The Sacrifices of Robert Parish Were Instrumental to the Success of the Boston Celtics of the 1980s

During the 1980s, the Boston Celtics captured three championships in six years and appeared in the NBA Finals five times. The franchise was loaded with talent during the decade, led by the legendary Larry Bird. Bird, however, couldn’t do it alone. When Red Auerbach added Robert Parish, Kevin McHale, Dennis Johnson, and veteran center Bill Walton to the mix, they were nearly unstoppable.

While there were many stars in town, there was only one basketball. That suited Parish, Boston’s Hall of Fame center, just fine.

Robert Parish joined the Celtics after one of the biggest trades in team history

Robert Parish of the Boston Celtics shoots over Rick Mahorn of the Detroit Pistons during an NBA game circa 1987 at the Boston Garden in Boston, Massachusetts. | Focus on Sport/Getty Images.

Parish began his 21-year NBA career playing four seasons with the Golden State Warriors. The Warriors selected Parish with the eighth overall pick in the 1976 NBA Draft. With Golden State, Parish proved to be a solid big man, averaging 13.8 points and 9.5 rebounds.

Just before the 1980 NBA Draft, Auerbach, the former Celtics president/GM, swung a franchise-altering deal with the Warriors. Boston held the top pick in the draft and packaged it along with the No. 13 pick for Parish and the third overall selection. With that third pick, the Celtics selected McHale. The Warriors took center Joe Barry Carroll at No. 1.

Parish and McHale quickly helped turn the Celtics into champions. The previous season, Bird, a rookie out of Indiana State, turned a struggling Celtics franchise around. In his first NBA season, Bird led the Celtics to a 61-win season, up from 29 wins the year before.

In their first season together, Parish, Bird, and McHale won the first of their three championships of the decade. They knocked off the Houston Rockets in the 1981 NBA Finals. After failing to reach the championship round in ’82 and ’83, the Celtics returned to the Finals for the next four years.

The Celtics were an unselfish group, led by Parish

The Celtics had plenty of stars during their run in the ’80s, many who could’ve played elsewhere and put up much bigger numbers. On any given night, a different member of the team could be the standout, and the Celtics players thrived off that.

“It’s the ‘we’ before ‘me,” McHale said to Cedric Maxwell during an episode of the Cedric Maxwell Podcast. “If you can’t enjoy your teammates’ success, you’re in the wrong business. You need to go play tennis because then you’re by yourself, and you can go yell at the linesmen or do whatever you want. But if you don’t enjoy your teammates’ success, you can only go so far.”

Parish was clearly one of those who enjoyed his teammates’ success. The Hall of Fame center typically sacrificed his offense, often giving way to Bird and McHale, while he focused on rebounding and defense. That never bothered him in any way. He never focused on headlines or stats.

“(Coach) K.C. (Jones) always appreciated the sacrifices that I made on the offensive end,” Parish once told Michael D. McClellan of Celtic Nation. “There were only so many balls to go around, which meant that someone had to make some adjustments to make it all work. 

“I’m a low-key guy who doesn’t need the limelight, and for me, it was never about putting up stats. With Larry and Kevin playing at such high levels, I didn’t get much credit for my offensive skills — that’s because they shot all the balls (laughs). 

“I don’t mean that in a negative way. I can’t complain about the formula because it certainly worked.  We were very successful.”