The NBA celebrates the players on the NBA 75 roster almost daily from now until the end of the season. Today’s honoree is Kevin McHale, the Celtics icon who, early in his career as the sixth man in Boston, was only half-jokingly described in The Sporting News by a fellow NBA player as “not really a athlete”. And yet, in this story, from the May 17, 1993 edition of TSN, he was recognized as a mainstay of the Celtics’ three championship teams in the 1980s.
The Boston Celtics lost more than one first-round playoff series last week. They may have lost their final links to a historical past.
Larry Bird’s retirement last summer left a void, but the events of the past two weeks have left the Celtics open to a major overhaul. Reggie Lewis collapsed with a heart arrhythmia that will likely end his career. Kevin McHale has officially retired. Robert Parish may not return. And team patriarch Red Auerbach was hospitalized with chest pains.
The legendary Celtics could not stop the clock.
“With everything that’s happened, I’d probably be somewhere else next season,” says Parish. “The Celtics might want to go in a different direction now. Maybe it’s time.”
Parish, 39, has outlived Bird, 36, and McHale, 35. All three will undoubtedly be inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame, all invariably linked by three NBA titles scattered throughout the decade. from 1980.
McHale, who was plagued by ankle, knee and foot injuries in recent years, hinted at his retirement throughout the season and then made his low-key announcement after the Celtics were eliminated by the Hornets.
“I never had a press conference when I was a good player,” says McHale. “I sure as hell wasn’t going to call one now that he was just an average player.”
Though his 30-point, 10-rebound performance in Game 2 of the playoff series showed he still had more than enough left to help any team, he came out with dignity and no regrets. The injuries not only sapped his physical tools; they exhausted him mentally.
That didn’t come easy for McHale, a likeable, playful guy who often provided a perfect balance to Bird’s determination. It was McHale who forced Bird to smile.
It wasn’t a love of the game that made McHale play this season. They were his children. He had wanted to retire a year ago, but had been urged to do otherwise. They wanted to be ball boys for the Celtics. They wanted dad there.
“They were so upset when I first talked about retiring,” says McHale. “So I put my shoes on and did it again. I figured if the kids loved it that much, I could set it up for one more season.”
“But it really got frustrating. It was the first time in my career that I lost the mental edge. I was too passive in some games. In light of Reggie’s issues, it seems so small now, but it was hard for me.”
McHale’s only regret was ending his career at Charlotte Coliseum instead of Boston Garden. A victory in Game 4 could have sent the series back to Boston once again.
“I really wanted to go out to the Boston Garden,” says McHale. “In that place, I went through the full range of emotions. I cried. I was frustrated. I was happy. I’ve done so many things in this jersey. Knowing I’m never going to put it on to fight again is an emotional moment.”
Parish, who is an unrestricted free agent, has repeatedly said he wants to play one more season. The Celtics seem receptive to that final season being in Boston. But in the wake of the playoff loss and with the Lewis problem, Parish says it might be better for the Celtics to restart the team without him.
Without Lewis, McHale and Parish, the Celtics could have plenty of healthy cap space to use in acquiring young players. After so many good times in a Celtics uniform, Parish may not want to be part of a long-term project. It’s hard to blame him.