The NBA is celebrating players from the NBA 75 list 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 described only half-jokingly in The Leak Herald by a fellow NBA player as “not really an athlete.” And, yet, in this story, from the May 17, 1993, issue of TSN, he was recognized as a pillar of the Celtics’ three title teams in the 1980s.
The Boston Celtics lost more than a first-round playoff series last week. They may have lost their final links to a storied past.
The retirement of Larry Bird 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 likely will end his career. Kevin McHale officially retired. Robert Parish may not return. And team patriarch Red Auerbach was hospitalized with chest pains.
The legendary Celtics couldn’t stop the clock.
“With everything that has happened, I’d probably be someplace else next season,” Parish says. “The Celtics might want to go in a different direction now. Maybe it’s time.”
Parish, 39, has outlasted Bird, 36, and McHale, 35. All three undoubtedly will enter the Basketball Hall of Fame, all invariably linked by three NBA titles scattered through the 1980s.
McHale, who was plagued by ankle, knee and foot injuries the past few years, hinted at retirement throughout 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,” McHale says. “I sure as hell wasn’t going to call one now that I was only an average player.”
Although his 30-point, 10-rebound performance in Game 2 of the playoff series proved he still had more than enough left to help any team, he stepped out with dignity and with no regrets. The injuries not only sapped his physical tools; they drained him mentally.
That wasn’t easy for McHale, a likable, frolicking type who often provided a perfect balance to Bird’s single-mindedness. It was McHale who forced Bird to smile.
It wasn’t the love of the game that caused McHale to play this season. It was his children. He had wanted to retire a year ago, but they had urged him otherwise. They wanted to be Celtics ball boys. They wanted Dad there.
“They were so upset when I first talked about retiring,” McHale says. “So I strapped the shoes on and went at it again. I figured that if the kids wanted it so badly, I could gear it up for one more season.
“But it really became frustrating. It was the first time in my career I lost the mental edge. I was just too passive in some games. In light of Reggie’s problems, it seems so small now, but it was tough on me.”
McHale’s only regret was ending his career in Charlotte Coliseum instead of Boston Garden. A victory in Game 4 could have sent the series back to Boston one more time.
“I really wanted to go out in the Boston Garden,” McHale says. “In that place, I ran the gamut of emotions. I cried. I was frustrated. I was happy. I did so many things in this jersey. Knowing I’ll never put it on again to do battle is an emotional time.”
Parish, who is an unrestricted free agent, has said repeatedly that 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 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 salary slots 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.