Master of unselfish basketball. Celtics' big man makes high art of the low profile
BOSTON basketball's center of gravity has just arrived. The stable, quiet presence in the eye of the Celtics' storm. The fellow coach K.C. Jones calls ``Claude Rains, the invisible man.'' All 7 feet, 1 inch of him.Skip to next paragraph
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Robert Parish, a.k.a. ``the Chief,'' walks quietly into Boston Garden before a game, lofty in a tailored coat, carrying a tightly wrapped umbrella. Just outside the players' entrance, he stoops to greet a tiny kid. ``How you doing, little man?'' he asks in his deep, liquid voice. ``What's your name?'' And the little boy reaches up to take his hand, looking as though the tallest tree in his backyard had just dipped a branch to lift him up.
Twenty-minutes later, all suited up, Parish lopes onto the court to war-cries and calls of ``Chief! Chief! Chief!'' And for the next 45 playing minutes, Boston's big man will provide the world-champion Celtics with all the rugged details of the game they need, while still performing his regular disappearing act - making a high art of the low profile.
Because, in a sport that pivots on unselfish play, Robert Parish is the ideal of the unselfish player.
Talks with teammates, coaches, and observers in pro basketball reveal Parish as a player who quietly boosts the talents of superstars Larry Bird and Kevin McHale.
The public image of Robert Parish as the scowling shot-blocker with the cigar-store Indian face is belied by private observations of a gentle practical-joker whose sometimes mystifying moods have more to do with shyness and a deep-seated thirst for privacy than with the sullen pride for which they are frequently taken.
``He's so cute - because he's 7'1'' and he's so shy in there,'' says his wife, Nancy, during an interview in their sprawling home at the end of a snaking drive in an exclusive Boston suburb. ``Robert is basically a back-seat kind of person. He reserves the special things for somebody he considers very special. He trusts me, so he knows that he can bring out that little boy inside him that he keeps hidden.''
In fact, Parish keeps most things about himself, including his game, well-camouflaged.
Parish came out on a quiet tear this season, compiling better stats than for any other start in recent memory. In a game against the arch-rival Philadelphia '76ers last week, he notched a triple-double (double figures in three categories - points, rebounds, and assists) and became only the second Celtic to do so in the recorded history of the feat. But for the most part, he plays the role of a hardworking, supportive influence, one who says his greatest contribution to the team, which prides itself on family unity, is ``my unselfish attitude.''
``He's the perfect center for that team, and one of the main reasons they are what they are,'' Los Angeles Lakers' center Kareem Abdul Jabaar commented in a telephone interview. ``You show me how many of the centers in the NBA [National Basketball Association] are as good as him,'' observes Ron Rothstein, assistant coach of the Detroit Pistons. After a particularly grueling game against Parish, Milwaukee Bucks' center Jack Sikma summed him up as: ``Big and strong and smart ... just plain good.''
``I'm not a flamboyant player,'' he observes, perched on a rub-down bench next to the whirlpool bath which second-stringer Rick Carlisle shares with a floating rubber duck. ``I'm one of those quiet killers, so to speak.''
The quiet killer was much in evidence the other night when the Celtics went head-to-head in Boston Garden with the Seattle SuperSonics. The Sonics put their strength against Bird and McHale - and Parish responded by striking early and often. A fast, big man, whose ability to run the court makes his game even more potent, the Chief connected for 10 of the Celtics' 27 points in the first quarter. He grabbed rebounds at both ends of the court, played contact-paper defense on his man, and made his formidable presence felt in the sweaty tangle under the net.