1980s Boston Celtics Nemesis Dies at 68 After Cancer Fight

Robert Reid

Getty Robert Reid was a problem for the Boston Celtics in two NBA Finals trips in the 1980s.

The Boston Celtics reached the NBA Finals five times in the 1980s. While most fans remember Boston’s intense battles with the rival Los Angeles Lakers, two of Boston’s three championships that decade came against the Houston Rockets.

Robert Reid played in both the 1981 and 1986 NBA Finals against the Celtics. Known for his tough defense, Reid also showed he could put the ball in the hole, averaging a career-high 15.9 points in the 1980-81 season. Reid died Monday, February 19, at his home in Houston after battling cancer. He was 68.

Robert Reid Made Life Tough for Larry Bird & the Boston Celtics

The Celtics made their first trip to the NBA Finals in the ’80s during the 1980-81 season. One year after Larry Bird won Rookie of the Year, the Celtics beefed up by adding Robert Parish and Kevin McHale in a one-sided trade with the Golden State Warriors. In their first year together, Boston’s Big Three won their first championship.

The Rockets, led by center Moses Malone, made things interesting by coming into Boston and stealing Game 2 with a 92-90 victory. The teams then split the next two games in Houston to send the game back to Boston tied at two games apiece.

In those two Houston games, Bird was held to eight points in each game. Guarded by Reid most of the game, Bird went 3-for-11 from the floor in both games. While most of the NBA fans credited Reid with his stingy defense, Bird, in typical Larry Bird-like fashion, went against the grain.

“Robert is a good defensive player, but he’s no Michael Cooper,” Bird wrote in his book “Drive: The Story of My Life.” “I couldn’t understand what all the fuss was about. I couldn’t hit a shot, but otherwise, I thought I was playing good basketball. I was passing the ball well, playing great defense, and I had 21 rebounds in each of the first two games. No forward has done anything like that since.”

Reid led all scorers with 27 points in a 98-95 Rockets loss in Game 1.

Magic Johnson Called Reid 1 of the Best Defensive Players Ever

Reid was also a member of the overmatched Rockets team that faced the Celtics in the 1986 NBA Finals. After the Rockets dropped the first two games in Boston, the 6-foot-8 Reid scored 20 points and dished out a team-high nine assists in Houston’s 106-104 win in Game 3.

In Houston’s convincing 111-96 win in Game 5 that sent the series back to Boston with his team trailing 3-2, Reid racked up 17 assists to go along with 13 points.

Boston closed out the series in six games.

While Reid put up impressive numbers and helped shut down opponents defensively, he was known as a tremendous person. Los Angeles Lakers legend Magic Johnson made note of his defensive prowess but also labeled him a “great person.”

“I’m deeply saddened by the news that my friend Robert Reid passed away today,” Johnson posted on X. “Robert was a fierce competitor for the Houston Rockets and one of the best defensive players the league has ever seen! He was always a good host when I visited Houston, and we shared many meals together over the years.

“He was a great person, and this is a tough loss for his family, our NBA family, and guys like me, his friends. Cookie and I are praying for the entire Reid family, friends, and the NBA family during this difficult time.”

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