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THE CHIEF

The Robert Parish  Interview
By:  Michael D. McClellan | Wednesday, May 11th, 2005

 

Stoic.  Dignified.  Ancillary.  Resplendent.  Steady.  Determined.  Eternal.  Robert Lee Parish was all of those things and more, a brilliant basketball player who anchored the greatest frontline in NBA history, a seven-foot wonder whose professional career began during our country’s bicentennial and ended 21 seasons later, during Bill Clinton’s second term as President of the United States.  He arrived just as disco was heating up, played through the fall of the Berlin Wall, and won a swansong championship smack in the middle of Michael Jordan’s Second Coming with the Chicago Bulls.  He played for four teams during his remarkable NBA career, a pursuit defined as much by its longevity as its superlative effort, but about this make no mistake:  Robert Parish was a green-blooded Boston Celtic through and through, and while his time spent with the Warriors, Hornets and Bulls certainly merit comment, his true legacy will forever remain woven into the fabric of basketball’s proudest and most storied franchise.

 

Parish played fourteen stellar seasons in a Celtic uniform, many of them in serious pursuit of basketball’s greatest prize.  He arrived, along with rookie Kevin McHale, as part of Red Auerbach’s famous heist job on the Golden State Warriors, teaming with the sensational Larry Bird to lift Boston among the NBA’s elite.  The move fueled the Celtics’ magical seven year run, a stretch that produced five trips to the NBA Finals, three NBA titles, and, not coincidently, countless signature moments by this talented trio of big men.   Mention Robert Parish today, and it isn't long before the names McHale and Bird are appended to the conversation.  They remain the Holy Trinity of frontcourts, the "Big Three", the engine behind those Celtic powerhouse clubs of the 1980s.

 

Nicknamed “Chief” by former teammate Cedric Maxwell, Parish subjugated his own considerable game for the overall good of the team.  He was quick to recognize that, while Bird and McHale would get most of the touches, he could quietly thrive in the shadows of their outsized personas.  Parish thusly accepted this quasi-supporting role without hesitation.  In doing so, he became the secret to the Celtics’ success, the player who, in many ways, set the tone for Boston’s decade of on-court excellence.

 

“Robert was special because he knew his place on the team,” said his former head coach, KC Jones.  “He knew that there were only so many basketballs to go around, and that Larry and Kevin were going to get the majority of the shots.  He also knew that Danny Ainge and Dennis Johnson were going to take their shots.  So Robert fell into his space on the team, which was to rebound, play tough defense, and to be a force in the middle.  This isn’t to say that Robert wasn’t a great offensive player; he could have put up big numbers on other teams, so he wasn’t just a big body to clog the middle and stop the other team’s big man.  Robert had a very good offensive game.  He just understood what was expected from him and he went out and did his job.”

 

Born in Shreveport, Louisiana, on October 30th, 1953, Parish was no stranger to the segregated South.  He learned quickly about money and prejudice, and he saw firsthand the differences between those with power and those without.  Racism was prominent – an accepted way of life.  Parish’s parents, however, refused to be defined by the fear and hate that had been inflicted upon the lives of so many Southern black families of the day.  They worked hard to provide for their four children, and they worked even harder to ensure that theirs was a future ripe with opportunity, unlike so many of those that had come before them.  As a result, young Robert grew up articulate, confident and secure, attributes that would later serve him well as one of the NBA’s 50 Greatest Players of All-Time.

 

Basketball, however, was barely on Parish’s radar screen.  The 6’-6” seventh grader regularly skipped practices, and showed little enthusiasm for a sport that would later make him a household name.  It wasn’t that Parish was lazy or unwilling to work; it was just that, like many budding teenagers before and since, Parish had a genuine distaste for the structure and commitment required to play organized athletics.  Credit Coleman Kidd with changing all of that.

 

Parish:  “If I had to pick one person who made the biggest impact on me in regards to basketball, it would have to be my junior high coach, Coleman Kidd.  He stayed with me, kept encouraging me, and never let me give up on the game.”

