Two weeks ago, we threw it back to the great Kevin McHale. There was another great player on that Boston Celtics team you may have heard of: Larry Bird. The tales of Bird have been told and retold, and another iteration of the greatness of Larry Legend would defeat the purpose of these Throwback Thursday articles.
These forays into the past are meant to feature great players in NBA history, but those who aren’t in the everyday vernacular of casual basketball fans. Everyone knows of Michael Jordan, Wilt Chamberlain, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, etc. But I’d be hard-pressed to find 10 people who know of the Bob Lanier’s and Elvin Hayes’s of the world.
With that said, today we’ll look into the career of Robert Parish, an integral part of the dominant Celtics championship teams of the 1980s.
With the Celtics, Parish teamed with McHale and Bird to form arguably the greatest frontcourt in NBA history. Parish also played the most games in the league’s history over his 21-year career (1,611 games).
Before that historic NBA career, Parish had a dominant college career in which he averaged 21.6 points and 16.9 rebounds over four years, but he was almost anonymous due to severe NCAA penalties that were placed upon him. Ruled ineligible for the entirety of his college career, Parish played under the national radar and elected to go to his hometown college in Shreveport, Louisiana instead of seeking more attention at a different school.
After his four years, some scouts were hesitant to draft the 7-foot center due to Parish’s decision to stay in college even though he was ruled ineligible. Was it due to loyalty or some bad decision-making? According to Parish, it was neither. He saw nothing wrong with his choice to stay and felt he made the most out of his college experience.
Regardless of all the drama that surrounded him prior to the draft, a physical specimen like Parish was hard to turn down, and the Golden State Warriors selected him with the eighth overall pick in the 1976 NBA Draft.
Eighth? Parish wound up being the best player to come out of that draft class.
Even the Warriors didn’t know what a gem they had in Parish. While successful with the Warriors, Parish’s career didn’t take off until his fifth season, when the Warriors thought they were selling high and traded him to the Celtics for the No. 1 overall draft pick (which ended up being Joe Barry Carroll) and an additional first-round pick.
In return, the Celtics received Parish and the No. 3 draft pick, which ended up being McHale.
Thanks to these moves, Red Auerbach orchestrated a complete turnaround of a franchise in a single summer. With Bird already on the roster, the addition of Parish and McHale ended up paying dividends for the Boston franchise. The Parish era in Boston (which lasted 14 years) produced 13 playoff runs, five NBA Finals appearances and three NBA titles.
Nicknamed “The Chief” by one of his teammates, Parish worked in perfect harmony with Bird and McHale. Parish was one of the premier shooting big men, as he shot the basketball with a high, soft release that was almost automatic from mid-range. His deft outside touch earned him praise around the league.
Combined with the shooting of Bird, the Celtics had massive lanes for penetrations and space to break down defenders. McHale joined the fun with one of his many post moves in his offensive arsenal, and the deadly trio wreaked havoc across the NBA.
Playing in an inside-out era, the frontcourt of Bird, Parish and McHale was truly something special. Each player was good for 20 points a game, each player commanded a double team and each player could make plays for others on the team.
Parish wrapped up his illustrious NBA career with the Chicago Bulls in the 1996-97 season, a year in which he won his fourth NBA championship. But while he donned four different jerseys (he also played two seasons with the Charlotte Hornets), he’ll always be known for his time in Boston. The nine-time All Star’s importance wasn’t unnoticed by the league nor media, and he even came second in MVP voting to Bird in 1982.
Inducted to the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame in 2003 and recognized as one of the 50 Greatest Players in NBA history, the greatness of Robert Parish lives on.