Kevin McHale was spoiled early in his career. After the Boston Celtics selected him with the third overall pick in the 1980 NBA Draft, he found a way to contribute right away off the bench. The 6-foot-10 forward from the University of Minnesota reached the NBA Finals as a rookie.
Three years later, McHale and the Celtics returned to face the Los Angeles Lakers. Like the Lakers, Boston was loaded with talent, including Larry Bird, Robert Parish, Cedric Maxwell, Dennis Johnson, in addition to McHale. On any given night, any of them could carry the team.
According to McHale, while any of those players could stand out, there was one Mr. Reliable.
Kevin McHale won three titles with the Boston Celtics
McHale was one-third of what might be the best NBA frontcourt of all time. Before the 1980-81 season, the Celtics had the first pick in the NBA Draft but traded it and another first-round pick to the Golden State Warriors. In exchange, the Celtics received the third pick in that draft and Robert Parish. With that third pick, the Celtics selected McHale.
Parish and McHale joined forces with second-year standout Larry Bird, who had just won Rookie of the Year honors. In their first season together, they defeated the Houston Rockets in the 1981 NBA Finals.
Bird and Parish were part of a starting frontcourt that also included Maxwell. Maxwell earned 1981 Finals MVP honors as the Celtics down the Rockets in six games.
McHale came off the bench in 81 of the 82 games he played in his first NBA season. He averaged 10.0 points and 4.4 rebounds in 20.1 minutes as a rookie. In fact, McHale played behind Maxwell for the first five years of his career, including the ’84 season when McHale won his second title with the team.
Prior to the 1985-86 season, the Celtics shipped Maxwell to the Los Angeles Clippers in exchange for Bill Walton. McHale replaced Maxwell in the starting lineup, giving Boston a fierce starting frontcourt with Bird and Parish. Bird once said he would put that Celtics team up with any team in any era. They went on to defeat the Lakers in the championship.
Kevin McHale said of all the stars on the ’84 team, there was one who was the most dependable
Last March, McHale and Maxwell reunited when Max brought his former teammate on The Cedric Maxwell Podcast. The two discussed their times together during their two championship seasons as teammates. They also spoke specifically about their ’84 title when they didn’t play their best but still knocked off the Lakers.
McHale also made mention of the one player on that team who you know what you’d be getting from him night in and night out. He spoke about practices being intense with players really going at one another, but when game night came, they were one big, happy family.
“When the game started, we were all on the same page,” McHale said.
“I’d like to say something about Robert (Parish). Robert might have been the most disciplined — not make mistakes, in the right spot every single time. He was amazing. That dude defensively just did his assignment all the time. Offensively, he was just so dependable.
“Robert was like a clock. You just wind him up and put him out there. He was going to get 18 to 22 points, 10 to 12 rebounds, and he wasn’t going to mess up. He wasn’t throwing the ball in the third row. Just an amazing, dependable guy. I was lucky to play with him for 12 years.
He was just so dependable, just so amazing. On that ’84 team, we all depended on each other. You (Maxwell) got hot in Game 7. Everyone who got hot was going to get the ball. We had multiple people that could go off for a 15-to-18-point quarter. How many times did we have nothing, but one guy had a 17-point quarter and kept us in the game?”
McHale and Maxwell said playing the Lakers in ’84 took things to a new level
The 1980s were dominated by the Celtics and the Lakers. In every year of the decade, at least the Celtics or Lakers made it to the NBA Finals. In 1984, ’85, and ’87, they faced each other.
“When we played the Lakers in 1984, basketball was basketball,” Maxwell said, “but I don’t think it got any better than that seven-game series. The physicality, the thinking, the art of talking s***, the fighting. I’m like you, as much as I loved it when we beat Houston, I always thought it was even better when we beat the Lakers because of the nature of the two teams and a guy we idolized. You and I loved Kareem. We were Kareem junkies. We hated James Worthy.”
McHale admitted his love for Kareem and then tried to be diplomatic about Worthy, but Maxwell wanted none of it.
“Kareem was unbelievable,” McHale said. “Why he’s not mentioned every time they say the best player ever is crazy. Worthy, who really is a great guy. You know I met him and he’s good…”
“Guy’s an a**hole,” Maxwell interrupted. “He’s an a**hole.”
Looks like that Celtics vs. Lakers rivalry still rings true nearly 40 years later.