 

With Coleman prodding his young protégée, Parish began a mesmerizing transformation; he entered the desegregated world of Woodlawn High School unsure of his athletic prowess, but quickly found himself capable of competing with Woodlawn’s varsity players.  Suddenly, the game that had once seemed like drudgery was now an obsession.  Parish flourished both on and off of the court, and he seemed to grow taller with each passing day.  With Parish dominating in the paint, Woodlawn reached the state finals two years running.  As a senior, Parish led Woodlawn to a state championship, capping his 1972 dream season by being named Louisiana’s Player of the Year.  With nearly 400 scholarship offers to choose from, he shocked recruiters all over the country by deciding to play collegiate basketball at tiny Centenary College – a mere six miles away from home.

 

 

With just over 900 students, campus life at Centenary was a far cry from what Parish could have experienced at UCLA, Kansas or North Carolina.  But a small student body and familiar surroundings appealed to Parish’s desire to establish his own identity.  He had little interest in following Lew Alcindor as the Bruins’ next great center.  Nor did he want to disappear in a sea of students, finding it hard to receive individualized attention in the classroom.  He wanted a place that allowed him to spread his wings, yet remain close to those who meant the most.  Centenary proved to be the ideal environment.  He fit neatly into this predominantly white, Methodist school, walking to his classes while learning to be a student-athlete and, as hard as it may be to fathom now, generally disappearing from the nation’s basketball landscape.

 

While Parish continued his low-profile metamorphosis into one of the country's best centers, the Centenary basketball program was about to fall on hard times.  As a small, independent school with no conference tie-ins, Centenary already faced a myriad of logistical problems, such as recruiting blue chip players and scheduling games that didn't require extensive travel.  Then, just days after Parish's signing, the NCAA punished the school for a series of rules violations.  The ensuing probation, which would last for four years, looked to be the basketball program’s death knell.  Then, during the athletic department’s darkest hour, something truly remarkable happened; given the option of transferring to another college with his eligibility intact, Parish instead remained loyal to head coach Larry Little.  His teammates followed suit.  The program survived as a result, and over the next four seasons Robert Lee Parish played an increasingly superior brand of basketball.

 

Not that anyone noticed; you have to remember that it was a different era back then, decades before twenty-four hour sports coverage, multimillion dollar endorsement contracts and recruiting wars that reach down to the junior high level.  Only the biggest programs warranted mention in the press.  Parish thrived in this virtual obscurity, an unknown to everyone in the country except those closest to the collegiate basketball scene.  He averaged 21.6 points and 16.9 rebounds during his career at Centenary, being named to The Sporting News All-America first team as a senior.  He also led the nation in rebounding twice.

 

The Golden State Warriors wasted little time snapping up Parish with the 8th overall pick in the 1976 NBA Draft.  Stoic and dignified, the rookie joined a veteran team that had won a championship in '75.  To his dismay, his initial role was that of spectator.  He rarely got into games during the first half of the season, but his coach, Al Attles, kept encouraging Parish to practice hard and wait his turn.  Parish took the advice to heart, and his minutes began to climb as the season progressed.  He averaged 9.1 points and 7.1 rebounds as a rookie – impressive numbers for a young center logging just under 18 minutes-per-game.

 

His four years at Golden State were a mixture of promise and disappointment.  The team was in decline, as players like Rick Barry were kept past their prime and young talent such as Jamaal Wilkes and Gus Williams were traded before reaching their full potential.  Individually, Parish continued to blossom.  He became a starter, and he began to play like one of the premiere centers in the league.  By his third season he was averaging 17.2 points and 12.1 rebounds per-game.  Veteran center Clifford Ray took the young Parish under his wing, educating his teammate on how to conduct himself as a professional.  Ray also stressed the importance of diet and exercise, introducing regimens that would help Parish log more NBA games than any other player in history.

 

By 1980 the Warriors were in disarray and looking to rebuild yet again.  The Boston Celtics possessed the top pick in the 1980 NBA Draft, two spots ahead of Golden State.  Red Auerbach seemed set on drafting Purdue center Joe Barry Carroll, and yet he was hardly convinced that Carroll was the answer to Boston's own championship aspirations.  So he shopped the pick.  He offered to switch selections with the Warriors, on the condition that Parish was included as part of the trade.  Golden State eagerly complied, touching off the single most lopsided trade in NBA history:  While Carroll would go on to have a serviceable career with the Warriors, Rockets, Nets, Nuggets and Suns, it was Auerbach and the Celtics who would reap three NBA championships because of the deal.  Along with acquiring Parish, Auerbach would select Minnesota's Kevin McHale with the third overall pick – in Golden State's spot – giving Larry Bird superstar-caliber talent along the frontline.

