The NBA celebrates players on the NBA 75 roster almost daily by the end of the season. Today’s winner is Kevin McHale, the Celtics icon who, early in his career as Boston’s sixth man, was half-jokingly described in The Sporting News by another 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 mainstay of the Celtics’ three championship teams in the 1980s.
The Boston Celtics lost more than a first-round playoff series last week. They may have lost their last 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 heart arrhythmia that will likely end his career. Kevin McHale has officially retired. Robert Parish might not return. And the Red Auerbach team patriarch has been hospitalized with chest pains.
The legendary Celtics couldn’t stop the clock.
“With everything that’s happened, I’ll probably be somewhere else next season,” Parish said. “The Celtics might want to go in a different direction now. Maybe it’s time.”
Parish, 39, outlived Bird, 36, and McHale, 35. All three will undoubtedly enter the Basketball Hall of Fame, all invariably linked by three scattered NBA titles in the 1980s.
McHale, who has been plagued with ankle, knee and foot injuries in recent years, hinted at 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,” McHale said. “I’m sure I wasn’t going to call one now that I was just 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 came out with dignity and no regrets. The injuries didn’t just undermine his physical tools; they mentally drained him.
It wasn’t easy for McHale, a friendly, frolicking guy who often provided the perfect balance to Bird’s determination. It was McHale who forced Bird to smile.
It wasn’t the love of the game that got McHale to play this season. They were his children. He had wanted to retire a year ago, but they had pushed him to do otherwise. They wanted to be the ballboys for the Celtics. They wanted dad there.
“They were so upset when I first talked about retiring,” McHale said. “So I put on the shoes and started over. I figured if the kids wanted it so badly, I could set it up for one more season.
“But it got really frustrating. It was the first time in my career that I lost the mental edge. I was just 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 the Charlotte Coliseum instead of Boston Garden. A win in Game 4 could have sent the series back to Boston once again.
“I really wanted to get out in the Boston Garden,” McHale said. “In that place, I went through the full gamut of emotions. I cried. I was frustrated. I was happy. I did so much in that shirt. Knowing that I’m never going to put it back on again for fighting 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 this past season in Boston. But in the wake of the playoff loss and with the Lewis issue, Parish says it might be better for the Celtics to get the team going again without him.
Without Lewis, McHale and Parish, the Celtics could have plenty of healthy salary windows to use to acquire young players. After so many good times in a Celtics uniform, Parish may not want to be part of a long-term project. Hard to blame him.