The Blockbuster Warriors Draft deal created a dynasty – for the other team

12 mins read

Forty years ago, the Warriors acquired the No. 1 overall pick during the NBA draft by trading their best talented-but-passive center. NBA fans thought it was a bold move for the Warriors trading their center, who had a reputation for not playing hard enough and acquiring young talent to take them to the finals.

However, things aren’t in favor of the Warriors as they got the same player in return. And they set up another team’s dynasty.

In NBA history, the Joe Barry Carroll trade becomes one of the most lopsided deals known in Boston simply as “The Trade.” The Warriors didn’t have much luck as they repeatedly missed the playoffs, and Carroll earned his nickname as “Joe Barely Cares,” and the Celtics got two Hall of Fame frontcourt players, the key to their three championships in six seasons.

The deal in question was hit after days of pre-draft gamesmanship between the Celtics and Warriors. Celtics legend Red Auerbach publicly announced that he has his eyes on Carroll, an All-America center at Purdue, and the compromise top pick. However, privately, he had favored Kevin McHale, the University of Minnesota forward, but didn’t want to use the No. 1 overall pick for him.

(Note here that Boston Celtics had a record of 61 wins and 21 losses the previous season, and because of a coin flip and as compensation for a player signing/trade that was agreed by the Piston’s Dick Vitale, they had the No. 1 pick.)

Meanwhile, Scotty Stirling (Warriors chief executive) and Al Attles (Warriors coach) publicly announced that they want McHale as the No. 3 draft pick, all the while discussing a draft pick swap also send Warriors center Robert Parish to Boston for Carroll.

Before the trade, Attles said that McHale isn’t the type of player to become a superstar, but the kind of player who will play a long time in the NBA.

Related: Should the Warriors trade for the No. 2 picks for Spurs LaMarcus Aldridge, and 11th pick this year?

According to the book “Unfinished Business” by Jack McCallum, McHale may have turned off the Warriors during a pre-draft visit after picking up Attles at the airport in a 1966 Plymouth with bad brakes while dressed in jeans and a sweatshirt.

Parish, 26 years old at that time, had one year left on his contract and was looking for a change. He is putting solid numbers averaging 17 points per game, 11 rebounds the past two seasons. However, Parish has seen difficulties in Warriors losing ways, just as they’d found trouble on his sometimes-sluggish play that was too far from the basket for their liking.

After drafting the 7-foot Carroll, Attles said of Parish, “We had been talking for three years about getting the right parts to go with Robert. That gets a little old.”

The Warriors are looking for a strong center who could low-post and battle the likes of Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, and if they get McHale and lose Parish a year later, they feared being outplayed inside.

The deal then completed where Golden State sent Parish and the No. 3 picks for the Nos. 1 and 13 picks on June 9, 1980 draft. The Warriors choose the 7-foot center, Carroll, and Rickey Brown, a 6-foot-10 forward. McHale was taken by Boston.

Attles told the Chronicle after picking Carroll, “I couldn’t sleep the night of the draft, because I was thinking of ways to get the ball to Joe Barry Carroll. We have spent a lot of time talking about how we’d like to go to a low-post offense. Now, we can do it.”

The Warriors move was considered a risk for the franchise. But NBA scouts and press believed that it was worth taking. Glen Dickey, San Francisco Chronicle columnist, wrote in lauding the trade, “Playing safe is for losers.”

Marty Blake, one of NBA scouts, said that he wasn’t hesitant for Carroll’s talent and aggressiveness at Purdue. Remarking upon having dinner with Carroll before the draft, Blake said, “I loved him. Very loquacious. Very Intelligent. Wants to play.”

Utah would have taken the No. 1 pick, Carroll if they won the coin flip with Boston, coach Frank Layden said. Instead, they pick Darrell Griffith at No. 2.

Carroll might have been judged far less harshly because of his production with the Warriors, and the trade is for the Celtics not equipped with a decade of dominance. He made his way to the All-Rookie team averaging 18.9 points, 9.3 rebounds, and 1.5 blocks, not missing a single game. In the next three seasons, his record became 20.5 points, 8.3 rebounds, and played all but 11 games.