 

 

Just like that, the Big Three was born.

 

Parish arrived in Boston excited and rejuvenated, yet understandably unsure as to his place on the team.  With an aging Dave Cowens penciled in as the starter, Parish figured that he would learn from one of the best while contributing off of the bench.  Cowens’ abrupt retirement changed all of that.  Thrust into the starting lineup alongside Bird and Maxwell, Parish responded by averaging 18.9 ppg and 9.5 rpg and earning his first All-Star Game appearance.  The best, however, was yet to come:  With taskmaster Bill Fitch pushing his young charges, the Celtics steamrolled to a 62-20 record and a date with the Philadelphia 76ers in the 1981 Eastern Conference Finals.  In an historic series, the Sixers – led by the nonpareil Julius Erving – forged a seemingly insurmountable 3-1 series lead.  Yet the Celtics were able to fight their way back, winning three consecutive nail biters to advance.

 

Boston then dispatched Moses Malone and the Houston Rockets in the 1981 NBA Finals, 4-2, winning the team's 14th championship.  And while the NBA's most storied franchise found itself in the midst of a glorious rebirth, Parish found his deeds celebrated in a very special way by the Boston Garden faithful:  Mistaken early on by television announcers as lustful boos, it soon became clear that the chants raining down on the fabled parquet floor were actually that of "Chief!  Chief!”  Suddenly, Parish was a fan favorite.

 

“I pinned that one on him,” Maxwell said, when asked about Parish’s moniker during a recent Celtic Nation interview.  It is a story he has recounted many times over the years.  “I saw the Jack Nicholson movie ‘One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest’ and I instantly thought of Robert as Chief Bromden [laughs].  Bromden was this silent, towering and dignified patient who was committed to the same mental ward visited by Nicholson’s character.  As I got to know Robert I couldn’t help but pin that nickname on him.  He was a man of few words, so it really seemed to fit.”

 

Parish continued to blossom during the 1981-82 season, one in which he earned a spot on the All-NBA Second Team and finished with 21 points on 9-of-12 shooting in the 1982 NBA All-Star Game.  He was also 20th in the league in scoring (19.9 ppg) and eighth in rebounding (10.8 rpg), numbers that spoke loudly to his arrival as one of the league’s elite.  A Game 7 loss to the Sixers in the Eastern Conference Finals left Parish disappointed, however, and things would only get worse with a four-game sweep at the hands of the Milwaukee Bucks in the 1983 NBA Playoffs.  With the team clearly floundering Auerbach responded with two shrewd moves:  He named KC Jones as the team's head coach, and he traded for defensive stopper Dennis Johnson.  The Celtics responded, winning the 1984 NBA Championship in thrilling fashion.  It was Celtics versus Lakers, East Coast meets West Coast, Bird against Magic.  No Finals before or since has equaled its hype.  None has been as fun to watch.

 

“It was special,” concurred Maxwell.  Everybody was watching Bird and Magic, but there was some great stuff going on between Robert and Kareem [Abdul-Jabbar].  Awesome and unbelievable.  Great series.  We came out on top, and that was the best part.”

 

Los Angeles had its revenge a year later, beating the Celtics in six games.  It was a bitter pill to swallow, especially for a Boston team that had stormed to a 63-19 regular season record, tops in the league.  Parish averaged 17.6 ppg and 10.6 rpg, but found himself physically drained from the outset of the 1985 NBA Finals.  Auerbach responded by swinging a major deal during the offseason, trading the popular Maxwell for Bill Walton, a former superstar center who had struggled to stay healthy in recent years.  The gamble paid off as the Celtics won it all again in 1986, storming to a 67-15 record and a six-game pounding of the Rockets in the Finals.  Many still believe that this was the single greatest team in NBA history.

