The NBA celebrates NBA 75 players almost daily from now until the end of the season. Today’s winner is Kevin McHale, an Celtics icon who, at the beginning of his career as the sixth man in Boston, was described in The Sporting News only half jokingly by his NBA colleague as “not really an athlete.” And yet in this story, since the TSN issue of May 17, 1993, he has been recognized as a pillar of the three Celtics title teams in the 1980s.
The Boston Celtics lost more than a series of first round playoffs last week. Maybe they lost their last connection to history.
Larry Bird’s resignation last summer has left a gap, but the events of the past two weeks have left the Celtics open for a major overhaul. Reggie Lewis collapsed with a cardiac arrhythmia that is likely to end his career. Kevin McHale has officially retired. Robert Parish may not return. And the patriarch of the Red Auerbach team was hospitalized with chest pain.
The legendary Celts could not stop the clock.
“With everything that happened, I’d probably be somewhere else next season,” says Parish. “The Celts might want to go the other way now. Maybe it’s time.”
Parish, 39, surpassed Bird, 36, and McHale, 35. All three will undoubtedly enter the basketball hall of fame, all of which are always linked by three NBA titles scattered in the 1980s.
McHale, who has suffered ankle, knee and foot injuries over the past few years, indicated retirement during the season and then made his unobtrusive statement after the Celtics eliminated the Hornets.
“I never had a press conference when I was a good player,” says McHale. “Now that I was just an average player, I’m pretty damn sure I won’t call him.”
Although his performance of 30 points and 10 rebounds in the 2nd game of the playoff series showed that he still had more than enough left to help any team, he performed with dignity and without regret. The injuries not only undermined his physical tools; they exhausted him mentally.
It wasn’t an easy, likeable, playful type for McHale, who often provided the perfect balance of Bird’s purpose. It was McHale who made Bird smile.
It wasn’t the love of the game that made McHale play this season. They were his children. He wanted to retire a year ago, but they urged him differently. They wanted to be the boys with the Celtics ball. They wanted Dad there.
“They were so upset when I first talked about retirement,” says McHale. “So I put on my shoes and went for it again. I figured if the kids wanted it so bad, I could prepare it for another season.”
“But it was really frustrating. It was the first time in my career that I lost my mental edge. I was just too passive in some games. In light of Reggie’s problems, it seems so small now, but it was hard for me.”
McHale only regretted ending his career at the Charlotte Coliseum instead of Boston Garden. Winning in Match 4 could send the series back to Boston once again.
“I really wanted to go out to Boston Garden,” says McHale. “I went through a lot of emotions at that place. I cried. I was frustrated. I was happy. I did so many things in this jersey. Knowing that I will never wear it again to fight is an emotional moment.”
Parish, who is an unlimited free agent, has repeatedly said he wants to play one more season. The Celtics seem to be sensitive to the fact that the last season will be in Boston. But after losing the playoffs and with Lewis’s 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 salary slots to use to recruit young players. After so many good times in the Celtic jersey, Parish may not want to be part of a long-term project. It’s hard to blame him.