Robert Parish Distinguishes Between Locker Room Culture of Larry Bird’s Celtics and Michael Jordan’s Bulls

Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Famer Robert Parish played 14 of his 21 NBA seasons with the Boston Celtics. He played one year with the Chicago Bulls. He won three championships with the Celtics and collected another title in that lone year in Chicago.

That one season playing with Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen was telling. In a conversation with former Celtics teammate Cedric Maxwell, Parish spoke of the difference between the locker room atmosphere with Bird and with Jordan. It didn’t seem like a warm place in Chicago.

Robert Parish won three titles with the Boston Celtics and added one more with the Chicago Bulls

Charlotte Hornets center Robert Parish waves to the crowd during a game against the Boston Celtics at the Boston Garden, Nov. 23, 1994. | Jonathan Wiggs/The Boston Globe via Getty Images.

Parish’s career turned around when the Golden State Warriors dealt him to the Celtics before the 1980-81 season. The 7-foot-1 center out of Centenary College spent the first four years of his NBA career with the Warriors. Before the 1980 NBA Draft, the Warriors dealt him and the third overall pick to the Celtics in exchange for the top pick and another first-rounder. Boston selected Kevin McHale with the No. 3 pick, building their frontcourt for the future.

Parish and McHale teamed with second-year star Larry Bird, who won Rookie of the Year honors the previous season. The trio helped bring the first of three titles in the 1980s to Boston. They would go on and become arguably the best frontcourt in NBA history.

Parish helped secure NBA championships for the Celtics in 1981, 1984, and 1986. He was a nine-time All-Star, earning the honor seven straight seasons between 1981-87. In his time with the Celtics, Parish averaged 16.5 points and 10.0 rebounds.

After leaving Boston, he played two seasons with the Charlotte Hornets before finishing his career with the Bulls. With the Bulls, he played in 43 regular-season games and two postseason contests but earned his fourth championship ring.

Robert Parish spoke abut the locker room differences between the Celtics and the Bulls

It might not be fair for Parish to compare the difference in locker room atmospheres between the Celtics and the Bulls. He spent just the one season in Chicago but didn’t have a lot of good things to say about his time spent with Jordan.

Parish and Jordan had one memorable interaction during one of the first practices Parish had with the Bulls. Jordan, known for being tough on his teammates, got in the center’s face. Parish brushed Jordan aside.

“I told him, ‘I’m not as enamored with you as these other guys,” Parish recalled to Jackie MacMullan of ESPN back in 2012. “I’ve got some rings too.’ At that point he told me, ‘I’m going to kick your ass.’ I took one step closer and said, ‘No, you really aren’t.’ After that, he didn’t bother me.”

Parish recalled his short time with the Bulls with Maxwell on a 2020 episode of The Cedric Maxwell Podcast.

“Michael definitely could wear on you because he had such a strong personality, very vocal,” Parish told Maxwell. “Almost to the point of being confrontational. He’d get right up in your personal space, talking trash.

“That’s one thing I always liked about us, the Celtics. We respected one another. We talked a lot of trash every day about each other, but there was always that respect. I can’t think of one teammate that did not respect one another. We always respected one another.

“I think that’s where Michael crossed the line. He demanded perfection. I felt like if you’re going to demand perfection, which is impossible to do by the way, you gotta give them some respect.”

Parish said there’s no way the Celtics would tolerate Bird if he acted like Jordan

Jordan always had the reputation of being a perfectionist. He wasn’t just hard on himself, but he also was demanding of his teammates. Parish said Bulls coach Phil Jackson never got in the way.

“Phil, like most coaches, left the locker room alone,” Parish said. “He let the players figure out the hierarchy, how the locker room was going to be governed. Michael just took it and ran with it. He just bullied all those guys. “You know what, Cedric, what bothered me about that? They didn’t have the balls to say nothing about it, the teammates.”

Bird was tough on his teammates at times, but he was respectful. If he wasn’t, Parish said he and the Celtics wouldn’t have stood for it.

“There’s no way we would’ve took that from Larry,” Parish said. “There ain’t no way, Max. Come on now, you know it’s true. There ain’t no way we would tolerate that behavior from Larry, and he was our leader.”

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