 

The Celtics began a slow descent following that championship season, touched off by the tragic death of Len Bias just two days after the 1986 NBA Draft.  An All-Star for the seventh consecutive year in 1986-87, Parish contributed 17.5 ppg and 10.6 rpg per game in his 11th season, which included his lone career triple-double, recorded on March 29 against the Philadelphia 76ers.  Parish hobbled through much of the 1987 NBA Playoffs, missing a second-round game against Milwaukee and repeatedly willing himself up the court against the young, hungry Detroit Pistons.  That series remains best-known for Bird’s last-second steal of Isiah Thomas’ inbounds pass, but few can forget the sight of a courageous Robert Parish limping into battle.  The Celtics, weary and injured, competed valiantly but were unable to beat the hated Lakers in the Finals.

 

By the 1990s, Boston was a solid playoff team but hardly a championship contender.  Bird’s back was so bad that he often lay prone on the floor when not in action.  McHale had become a shell of his former self.  Both were in retirement by 1993, the same year that superstar mantle was to be passed to Reggie Lewis.  Sadly, Lewis died of a heart attack while shooting baskets at Brandeis College later that summer.

 

Despite a series of years marked by tragic loss and inevitable departure, Parish remained a significant and viable piece of the Boston Celtic rebuilding process.  At the age of 40, he averaged 11.7 ppg and 7.3 rpg, and in an late-season game against Chicago, he logged 51 minutes in a 104-94 overtime Celtics win over Michael Jordan and the defending champion Bulls.

 

His next two seasons were spent as a reserve with the Charlotte Hornets, where he became the NBA's all-time leader in games played, passing Abdul-Jabbar's total of 1,560 on April 6, 1996 at Cleveland.  He spent a final season in Chicago, winning a fourth NBA championship and walking away with a boatload of records and awards.  Among them:  Most seasons played all-time (21); most games played all-time (1,611); most offensive rebounds in the NBA Playoffs (571); and most defensive rebounds all-time (10,117).  In 1996, Parish was also recognized as one of the NBA’s 50 Greatest Players of All-Time.  On September 5th, 2003, Parish was given basketball’s highest honor, induction into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame.

 

Celtic Nation is honored to bring you this interview.

 

 

CELTIC-NATION
You were born on October 30, 1953, in Shreveport, Louisiana.  Please share some of the memories from your childhood – especially those of growing up the son of Robert Sr. and Ada Parish – and also some of the events in your life that led you to the basketball court.

ROBERT PARISH
We were a close-knit, happy family, and this closeness was fostered mainly by my mother.  She was a religious woman.  She taught us the fundamental beliefs from the bible.  She taught us the importance of faith and religion, and also the importance of being respectful.  We learned courtesy at a very early age.  My parents worked hard to provide for us – there were four children, and I was the oldest, with one brother and two sisters – and they always stressed the value of a good work ethic.  They also wanted us to get an education.  They knew how important a degree would be when it came time to find work.  A degree meant the difference between a career and a life of hard work.


 

CELTIC-NATION
You credit your junior high school coach, Coleman Kidd, with spurring your interest in basketball.  Please tell me a little about Mr. Kidd.

ROBERT PARISH
Coleman Kidd deserves all the credit for the things that led up to me playing basketball.  I had never played basketball until I was in junior high school.  He was persistent; he saw the potential in me, even when I didn’t see it myself, and he kept after me to pick up a ball and play competitively.  I showed very little interest initially, but he stayed with me, kept encouraging me, and kept me positive – even though I wasn’t showing a desire to play the game of basketball.  So if I had to pick one factor that left me to the basketball court, it would have to be Coleman Kidd.  If it weren’t for him, I would have been just another tall kid walking around the streets of Shreveport [laughs].


 

CELTIC-NATION
You played high school basketball for Woodlawn.  Is it true that your coach, Ken Ivy, spanked you with a wooden stick when you failed to show up for that second practice?

ROBERT PARISH
Nope.  Not true.

CELTIC-NATION
Woodlawn reached the state finals two straight years with you in the paint, garnering a state championship along the way.  In 1972, you were named Player of the Year in the State of Louisiana.  What memories from this period stand out in your mind after all these years, and, with nearly 400 scholarship offers to choose from, what led you to play collegiate basketball at tiny Centenary College?

