The relationship between Larry Bird and Kevin McHale was always interesting, to say the least. And as the Celtics in recent years have struggled at times with differing personalities, it is instructional to note how two talented players with their share of differences were able to rise together above any issues. Professionalism it is called.
"Kevin and Larry were never the best of friends," teammate Danny Ainge said before McHale's induction into the Hall of Fame last night. "But as they look back now, I think they both appreciate each other's talent and how it complemented their own games. I think they know they were blessed to play with each other.
"The funny thing is that as time went on, Kevin grew more like Larry, and Larry grew more like Kevin. Larry always had a loose side, and as things went on he showed it more. Kevin was always accused of having too loose a side, but he became more like Larry and more serious. Kevin always worked hard, but I think he worked even harder when he got late in his career and he had to overcome his injuries. He was more like Larry at that point.
"The bottom line is that it's easy to pick out flaws in people, but people watching them knew that from the day they arrived in Boston they were both destined for the Hall of Fame. The fact they played together enhanced both their careers. As great as Larry was, he wouldn't have been the same if he didn't have Kevin there to guard all the great small forwards all those years. And Larry was obviously great for Kevin, too."
McHale isn't into the heavy psychoanalysis thing, but he's pretty sure that diversity helped the whole. He believes he knows why the Celtics had a good mixture.
"It was because we were all different personalities," McHale said. "If everybody had been like me or been like Larry or been like Robert (Parish), it never would have worked. You know what I mean? We all drove each other crazy, and that was good. We had a good group of guys. We always had a lot of guys on our team that had a lot of character and were fun to be around. I think that was a big part of it. I don't know if success breeds chemistry or chemistry breeds success, but whatever happened, we had a lot of it.
"Larry Bird improved everybody. He was the best player on our team. He drove everybody. He could do so many things, it was fun playing with him.
"One of the best things was that we all pushed each other. I remember when I got 56 points, Larry said he was going to get 60. I started laughing, but I don't think Larry even thought about getting 60 until I got 56. But Robert Parish improved my game, too. And do did Tiny Archibald.
"Tiny ruined me early," McHale added with a laugh. "He ran down the court one time and passed me the ball. I thought I was a passer, and I threw it to some guy cutting to the basket. I missed him completely and threw it out of bounds. Tiny said, 'Look, when I throw it to you, shoot it.' I said, 'Thank you.' So from that point on, when he threw it to me, I shot it."
It's in the bag
McHale was happy to receive his own place in the Hall, but he probably got more use out of the gift he got from Ainge. His friend sent a customized sent of new Ping golf clubs. The sticks and bag are scripted with McHale's name and his Hall of Fame designation.
"I feel bad," Ainge said. "I kind of introduced Kevin to golf, but he can't compete at my level. I'm just trying to bring him up to me."
Speaking of levels, don't ask McHale for definitive comparisons of teams.
"For me to say our team was better than Bill Russell's, I couldn't say that if Bill was here," McHale said. "He'd beat the hell out of me, I imagine.
"You can't get into that. Those teams did things that will ever do. I will say one thing, if we took the '86 team and were able to put everybody back together, I like our chances against anybody. Let's go play. But you can't do that. Every era is different."
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