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  • Writer's pictureJoe Pace

New England Sports 366, #14: Robert Parish

The Celtics of the 1980s had the original Big Three, and when asked to name them, it's almost always recited as Bird, McHale, and Parish. It's understandable - Bird is a top-ten all-time player, and McHale provided points and personality aplenty. Parish was the third wheel on the tricycle, and an absolutely vital one. An imposing seven-footer, Parish was a monster in the paint, setting a league record for career offensive rebounds. While Larry and Kevin lit up the scoreboard, Robert swept the glass and ran the floor and protected the rim.

Parish's backstory is a fascinating one. When he enrolled at Centenary College, the NCAA was sorting out matters of standardized tests and eligibility, and Parish was caught up in the process. Back then, there was something called "the 1.6 rule". If a player's high school grades and standardized test scores predicted at least a 1.6 GPA in college, they were eligible for athletics. Parish, a Louisiana high school state hoops champ, took a test that wasn't on the NCAA's list, and when Centenary adapted it to the formula (as it had done for many others with no problems) the NCAA balked. Parish played despite the NCAA's ruling, and Centenary suffered a six-year ban from postseason play. Additionally, no statistics from that period would be reflected in the NCAA record books. Led by Parish and his monster invisible stats, the Centenary Gents rolled up an 87-21 record during his four years with fourteen weeks in the AP top 20. None of which, you know, actually happened. The NCAA is stupid.

After college, Parish captained Team USA to the Pan-Am Games gold medal, despite the NCAA recommending against his inclusion on the team. Because winners win. And the NCAA is stupid.

The Golden State Warriors drafted Parish eighth overall in the 1976 NBA draft. He toiled four sucky years in California with modest numbers, and then the best trade in NBA history happened. Red Auerbach sent the #1 and #13 picks in the draft to Golden State for Parish and the #3 pick. With that #3, the Celtics drafted Kevin McHale. With the #1 and #13, the Warriors drafted Joe Barry Carroll and Rickey Brown. A historic Auerbachian swindle, adding Parish and McHale to a Bird about to begin his second year.

A dynasty was born. The Big Three would win three titles (Parish would tack on another with the Bulls in the 90s - he's still the oldest NBA player to win a ring) and establish the template for all superteams that would come later. Parish was the big man, the shot blocker, the enforcer. In his fourteen Boston seasons, Parish averaged 16.5 points, 10 rebounds, and 1.5 blocked shots per game. A nine-time All-Star who still holds the record for NBA games played at 1,611, Parish is in the Basketball Hall of Fame and is listed as one the game's 50 all-time greats.

Parish suffered no fools. In the 1987 Eastern Conference Finals against the "Bad Boy" Detroit Pistons, Parish was all done with gadfly Bill Laimbeer's dirty play, and knocked him to the floor with a left hook. It earned Parish a suspension for Game 6 and the eternal love of Celtics fans. Parish didn't suffer egomaniacs, either. When he joined Jordan's high-flying Bulls in 1996 at age 40, Parish made a mistake on a play in practice and His Airness got in the bigger man's face.

"I've got some rings too," Parish said.

"I'm going to kick your ass," Jordan replied.

"No, you're not," said Parish. And he didn't.

In 2018, the NCAA restored the Centerary and Parish statistics to the record books. Because nobody beats the Chief - not Michael Jordan, not Father Time, and certainly not the stupid NCAA.

Postscript: After writing this, a friend brought to my attention that in 1995, Parish's ex-wofe Nancy Saad alleged that he physically battered her during their relationship. I believe her, and had I known about it, my profile would likely have been different. Too often, our heroes have feet of clay. Or aren't even heroes at all.

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