ROBERT PARISH
It’s very interesting, because I never dreamed that I would be the player that I was at that particular time.  Like I said earlier, I didn’t show promise initially.  The process was a lot easier on me because of my parents.  The gathered all of the information together, made a list of the pros and cons of each college, and helped me to make a sound decision about where I wanted to go.  The reason I went to a small college – Centenary College – is because I didn’t want to be compared to other greats that had played before me. If I had gone to UCLA, for example, I would have faced constant comparisons to Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.  If I had chosen Kansas, I would have played in the shadow of Wilt Chamberlain.  So one of the big reasons I chose Centenary was because I wanted to carve out my own identity, and not get caught up in that comparison thing.

Also, I liked the coaches at that time – Larry Little and Rodney Wallace.  They put a lot of emphasis on education first, and athletics second – and not the other way around.  That impressed me a great deal, but it really impressed my parents.  It was important for them to hear that education was the number one priority, because I was the first one in my family to get a college education.


 

CELTIC-NATION
Centenary was placed on probation for various rules violations, where it would remain during your entire four years at the school.  With all basketball players free to transfer elsewhere, you decided to remain a student-athlete at Centenary.  Please tell me a little about your decision to stay in Shreveport.

ROBERT PARISH
There were several factors.  One, I was a father in college.  I wanted my child to be close to family, and the college was very close to home.  Two, it was group decision made by those of us who had the opportunity to leave.  There were six or seven of us that could have transferred.  We all decided to stay, so it was a group decision to stay on at Centenary College.


 

CELTIC-NATION
You averaged 21.6 points and 16.9 rebounds at Centenary, being named to The Sporting News All-America first team as a senior.  The Golden State Warriors wasted little time snapping you up with the 8th overall pick in the 1976 Draft.  Please tell me a little about your four seasons as a Warrior.

ROBERT PARISH
It was a good time for me.  It was a learning experience.  I was fortunate to have a mentor in Clifford Ray, who took me under his wings and taught me all about being a professional athlete.  He stressed the importance of things like work ethic, nutrition, and fitness – both mentally and physically.  That really made a big difference in me, because the only thing I had to do was concentrate on basketball.

 


 

CELTIC-NATION
With Red Auerbach holding the top overall pick in the 1980 NBA Draft, it appeared to many that he would select Purdue's Joe Barry Carroll.  But by trading down to Number 3, he was able to acquire two of the greatest players in NBA history.  What was that first Celtics training camp like, and how long did it take for you to realize that the Big Three of Robert Parish, Kevin McHale and Larry Bird was destined for greatness?

ROBERT PARISH
The first day of training camp was very intense, very focused.  There was complete dedication on the part of everyone.  It was like a playoff-type atmosphere in terms of intensity.  All of the practices, in fact, felt like playoff-type games.  Just from seeing that, and being exposed to that, I knew very quickly that we could be very special.

 Initially, I didn’t realize that myself, Larry and Kevin was going to turn out to be such a respected front line.  It didn’t really sink in until after Dave Cowens retired.  I had all intentions of going into it as being a backup to Dave.  I had no idea that Dave was going to step down so abruptly.  And then, once we started playing together on a consistent basis, I realized that we had the capacity to be something special.

For me personally, I was finally surrounded by the talent that I played with in college.  I mean that in relative terms, of course.  In other words, in college we had a front line that was very dominant at that level, and we played very well together.  Everyone understood their role, and they went out and did their job.  It was the same with the three of us in Boston.  We all understood what our roles were going to be, and we understood this from a very early point in time.  There was no jealousy.  We fit together very well, and complimented each other perfectly.

CELTIC-NATION
It was Cedric Maxwell who nicknamed you Chief, in reference to Chief Bromden, the silent giant from the movie One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest.  When I spoke with Cedric, he had this to say about you:  'Most people think of Robert as quiet, stoic figure, but don't let him fool you.  The man can tell a joke.  A lot of people don’t realize that about Robert.  He's a really funny guy with a very good sense of humor.'  Please tell me a little about Cedric, and also about the comedic side of Robert Parish.

