Kevin McHale had quite the run with the Boston Celtics. Acquired in one of the greatest draft-day trades in team history in 1980, the 6-toot-10 forward out of Minnesota played 13 years in the NBA and had himself a Hall of Fame career.
McHale won three titles with the Celtics before hanging ’em up after the 1992-93 season. He said he wanted to retire a year sooner but gave an odd explanation why he chose to hang on for another year.
Kevin McHale and Robert Parish joined the Boston Celtics in 1980
Celtics president and GM Red Auerbach made a trade right before the 1980 NBA Draft that set up the team nicely for years. Boston held the No. 1 pick in the draft and already had a young star in Larry Bird, who had just been named Rookie of the Year.
Auerbach sent that top pick and the No. 13 selection to the Golden State Warriors in exchange for the third pick in the draft and center Robert Parish. They selected McHale at No. 3. That trade not only built for the future but also paid immediate dividends.
In their first year together, McHale, Parish, and Bird helped earn Boston’s first championship of the 1980s. As a rookie, McHale came off the bench and played 20.1 minutes. He averaged 10.0 points and 4.4 rebounds. The Celtics knocked off the Houston Rockets in the 1981 NBA Finals.
For the first five years of his career, McHale primarily came off the bench but played starter minutes. In the 1983-84 season, he played 31.4 minutes and averaged 18.4 points and 7.4 rebounds. He won the first of two straight Sixth Man of the Year Awards that year.
McHale and the Celtics won the title again in 1984 and 1986. During that third championship, McHale became a full-time starter with newly acquired Bill Walton playing the role of sixth man. McHale averaged 21.3 points in his first season starting in a full-time role. The following year, he put up a career-high 26.1 points.
McHale called it quits in 1993 but said it was supposed to be a year sooner
Injuries took their toll on the Celtics in the early part of the ’90s. Bird’s back became a serious problem, while McHale had ankle/feet issues that hindered him late in his career.
The 1992-93 season was McHale’s last. He was back in his role as a reserve player, averaging 10.7 points in 23.3 minutes. He decided to hang ’em up after the Charlotte Hornets ousted the Celtics in four games in the opening round of the playoffs.
In a first-person Sports Illustrated article in November 1993, McHale wrote about not playing in the NBA for the first time in the last 14 years. He raised a few eyebrows when he said he wanted to retire the year before. Those brows were raised even higher when he explained why.
“Would I feel differently if my last few seasons hadn’t been filled with physical pain and the mental burden of playing on a mediocre team? Maybe,” he wrote. “But by the time I hung it up, I was good and ready. In fact, although I never said it publicly, I almost quit before last season.
“The only reason I stayed on was that my three oldest kids (Kristyn, 10, Mikey, 8, and Joey, 6) couldn’t stand the thought of not being ball boys — or, in the case of Kristyn, ball girl — or not going to practice and games with me, that whole deal. That probably isn’t the best reason to climb into a basketball uniform every day, but I’ll tell you, the most enjoyable memories I have from last season are of watching the joy those kids got out of shooting around with their dad, retrieving balls and hanging out with the guys.”
If there’s ever a perfect example of family first, McHale showed it during the 1992-93 season.