Celtics Sing Hail to the Chief

Hail to the Chief. Hail to Robert Parish. May the Celtics never forget his contributions to their second championship in four years.

It is no coincidence that Boston's return to the NBA heights coincided with Parish's return to the rebounding form that keyed the Celtics' ability to dominate the inside game. His status as one of the league's top centers was reaffirmed this season when he was named to start the All-Star game, replacing an injured Moses Malone.

For the third straight year, Parish averaged over 19 points, second on the team to Larry Bird. Parish pulled down 857 rebounds, ranking him among the league's top 10. In February, Parish reached a milestone, scoring his 10,000th career point in Phoenix.

The Chief, a nickname given Parish by former Celtics coach Bill Fitch, is the strong, silent type.

His best offensive weapon is a rainbow jumper from 10 to 15 feet, but because of his size and experience, Parish was expected to take up room inside and complement Bird, Kevin McHale and Cedric Maxwell in the rebounding department.

But Parish had his critics, who said flatly that, on occasion, he totally disappeared when the Celtics desperately needed an inside thrust. But Parish insists that was due mostly to constant double- and triple-teaming.

"Every team was making a conscious effort to keep me out of the ballgame," said Parish, a 7-footer who weighs 230 pounds. "Keep me out or keep me limited. They seem to think they'd have better chance of winning the ball game - playing knock the Chief down. It was the strategy of every team we've played during the regular season and the playoffs, too.

"Fortunately, I was able to make the adjustment. When I got the ball, I knew I had to do something with it quick. I made sure that I took the shot, keep it moving, or got it close to the basket before the defense has a chance to react."

Parish, who played four seasons with Golden State, has yet to achieve the recognition that goes with being one of the league's top centers. Yet few big men run the court as well as Parish, a trait that makes him a perfect Celtic.

"It's the ideal situation for me," he said. "I can just relax. I don't have to worry about scoring X number of points. I just relax and play my game. I think my game is well rounded now. I don't have to specify one area.

"The whole season was very enjoyable, especially after the way things ended last year. With my rebounding coming back and us making the finals and getting the opportunity to wrap the whole thing up, it was definitely my most enjoyable ever."

Enjoyable to a point. Parish did not appreciate the criticism that followed a loss - or even a victory. He said it came those who did not understand how difficult it was for him to cope with teams clogging the middle.

"I did have one bad two-week stretch on the West Coast when I was really struggling," said Parish, "a very long two weeks. It wasn't so much what the teams were doing to me. I was in a slump. That's even worse than what they were trying to do to me defensively.

"I'll take the double-teaming and the pounding any day. But when you're slumping, it can be some very long evenings. You never know how long it is going to last."

But, added Parish, the criticism he has received also served a useful purpose.

"I've learn to remind myself that critics always find something to talk about," he said. "No matter how much better you make or what accomplishments you make, it's always going to be something. In a sense, that's very good. It keeps you in the right frame of mind. It keeps you working hard, trying to get better."

And what if he never gets the respect afforded some of his teammates?

"That's OK," said Parish. "It cuts down on my interviews. Let Larry have them all."

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