ROBERT PARISH
Cedric nicknamed me Chief because when I came to Boston I was always talking about this movie, One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest.  I’m a big fan of Jack Nicholson, and I finally convinced Cedric to see the movie.  He said that I had similar characteristics to Chief – mainly because Chief had ‘em all fooled.  He couldn’t talk – he was a mute – and then it turns out that there wasn’t anything wrong with the Chief.  He was just there, in that insane asylum, relaxing and taking it easy.  And because I was so quiet, I think I had a lot of people fooled.  So that’s how I came about that nickname.  Oh, and I have a wicked sense of humor [laughs].  Only people who are in my inner circle know that, though.

 

 


 

CELTIC-NATION
The Celtics and the 76ers waged some great battles in the early 80s, none better than the 1981 Eastern Conference Finals.  Down 3-1, you were able to win three consecutive games and a trip to the championship series against Houston.  What memories do you have of that great comeback against the Sixers?

ROBERT PARISH
I would have to credit our coach at the time, Bill Fitch, for us staying determined and focused, and for us not giving up.  He instilled a physical toughness in us, but he also instilled a mental toughness that helped carry us even when things looked to be hopeless.  Even though we were down 3-1, he never let us doubt ourselves.  He always preached that we could come back and win the series.  He said that it’s not over until it’s over.  And that attitude really started from the first day of training camp.  I think that was one of the big reasons we were able to prevail in that series.
 

 

CELTIC-NATION
Your first head coach in Boston was Bill Fitch.  Please tell me a little about Mr. Fitch.

ROBERT PARISH
Bill Fitch was the perfect coach for us at the time.  We were young, and he had a lifetime of coaching experience to share with us.  He was a great Xs and Os coach, as well as a great tactician.  He really understood the game.  And as I’ve said, he instilled a great sense of belief in ourselves.  We had the physical tools to succeed at the NBA level, but he helped give us the mental toughness that can help carry us through all types of adversity.  He also taught us structure and discipline.  He helped us to stay focused.  I have a tremendous amount of respect for Bill Fitch.
 

 

CELTIC-NATION
The Celtics came up short in the two seasons following that championship win over Houston, the team's 14th overall.  A four-game sweep at the hands of the Milwaukee Bucks in the 1983 NBA Playoffs may have been the low point.  What did the acquisition of Dennis Johnson mean in terms of winning another title?

ROBERT PARISH
He fortified our defensive presence, for one thing.  Also, he gave us another point guard after Tiny Archibald retired.  People don’t realize just how talented Dennis Johnson was, because he made the transition from off guard to point guard appear so seamless.  That’s a hell of a transition, I think, and he did it comfortably.  Dennis was just exactly what we needed at that time to solidify our backcourt.  He gave us the defensive presence that we needed back there, and he complimented our frontcourt players.

CELTIC-NATION
KC Jones had this to say about you:  "I could talk about Robert all day long.  He had a very good offensive game.  He just understood what was expected from him and he went out and did his job'.  Please tell me a little about KC.

ROBERT PARISH
I’ve always felt like KC was one of the better coaches in the league.  Personally, I would rank him among the top coaches ever in the NBA, because of his uncanny ability to relate to his players.  KC knew his Xs and Os, don’t get me wrong, but the way that he understood his players was the thing that really set him apart.  He was like Red Auerbach in that respect.  The one thing that I always admired about KC – and there a lot of things to admire – was his ability to make that eighth, ninth, tenth, eleventh and twelfth guy on the team feel like his role and his input was just as important as one through six or seven.  I think that was one of the reasons why we were so successful.  He made everyone feel important, no matter how big or how small their role was with the Boston Celtics.  Two other coaches come to mind who were like that – Phil Jackson and Chuck Daly.  They were very similar in that regard, and I think that is what made each of those coaches so successful.  In the NBA, it’s so important to understand the personalities of the players, and how to get the best out of them.  It takes a special talent to do that, and those three guys all had that ability.

 When you talk to KC again, tell him that I appreciate him giving me credit for my offense.  With Larry and Kevin playing at such high levels, I didn’t get much credit for my offensive skills – that’s because they shot all the balls [laughs].  I don’t mean that in a negative way – I can’t complain about the formula, because it certainly worked.  We were very successful.


 

CELTIC-NATION
From both a media and fan-interest standpoint, the 1984 NBA Finals may have been the biggest ever.  Please tell me about that series in general, and about your battles with Kareem in particular.

