6.19.2008

G. Henderson the Unsung Hero

He has always suffered comparisons. But Gerald Henderson doesn't mind as long as people don't forget that throughout his Celtic career, he has been a winner.

Winning another championship may perhaps quiet the critics of Henderson, who this season assumed the leadership role that he felt should have been his in 1982-83, when Tiny Archibald's days became numbered.

"When I first came here," said Henderson, "my goals were to start for this team, win an NBA championship and play in the All-Star game just once. I was here in 1980, but I was sitting on the bench then. Now, we've won another, and I'm a starter. And I'll play in an All-Star game yet.

"My total floor game as a point guard has improved, and I do the things that have to be done to make this team. I had a lot of great players with and behind me. My confidence from the first year or two has really increased. I just feel like I could have stepped in a little earlier."

Henderson's path to a starting role has been rocky. But he came into his own this year, averaging a career-high 11.2 points, 3.8 assists and 1.5 steals a game. A late-season injury ended his "ironman" streak at 327 consecutive games. But in five seasons, he has been one of Boston's most durable performers.

In his first four seasons, Henderson lived in the shadows. He had been the third guard in 1980 and until 1982-83 was overshadowed by Archibald, who dominated the guard picture, although many thought Henderson ran the club just as well and played better defense.

Even though Henderson averaged 10.2 points and played in all 82 games in 1981-82, he took a backseat for most of the following season because the Celtics had acquired Quinn Buckner from Milwaukee. Buckner was supposed to be the perfect man to complement Archibald. But as the season progressed, coach Bill Fitch began to go to more frequently to Henderson, who again played in all 82 games.

The only problem for Henderson this year had been those nights when his offense disappeared. Even the arrival of much-heralded Dennis Johnson from Phoenix didn't affect Henderson. He ran the club and the fast break, which, while slower than in the Archibald days, was just as effective. More important, the Celtics got the kind of floor leadership and passing from Henderson that enabled their powerful inside game to dominate.

Henderson made what many feel was the key play in the playoffs, stealing a pass from James Worthy that led to his game-tying layup and an eventual overtime victory in Game 2. It was in keeping with the aggressive style that made him a favorite with coach K.C. Jones, who was also a defensive specialist.

Archibald's critics had claimed he had become a one-dimensional player whose shooting touch was failing and who couldn't play much defense without help. Henderson, a tireless practice player, said that he never wanted people to think of himself as one-dimensional.

"I decided to do something when I was coming through school and my first couple of years here," said Henderson. "I decided I would work on making myself a total basketball player, all aspects - dribbling, shooting the ball, doing this, doing that. Not just one thing well.

"That's been the key to my success. That I can do different things and do them well. I can play offense well and defense well. I feel like I'm well- rounded."

And it hasn't been easy, working with so many backcourt partners. But despite having had talented teammates such as Archibald, Chris Ford, Danny Ainge, M.L. Carr, Buckner and Johnson, Gerald Henderson has always been there, playing an important role when the Celtics needed him.

"You have to adapt," said Henderson. "I've been with a lot of different backcourt guys for the last five years. It's a change, but you have to make it if you're going to be a winner. You must adapt; adapt to physical things, mental things. Things between the players, and I have done that well."

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