Unfortunately, the Warriors missed the playoffs all of those seasons. Carroll has earned a player with a good-stats, bad-team star that couldn’t bring the Warriors in the playoffs because of his inconsistency in playing hard. In his book “Unfinished Business” Layden quoted that Carroll is like “he is on a lifetime coffee break.”

A bad quote led Carroll to refuse most of the media’s interview requests and became a private man by nature for his first two years with Golden State Warriors – which may have fed more press antagonism. Carroll decided to face the media in a December 1982 interview with Art Spander, the Examiner columnist.

Carroll didn’t care enough and bristled at accusations as he said, “Any night I go out on the floor, I give my best effort. The results of that effort may vary from time to time, but consciously, I’m giving it all I have.”

For the time being, Parish has found redemption and becomes Celtics “Big Three” with McHale and Larry Bird (whom the Celtics drafted in 1978, one pick after the Warriors took Purvis Short). In November 1980, Parish joked with the reporters while laughing and praising his new team. He said, “I don’t have to carry the team here.”

In his Celtics team, Parish didn’t score as many points as Carroll. However, he shot a better percentage and outrebounded Carroll throughout the 1980s. Parish was also a key player of the Celtics team winning the NBA championship the season following the trade.

If Parish stayed at the Warriors, would he become one of the Hall of Fame players? It’s hard to say, but more than one observer pointed out the impact Celtics coach Bill Fitch had on motivating Parish – Fitch himself said so after he’d left the team.

In his book “The Big Three,” Peter May wrote that Parish, “In his years in Boston, Parish developed a reputation as a consummate team player who never complained about minutes or shots and who willingly sacrificed his game to become a defensive stalwart. He was little of the above with the Warriors.”

Warriors trade Parish as he lacks the inside presence to compliment him. The team could have had the perfect one in McHale. Parish blossomed to become one of the best-ever power forwards in NBA history, making his 7 All-star Games in eight seasons.

As for Brow, he never impacted the NBA and left the league with a 4.4 points average in six seasons.

Carroll didn’t have the chance to prove himself just like Parish did. After his contract with the Warriors, for four seasons, Franklin Mieuli reportedly low-balled Carroll with a new contract and refused to trade him for a future No. 1 pick. Carroll surprised many as he signed with an Italian league team in Milan.

For a year, Carroll was a fan favorite with Simac, playing alongside future NBA coach Mike D’Antoni. Carroll remained a restricted free agent with the Warriors, but he signed a $7 million deal with Milwaukee Bucks, including a $2 million signing bonus.

The Warriors are looking for a center and have the worst record in the league that year. The team also failed to lure Patrick Ewing and the No. 1 pick, so they decided to match the Bucks’ offer after all their bitterness.

Carroll said, “I’m a Golden State Warrior, which is not the worst thing that could happen.”

In his first two seasons back in the NBA, Carroll averaged 21.2 points per game, including an All-Star game selection. However, he only shot under 47.5 percent both seasons, which could never match Joe Barely Cares Label. Carroll then traded to Houston in 1987, soon after mad Warriors coach George Karl ripped Carroll’s locker door off its hinge following a lackluster playoff loss to the Lakers. Karl apologized for his actions.

Carroll did enjoy his productive post-NBA career. Carroll graduated at Purdue in economics, founded a wealth advisory company for athletes, founded for low-income children while with the Warriors, and has paintings displayed at multiple galleries. Carroll also published “My View from Seven Feet” as a collection of his works. Carroll declined an interview for this article.

It took decades for the Warriors to fully turn the page from a blockbuster trade when the Run-TMC era bloomed. A cranky Chronicle reader put on a letter on Jan. 15, 1983, “Instead of developing a scoring machine, Al Attles should develop a center who can average 18-20 pints per game, 10-13 rebounds, and play in solid defense, set effective screens, make the outlet pass, etc.”

“My goodness! Have I just portrayed Robert Parish?”

Thomas Lake

Resident tech nerd for the SF Times.