The Boston Celtics were one of the most dominant NBA teams in the 1980s. Led by the talented frontcourt of Larry Bird, Kevin McHale, and Robert Parish, along with guards Danny Ainge and Dennis Johnson, Boston’s 1986 title-winning squad ranks right up there with the best of all time.
After three championships and five NBA Finals appearances in the ’80s, injuries and age forced the breakup of the team. As the Celtics players went their separate ways, Parish, at one point, felt as if Bird, McHale, and the NBA betrayed him.
The trade for Robert Parish turned the Boston Celtics into a consistent winner
Drafting Bird was only the beginning. It was the following season when Red Auerbach turned the Celtics into a perennial contender. During the 1979-80 season, Bird guided the Celtics to a 61-21 record as a rookie. Despite the big season, Boston had the top pick In the 1980 NBA Draft, having acquired it from the Detroit Pistons. The Celtics won a coin flip with the Utah Jazz to determine who picked No. 1.
Auerbach orchestrated a deal with the Golden State Warriors, trading that No. 1 pick and another first-rounder for Parish and Golden State’s third pick in the draft. With that move, arguably the best frontcourt in the NBA was born.
The deal paid immediate dividends for Boston. Under head coach Bill Fitch, the Celtics improved on their 61-win season from a year ago, going 62-20 in the 1980-81 campaign. Bird and Parish led Boston in scoring, averaging 21.2 and 18.9 points, respectively. McHale put up 10.0 points and 4.4 rebounds per game off the bench.
The Celtics outlasted the Philadelphia 76ers in the Eastern Conference Finals in seven games. In the NBA Finals, Boston topped the Houston Rockets in six games.
After his NBA career, Robert Parish spoke of Bird and McHale: ‘I’m not a part of their fraternity’
Bird, McHale, and Parish worked well together on the court. McHale came off the bench early and late in his career. From 1985-89, he established himself as a full-time starter with the team. The trio combined for three championships, and the Celtics were the biggest threat in the East through the ’80s.
When they retired in the early ’90s, Bird and McHale continued their basketball lives. They held front-office positions in the NBA while Parish seemed content to take a break from the sport. Parish then got the itch to get back into the game and became the head coach of the Maryland Mustangs, an expansion team in the USBL. The team folded after a year, and Parish wanted to continue coaching.
Parish said he reached out to his former teammates but never heard back. He referred to them as “acquaintances.”
“In my case, I don’t have any friends,’’ Parish said to Boston.com in 2013. “I saw Kevin at an event. He said he was going to call me. He never called. I called Larry twice when he was at the Indiana Pacers. He never returned my call. And not just Larry. Across the board, most NBA teams do not call back. You need a court order just to get a phone call back from these organizations. I’m not a part of their fraternity.’’
Parish admitted there were no hard feelings
For the record, Bird sent a text to The Boston Globe in reference to the report that Parish had reached out for a job. He had a different version. “Robert never called me for a job. Period,’’ Bird wrote.
McHale also responded, saying he hoped to hire Parish in Minnesota, but “I went back and checked… we were actually reducing spots at the time. Then I was let go from Minnesota,” he told Boston.com in 2013.
Parish also mentioned Danny Ainge, who was working for the Celtics.
“You would think Danny would’ve stepped up and said something,’’ he said. “I think he’s got a little pull with the organization. But I didn’t take it personal. I understood.’’
Through it all, Parish said he never became angry with his former teammates.
“I have never sat here and said those (expletive) didn’t call me back,” he said. “Not one time. I am very proud of this fact.’’