Celtics Reminiscence round three! Gerald Henderson SENIOR. Before his son Gerald Henderson Jr. broke into the basketball world with an All-ACC season at Duke in 2009 and playoff appearance this year with Charlotte, Henderson Sr. was known as the spark plug to the early ’80s Celtics squad alongside young Larry Bird. His steal in game two of the 1984 Finals against the Lakers almost certainly ranks among the greatest plays in franchise history.
Before his champion days in Boston, Henderson was a basketball hero at VCU. The first player to ever have his jersey retired by the school, Henderson was the third Ram to ever make the NBA. After four years at VCU, he was selected in the third round by the San Antonio Spurs but was never signed, thus allowing Boston to pick him up the following year.
Henderson spent his first five years as a pro in Boston and was the bench spark the Celtics needed for their championship in 1981 and the shooting prescence in the starting lineup for the 1984 championship team. A consistently above average shooter, Henderson shot over 50% from the field three times in those fives season and averaged over 10 points per game in two of his last three seasons in green. That final season in Boston was when Henderson cemented himself in Celtics legacy.
Henderson took over the starting shooting guard spot for the 1983-1984 team the year after Boston was swept in the semifinals by Milwaukee. He went on to average (then) career highs in points, assists, and steals per game while leading Boston in 3-point percentage and three pointers made (yes, both higher than Larry Bird). (Interesting side-note, Henderson led the team with a total of 20 treys. JR Smith shot 21 treys in a game last month.) In the playoffs, Henderson boosted his scoring and passing numbers, including a game-high nine assists in a crucial Finals game 5 which put the Celtics up 3-2. But nothing came close to his game two heroics.
With the Celtics down 1-0 in the series and down two with 18 seconds left in the game, Boston needed a miracle on the Lakers next possession. An inbound from Magic Johnson was passed to James Worthy, who decided to lob up a lollipop across the court when Henderson intercepted. Stealing the pass at the three point arc and scoring the layup tied the game, sending the the Garden into a frenzy. Minutes later Boston completed the miracle with a game winning three from Scott Wedman in overtime. While the steal is rarely considered alongside Havilcek’s steal or Bird’s steal for greatest Celtics moments, I consider Henderson’s heroics just as monumental.
Henderson was traded in the offseason to Seattle in order to make room for up-and-comer Danny Ainge in the starting rotation. The return for Henderson? A first round pick which would morph into the second overall selection in the 1986 draft (RIP Len Bias).
Henderson went on to play eight more years in the NBA, with his best season coming in Seattle the year after he was traded (13.4 points per game and 7.1 assists per game). Other stops included New York, Philadelphia, Milwaukee, Detroit, and Houston; winning another ring in 1990 with the Pistons.
Since retiring, he has started a real estate business with his wife in Pennsylvania as well as being a strong supporter of his son’s career. Remembered among Celtics fans for his iconic steal, Henderson will forever be adorned for his championship contributions.
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