The NBA celebrates NBA 75 roster players almost daily from now until the end of the season. Today’s honoree is Celtics star Robert Parish. This column originally appeared in the May 17, 1993 issue of The Sporting News with the headline “The glory days of the Celtics may be gone forever.”
The Boston Celtics lost more than one first-round playoff series last week. They may have lost their final ties to a storied 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 cardiac arrhythmia that will likely end his career. Kevin McHale officially retired. Robert Parish cannot return. And team patriarch Red Auerbach was hospitalized with chest pains.
The legendary Celtics couldn’t 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 enter the Basketball Hall of Fame, all invariably united by three NBA titles scattered throughout the 1980s. .
McHale, who was plagued with ankle, knee and foot injuries in recent years, hinted at retirement during the season, 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’m sure he wasn’t going to call one now that he was just an average player.”
Although his 30-point, 10-rebound performance in Game 2 of the playoff series showed that he still had more than enough left to help any team, he came out with dignity and without regrets. The injuries not only undermined his physical tools; they mentally exhausted him.
That wasn’t easy for McHale, a likeable and playful guy who often struck the perfect balance for Bird’s determination. It was McHale who made Bird smile.
It wasn’t love of the game that made McHale play this season. It was his children. He had wanted to retire a year ago, but had been urged not to. They wanted to be a ball boy for the Celtics. They wanted dad there.
“They were so upset when I first spoke about retirement,” says McHale. “So I put my shoes on and did it again. I figured if the kids loved him that much, I could get him ready 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 problems, it seems so small now, but it was difficult for me.”
McHale’s only regret was finishing his career at Charlotte Coliseum instead of Boston Garden. A Game 4 win could have sent the series to Boston once again.
“I really wanted to go out to the Boston Garden,” says McHale. “In that place, I ran through the full range of emotions. I cried. I was frustrated. I was happy. I did so many things with this shirt. Knowing that I would never wear it again to fight 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 him being in Boston that final season. But in the wake of the playoff loss and 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 a lot of healthy salary spaces 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.