What is Robert Parish Doing?

1983-84 Boston Celtics

Robert Parish is wrong.

Parish is an All-Star center, one of the four best pivotmen in the NBA. He is more valuable to the Celtics than Kevin McHale, and it is understandably difficult for Parish to accept his $650,000 per year when McHale is raking in a cool $1 million.

Too bad.

Parish is wrong because in exchange for five years of guaranteed security, he promised to play for the Celtics. He has broken that promise. He has three years remaining on his five-year contract and he is sitting home while the Celtics are playing in Phoenix. His agent, Wayne Traynham, said 10 days ago that Parish believed in the sanctity of a contract. Apparently, Parish changed his mind.

It is certainly unfair that Parish's contract is not commensurate with McHale's, but Parish should have foreseen the possibility when he signed a five-year deal. An unofficial sports axiom of these times is that whoever signs the last contract gets the best deal. If Parish had been willing to gamble on his health, he could have signed a two-year pact and been a free agent last spring. He didn't. He wanted security. He signed a five-year contract and was very happy with it.

Obviously, Parish thinks a contract is a one-way street. If he had ruined his left knee in the first scrimmage after signing the five-year pact, would he have been willing to let the Celtics re-negotiate his contract? If he had been seriously injured, would Parish have offered to refund some of his money because of the unfairness of the situation? No! And he wouldn't be expected to.

It would have been nice if the Celtics had willingly opened their vault for Parish after the McHale signing, but the team is under no obligation to do so. Since Parish's first threat, the Celtics claim to have made a serious effort to appease Parish with an extension of his present pact. Unimpressed with the effort, Parish dug in his heels Friday night. He and Traynham have the Celtics in a bind. The team has invested millions in McHale, Bird, Dennis Johnson, etc., and Boston fans expect a championship effort. Without Parish, the picture changes. The Celts can't hope to beat Philadelphia and Los Angeles without a first-rate center.

Assistant general manager Jan Volk and owner Alan Cohen say there will be no negotiating while Parish holds out. Unless Parish returns on his own (a nice idea), the Celtics must satisfy his demands, trade him or let him sit and stew. It's a classic showdown. Would you rather win on principle, or on the basketball floor? Here's a vote for principle.

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