7.26.2009

Is Robert Parish an All-Time Great?

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1990-91 Boston Celtics
Remembering the 29-5 Start


Ask Robert Parish about his place in hoop history and you might as well be asking for an expert opinion on the plight of the Tamil insurgents in Sri Lanka.

In other words, he doesn't know. Or want to know. Or care.

The Hall of Fame? It would be an honor, but it's not something that keeps him awake at night. His "00"uniform retired and hoisted to the Boston Garden rafters? Again, a nice tribute, but if it doesn't happen, he won't go into therapy.

When the discussion turns to great, dominating NBA centers, the names of Bill Russell, Wilt Chamberlain and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar invariably surface. You can make a case for Moses Malone and Nate Thurmond. And was there anyone better than Bill Walton in 1976-77?

And then there's the Chief. Why doesn't his name automatically jump out? He has three championship rings. He has been in the All-Star Game eight times.

Maybe it's because he doesn't seek publicity, write autobiographies or court controversy. More likely is that people will look at his teammates and conclude, erroneously, that greatness can't help but rub off when you play with Larry Bird & Co. every night.

"I think he's always going to be one of those guys people tend to leave out," said Miami assistant coach Dave Wohl. "And that will be a crime. He's unspectacular. He doesn't have the flamboyancy of a Chamberlain or the personality of the others. But year after year he does the things that you as a coach want a center to do."

This remark came after Wohl watched Parish dismantle what passes for the Heat's interior game. In 27 minutes, Parish had 23 points, 13 rebounds and a blocked shot. He was 7 for 11 from the field.

It is games like these that make Parish the actuarial anomaly that he is. At 37, the NBA's oldest player, he is showing no signs of slippage. His season numbers -- 15.7 points, 10.3 rebounds and 57.8-percent shooting -- are close to or better than his career marks. And he's playing less than 30 minutes a game.

"I take it as a personal challenge when I go up against the younger guys," Parish said.

Reminded that that included every other NBA player, he laughed.

"I'm just trying to do the same things to them that they are trying to do to me," he said. "I feel I still can be competitive. I feel I still can be a factor."I just want to be consistent."

You want consistent? Try shooting. Since coming to Boston in 1980, he has shot no worse than 54.2 percent and last year shot a career best, 58 percent. Only once, in the injury-plagued 1987-88 season, did he average fewer than 15 points or 9.5 rebounds. In his 10 years as a Celtic, he has averaged 79.3 games a season. Only once, again in 1987-88, has he missed more than four games in a year.

He has been in the league since the closing days of the Ford Administration. This is his 15th season. On Saturday night against Miami, he moved past Hal Greer into fifth place in career games played with 1,123. (Interestingly, both Parish and Dennis Johnson had each played 1,100 games through 1989-90.)

"Generally, at that age, if you're even still playing, it's on a part-time basis," Wohl said. "Try to think of guys who have played at his level for so long. It's hard."

Parish jokes about being the last option on offense and there are nights, like the game in Houston, when he will get only three shots. The Celtics won that game. And Parish managed 11 rebounds and three steals.

"If you didn't call a play for him the whole year, he wouldn't complain," coach Chris Ford said. "He goes about his job quietly and few do it any better. They throw him a bone now and then by putting him on the All-Star team, but I definitely feel he has been overlooked."

Joe Kleine thought he had Parish pegged when he played for Sacramento. True, the Kings and Celtics played only twice a year, but reputations get around.

"I didn't think he was that good until I got here. Then I found out, he isn't good. He's great. And he's gotten better since I've been here," Kleine said. "He does everything well. And I mean everything. I'd be shocked if they didn't retire his number and hang it up there. If they don't, they might as well bring all the others down, because then they won't mean anything."

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