Reliving the Celtics' `Big Three' Era

BILLED as the greatest front court in the history of basketball, the Boston Celtics' Larry Bird, Kevin McHale, and Robert Parish are synonymous with winning championships. During the 1980s, they brought their team to the National Basketball Association Finals four years in a row and won three championships in five years.

Peter May, a beat reporter who covered the trio through their glory days, chronicles the careers of the threesome - Bird and McHale played their entire professional careers for the Celtics; Parish played for Golden State for four years before coming to Boston. May begins ``The Big Three'' with their high school and college years, runs through their illustrious winning years with the Celtics, and ends with the decline of Boston's team and the retirements of Bird and McHale.

The players were unique in that they played 12 years together, more than any other pro basketball teammates ever, and they meshed so well on the court. All three made sacrifices that enabled the team to develop an unbeatable style of play.

May gives the basketball fan not only gritty play-by-play action and off-court anecdotes, but he also explores the roots of each of the three men and tries to define what caused them to click so well on the basketball court.

Tales of the deals that general manager Red Auerbach made to acquire the three are notorious in the league. May provides details on how Auerbach effected a risky trade with the Los Angeles Lakers in return for an extra draft pick in 1978, which enabled the Celtics to acquire Bird.

The deal paid off. The following season Bird and his teammates achieved the greatest team turnaround in NBA history. And the professional rivalry between Bird and the Los Angeles Lakers' Earvin (Magic) Johnson began.

Auerbach made another of his famous deals in 1980: ``McHale and Parish came on the same day in the same deal, a trade NBA historians deem the most lopsided in NBA history.'' The Celtics were in pursuit of the world title once more.

About this time the NBA became a national pastime and playoff games could be seen on major networks. The Boston Celtics played the Houston Rockets in the 1981 finals. The Celtics won the first game but lost the second in Houston, in what May deems ``another downer.'' So poor was their play in Houston that Moses Malone, with the Rockets, ``opined that he had high regard for the Celtics who had won 13 world titles but `I don't think much of this club.' He then suggested that four buddies back in Petersburg, Va., could join him and beat the Celtics.''

After that comment, the Celtics came out strong in Game 5 and went on to win their first world championship with ``The Big Three.'' May went back to the hometowns of Bird, McHale, and Parish and discovered they each came from very distinct backgrounds. But, he says, they all had received a well-developed work ethic from strong, working-class parents.

May presents enough information on the trio's backgrounds, high school, and college careers, to give readers an understanding of what inspired the three, without becoming too gossipy.

Some of the championship games are related in minute detail, which becomes a bit tiresome at times, but may make it possible for the hard-core fans to relive those glory years.

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