ROBERT PARISH
Kareem is the best player I ever played against, period.  The best thing I could ever say about Kareem, is that no one ever devised a defense that could stop him.  He figured out a way to exploit every defensive scheme ever thrown at him.  He was so smart and so intelligent, and such an extremely gifted athlete.  I couldn’t change his shot; Kareem was the only player that I ever played against like that.  I think the reason Kareem was so effective with the hook shot was that he was able to shoot it the same way every time.  It was automatic.  Wilt Chamberlain was the only player that I saw who could make Kareem alter his hook shot.  He’s the only one.  Other than that, Kareem was able to shoot it the same way time after time.  That’s the way he was able to become so proficient.  Nobody ever got close to that shot, except for Wilt Chamberlain.

 That series against the Lakers was a war.  Every game was a battle.  Every possession was a battle.  You had Michael Cooper guarding Larry.  Cooper was one of the few players alive who could guard Larry and consistently cause him problems.  He would blanket Larry and make it hard for him to take that quick first step to the basket.  He would contest every jump shot.  Larry would still put up great numbers, but he had to work much harder at it with Cooper guarding him.  I remember Gerald Henderson stealing the ball to save us in Game 2.  If he hadn’t come up with that steal, we would have gone to Los Angeles in an 0-2 hole.  It was big.  I remember getting blown out in Game 3 – we were embarrassed.  Magic [Johnson] and James Worthy just killed us in that game – we were behind from the opening tip, and we couldn’t do anything to turn it around.  That’s when Larry took his frustrations public.  He challenged the team in the paper, and it motivated everyone to play harder.  That next game was one of the most physical that I’ve ever played in – Kevin gave Kurt Rambis that clothesline, and Larry was going jaw-to-jaw with Kareem.  Nobody backed down.  We won that game, and then two of the next three to win the championship.  Dennis played great defense on Magic the whole series, but he was especially good against him in those last three games.  It was a classic series, and one that I’m glad we were able to win.


 

 

 

 

 

CELTIC-NATION
The Celtics won it all again in 1986, with the addition of Bill Walton making this team arguably the greatest in NBA history.  What did Bill bring to the Boston Celtics, and where, in your mind, does this team rank among the all-time greats?

ROBERT PARISH
In my opinion, I would have to say that it was in the top five teams of all-time.  What Bill brought to the Celtics was his toughness.  He brought his knowledge of what it takes to win it all, because he was a huge part of that championship team in Portland.  He was a former All-Star, a former NBA Most Valuable Player, and one of the best passing big men of all-time.  And what made him so special that year was his humility. He had been one of the league’s greatest players, and yet he was willing to come off the bench and provide the punch that we needed.  He set a great example for that second unit.  He was willing to put his ego aside for the good of the team.  Forget about basketball; how many athletes of his stature would be willing to take a lesser role for the overall good of the team?

I remember when the Celtics traded for Bill.  We had to give up Cedric Maxwell, a good friend and a very good player, and suddenly we have another quality center on the team.  Bill didn’t hesitate to call me as soon as the trade was announced.  He wanted me to know that I was still the starting center, and that he wasn’t coming to Boston to take my job.  He said that he was coming to help.  It was a class move on his part, making that call.  He didn’t have to do that, either – that was something that he did on his own.  He was not asked to call me, or encouraged to call me.  That was something that he wanted to do, out of respect for me.  And I’ll never forget that.  And Bill was always a player that I respected and admired from afar, because I always liked the way he played the game on both ends of the floor.  And that’s how I prided myself – I wanted to be consistent on both ends, and not just be a one-dimensional player.  And that’s the same way that Bill Walton played the game.  He excelled on both ends, and he was probably the best passing big man that I’d ever seen.


 

CELTIC-NATION
Where were you when you heard the news that Len Bias had died?  And what effect did it have on the future of the Boston Celtics?

ROBERT PARISH
Riding down the highway.  Actually I was going down the Mass Pike [Massachusetts Turnpike] and I heard it on the radio.  I thought it was the station’s way of telling some sort of cruel joke.  I didn’t want to believe it.  I had to think twice about what I’d just heard.  I was like, ‘Man, they’ve got a weird sense of humor.’  That’s what I said to myself, because it wasn’t funny at all.  And then it turned out to be true.  It broke my heart.

