would've made a difference when it comes to health and everything vis a vis playing college and for a bad team the next 4 seasons. Like Simmons said in the book, those final 3 seasons damaged Sampson's ceiling compared to what Red believed in 1980 as he never developed a "money in the bank" shot. Then again, we never know if he suffers that fateful fall like he did, ironically, in the Boston Garden that materially altered the fate of his career, has to be a possibility we consider.


ThePTExperience1969
LSU Fan
Baton Rouge, LA
Member since Apr 2016
10814 posts

re: What would the 1980s Celtics accomplish if Ralph Sampson went pro in 1980?
quote:

1982: Tiny dislocates shoulder in playoffs, Celtics get eliminated by Sixers in ECF in 7 with Henderson replacing


That 82 Lakers team was truly great as demonstrated by their sterling Western Conference playoff record, that 1-3-1 trap D and Showtime fast break with Norm and Magic, simply legendary. Philly managed to extend them to 6 despite playing so many games in the playoffs that season I can't imagine what a 63-win healthy Celtics team would've done, Bird submitted all-pro seasons his first 2 years, this commenced his peak as a player. Shame.

quote:

1985: Larry plays the last half of the ECF and the entire Finals with injured elbow and right index finger and his stats decline as a result, Celts lose to Lakers for first time


Would've been an all-time great team but Bird got in that bar fight and the Celts weren't the team that steamrolled the regular season thereafter, Bird DOMINATED the 85 season such a shame

quote:

Playing 3 more seasons for a UVA team that didn't accomplish much in NCAA tourney play and a rookie season for a bad Houston team except for the legendary Celtics can't have helped


Damn, like Simmons said, maybe Red was right. Ralph surely had the talent but he was a generational player at that time, not meant to languish in 4 years of college basketball much less not really improve, we were robbed.

quote:

It's a great hypo since we'd have to recontextualize everything about whether Ralph playing pro and playing for a team executing the style of play the Celts executed at the time would've made a difference when it comes to health and everything vis a vis playing college and for a bad team the next 4 seasons.


Ultimately, history proved Parish/McHale were right for that team but young Bird and young green Sampson teaming up and playing big-time pro basketball? holy shite that's box office stuff and Ralph did translate to winning, combine him with infinitely better teammates than who surrounded him at UVA, sky's the limit

The fateful fall always lingers if we recontextualize everything bc freak accidents do occur, maybe playing with Bird and the Celts refines his game compared to the stagnant stuff he pulled his final years at UVA and his moves preclude that


RedHawk
Army Fan
Baton Rouge
Member since Aug 2007
7009 posts

re: What would the 1980s Celtics accomplish if Ralph Sampson went pro in 1980?
McHale alone was better than Sampson and then you add in Parish and the Celtics actually lucked out by getting what they got instead of Sampson.


ThePTExperience1969
LSU Fan
Baton Rouge, LA
Member since Apr 2016
10814 posts

re: What would the 1980s Celtics accomplish if Ralph Sampson went pro in 1980?
quote:

McHale alone was better than Sampson


Proved that when they matched up against each other in the Finals, Sampson struck me and many as more a Kareem type (sans the sky hook) than Walton/McHale/Hakeem type in terms of his moves in the post, playing all those extra years in college def didn't improve him, would've been better off just going pro early

quote:

you add in Parish and the Celtics actually lucked out by getting what they got instead of Sampson.


Red always seemed to have the Luck of the Irish (despite nothing about him is Irish) when it came to people like Parish and Walton, lost causes who made significant contributions to a dynasty, his Plan Bs (except for Len Bias) almost were as good, if not better, than his Plan As however envisioning prime Sampson playing with Bird, endless possibilities either way you don't go wrong and it probably helps Sampson's career and legacy as well


SoulBrotha91
LSU Fan
Birmingham, AL
Member since Aug 2019
510 posts

re: What would the 1980s Celtics accomplish if Ralph Sampson went pro in 1980?
Certainly possible he enjoys a better and more distinguished pro career than he did in Houston, possibly gains some longevity, playing with people like Bird, Tiny, Henderson, hell if Red still trades for DJ that's like upgrading from economy to first class, alley oops galore and the Celts can devise all the great plays they ran through DJ, Bird, Walton, etc. Ralph typically displayed a proclivity for participating heavily in fast breaks and passing, would've been perfect.

Exactly when it comes to your points about McHale and Parish, I'm not entirely sure Parish gets inducted into the HOF or gets voted to all-star games if he doesn't play for the Celts. It's likely McHale still reaches the HOF and reaches all-star games if he didn't play with the Celts as the game typically came easily to him at Minnesota and he always displayed great skill in the post but he reached icon status in Boston. Combine playing in Boston with Bird and Tiny with Ralph's skill at the time, it's like if Anheuser-Busch and Coors merged, can't place a limit on what's possible here.


navy
Navy Fan
Bannedeville, SC
Member since Sep 2010
24909 posts

re: What would the 1980s Celtics accomplish if Ralph Sampson went pro in 1980?
Parish described as “adequate”....and he is a HOFer.

Ralph Sampson was soft AF. Thank God he was never a Celt.


SoulBrotha91
LSU Fan
Birmingham, AL
Member since Aug 2019
510 posts

re: What would the 1980s Celtics accomplish if Ralph Sampson went pro in 1980?
quote:

Parish described as “adequate”....and he is a HOFer.


Certainly wasn't when he played for Golden State that's for sure, let's just say Boston and Boston Garden made an impact

quote:

Ralph Sampson was soft AF.


Playing all those extra years in college didn't help the development

quote:

Thank God he was never a Celt.


Ehhhhh the great talent and skill was always there, he just played for teams that stunted and thwarted his growth as a player, playing with Bird and those guys running plays like Bird did with McHale and Walton? Scary the possibilities


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