Bird, McHale Head to the Links

October 3, 1991
There was one more opportunity for leisure before The Grind begins. Larry Bird and Kevin McHale headed out to the links yesterday for a round of golf. It's one avocation they share and one they can do while on the recuperative trail.

Basketball? That's another matter entirely.

Today Bird, McHale and the rest of the Celtics report for physicals. Tomorrow it's an even more unappealing assignment: Media Day. 

Then, Saturday morning at 10, Operation Hellenic Shield will begin. Coach Chris Ford will open training camp, and neither Bird, who underwent back surgery June 7, nor McHale, who had foot/ankle surgery July 17, will be available from the get-go. It may be weeks before they are.

Bird's late start was anticipated. Since his surgery, the Celtics have said only that they expect him to play this season, setting no deadlines or timetables. A visibly trim Bird said yesterday, "I really have no idea. I'll know a lot more in a couple weeks. I haven't even started scrimmaging yet.

"If I can, I can. If I can't, I can't," he went on. "I've gotta give it a chance. If it does fine, fine. If it doesn't, I have other options. But I don't think you should be asking me about retirement now. I still don't know."

While no one is stunned that Bird isn't ready, McHale's inability to hit the ground running is somewhat more surprising. After he had a bone spur removed from his left foot and ligament damage repaired, the club said in July that McHale should be ready for the opening of camp.

Now the team will say only that McHale is making progress and should be able to partake in some of the activities. That's all he knows, too.

"It's still a little sore," he said. "I don't think missing the first week or two of training camp is that big a deal at this point for me. For me, it's more a mental thing, preparing myself for what's coming up the next seven months. And besides, you gear your whole season to the playoffs. In a month, no one will remember that I missed any of it. Or care."

The absence of power forwards 1 and 1A prompted the Celtics yesterday to get some insurance in the form of 6-foot-9-inch Steve Scheffler. He was winging his way to Boston after agreeing to a one-year, minimum ($ 130,000) deal with a portion guaranteed.

At yesterday's outing for the Red Auerbach Foundation at Kernwood Country Club, Bird looked as though he had just stepped out of a NutriSystem ad. He wouldn't divulge his weight loss, but did say he dropped the pounds by exercising and curtailing his eating. "And," he added, "if I come in light and in shape, it won't take so long to get back."

He also gave his imprimatur to the Celtics' pursuit of Vinnie Johnson.

"He'd give us another scorer at the 2 spot shooting guard, he's strong and he has been there before. He knows what it's all about," Bird said. "I think it'd be a plus. It's another talent we could use."

Bird said his back is pain-free save for some occasional stiffness. And his reference to "a couple weeks" indicates that he is close to getting back to playing. One Celtics official said he was told Bird would be ready "sooner than we anticipated. Then again, I'm not sure when we anticipated him."

McHale, meanwhile, waited two months following the Celtics' season-ending defeat by Detroit before having surgery, the third time in four years he has gone under the knife in the offseason. The Celticsencouraged him to take his time deciding. He was asked whether he waited too long.

"I could have had the surgery the day after the season ended, but at the time, I wasn't even sure I was coming back," said McHale, who since has signed a contract extension through the 1992-93 season. "I really had to evaluate where I was. People forget it's your life. And if people don't think I've given enough to the Celtics all these years, then tough.

"I look back on it now and those two months were the best part of my summer," he continued. "I got to be with wife Lynn and the kids and just take it easy. I wish I was feeling better and could do the two-a-days and not have to take therapy because I hate therapy. But that's the reason I came back, because I still love to play and I think that if we stay healthy, we have a good chance."

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