Bias’ death hurt the team in a big way, because he was going to be the next big star.  The heir apparent to Larry Bird.  But let’s not forget about Reggie Lewis.  Think how good the Celtics would have been with those two players.  They were going to be the future cornerstones of the Boston Celtics.  In my opinion, we would have won at least – at least – one more championship if we had both Reggie Lewis and Len Bias.

CELTIC-NATION
The Celtics and Pistons waged war on the hardwood.  What stands out in your mind about those physical games with Detroit's Bad Boys?

ROBERT PARISH
The intensity.  The competitiveness.  The adjustments made by both coaching staffs.  I thought it was two great teams battling one another – one of them was on the decline, and the other team was on its way up.  It was a classic rivalry – I liken it to the Celtics’ rivalry between teams like the Philadelphia 76ers and Los Angeles Lakers.  That’s how intense it was.  It was a war.  I respect those guys and what they accomplished, and how competitive they were.  They were finally able to get by the Celtics and win a couple of championships of their own.  Whether or not you liked the Detroit Pistons, you had to respect them for the way they played the game.
 

 

CELTIC-NATION
Everyone, it seems, has a favorite Red Auerbach story.  Do you have one that stands out?

ROBERT PARISH
One thing I always respected about Red was his honesty.  He was always honest.  If Red told you something, you could believe him.  He never lied.  He was never full of pretense.  Red was all about the business of winning championships.  Which brings me to another thing I admired and respected about Red; whatever we needed, Red always seemed able to find that one particular player to put us back on top.  When we needed someone to put the clamps on Magic Johnson, Red went out and traded for Dennis.  We won the championship that next season.  When we needed someone to provide a spark off of the bench, Red traded for Bill Walton.  We won the championship that next season.  He could always find that player to make us a better team, and I respected him greatly for that.

 That’s the thing I respected about the Lakers, too.  They would always go out and get what they needed, whether it was a coach or a player.  I liked that about L.A. Hopefully the Celtics will get it back.  They’re definitely headed in the right direction, that’s for sure.


 

CELTIC-NATION
Of your time spent with the Boston Celtics, do you have a fond memory or an amusing story that stands out most?

ROBERT PARISH
Yes.  This has something to do with Johnny Most, our radio announcer.  I don’t know if you know this or not, but Johnny was a chain smoker.  I can’t remember for sure, but it was either Danny Ainge or Kevin McHale who replaced some of Johnny’s cigarettes with some of those party poppers.  Those are cigarettes that explode when you light the tip.  So, they replaced about five or six of Johnny’s cigarettes.  He would light one after another and they would explode.  Well, after about the third one he caught on that someone had tampered with his cigarettes.  He got so mad!  He went on this swearing rampage – he broke out swear words I’d never heard of before [laughs].  Talk about a colorful delivery!  It was one of the funniest things I’d ever seen in my life.

 One time, Johnny fell asleep and somebody tied his shoelaces together.  He got up to go to the bathroom and stumbled.  I think KC caught him – he didn’t hit the floor – and he went on another one of those swearing tirades.  We couldn’t stop laughing, and the harder we laughed the madder he got.  Johnny Most had that distinctive voice, and as he got madder his voice got higher.  It was unbelievable [laughs].

 


CELTIC-NATION

Let's talk life after basketball.  What have you been up to in the years since retiring from the NBA?

ROBERT PARISH
My first five yeas I did nothing.  The last couple of years I’ve been running a basketball camp with Clifford Ray, a good friend of mine, down in Sarasota, Florida.  We run a big man camp.  I’m in my second year as part of the NBA Legends Tour.  I coached in the USBL three years ago, in Maryland.  I coached the Maryland Mustangs.





CELTIC-NATION
Final Question:  You’ve achieved great success in your life.  You are universally respected and admired by many people, both inside and outside of the NBA.  If you could offer one piece of advice on life to others, what would that be?

ROBERT PARISH
Believe in yourself, no matter what.  If you believe in yourself, and have confidence in yourself, then you can accomplish anything.

 

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