MCHALE FIT CELTICS' MOLD \ HE CAME TO PLAY ALL THE TIME
To some who know him best, the most lasting memory of former Celtics star Kevin McHale won't be his long arms or his unstoppable low-post moves. It will be his happy-go-lucky attitude.
"He's a comedian," said Celtics center Robert Parish. "That's what I'll remember most, how easy-going he was. He's a very fun-loving guy. He never took things too seriously.
"He ticked (ex-Celtics coach) Bill Fitch off all the time," said Parish. "Fitch would be ranting and raving at practice, and Kevin would just laugh him off. He never let Fitch get under his skin."
"The thing I think I'll always remember about Kevin is the twinkle that's always in his eye," said Dave Gavitt, Celtics senior executive vice president. "He just picks up the spirit of a room when he comes into it."
McHale was his old self when he attended Monday's game at the Garden.
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"The first thing he did," said Gavitt, "was walk into the trainer's room and he said, "I spent more time in here than in the locker room the last two years.' Then, after the game, Dino (Radja) was being worked on by Vladimir Shulman, our masseur, who's Russian. The first thing out of Kevin's mouth is, "I can't believe this, a Yugoslav letting a Russian work on you. What's going on here?' "
Today, McHale's attitude will probably change, warned Celtics assistant coach Dennis Johnson, another of McHale's former teammates. Today, during halftime of the Celtics' nationally televised 12:30 p.m. home game against the Suns, McHale's No. 32 will be retired and join 17 other numbers and one name (Loscy) in the Garden rafters.
If McHale reacts the way DJ did when his No. 3 was retired two years ago, today will be the biggest challenge he's ever faced on the Garden parquet.
"I was nervous as hell," said DJ. "I was fine all the way here until I pulled up to the (Garden's) back ramp area. Then the sweat started rolling in.
"Usually, I go out there and that floor exudes nothing but confidence to me, but I didn't have a ball in my hands."
Actually, Gavitt tossed him a ball during the ceremony as they had rehearsed, but DJ forgot what he was supposed to do with it.
"Since only a couple of us knew about it, I didn't really blow anything," he said.
"It was much different standing out there," said DJ, "and letting people appreciate you, admire you. I can't even think of the right word. Letting people say thanks to you for hopefully giving them a good amount of joy. It was probably the most nerve-wracking thing in the world. People had probably seen me at my best out there and I never cracked, but when you're standing out there. ... You know you're not alone because everybody in the building is for you, but for moments at a time you're right there by yourself. It's the best feeling in the world and it's the most emotional feeling too."
Instead of a ball, DJ held onto a towel.
"I kept tossing and turning and turning it," he recalled. "It was very emotional. I had 14 years flash in front of me like that, boom. It's probably the best thing in the world that ever happened to me, really. I've had my number retired in college and I've won (three NBA) championships. But having my number retired here in the Boston Garden, the only thing that could top that would be me going into the Hall of Fame."
Parish has often said he thought it would have been great if he, McHale and Larry Bird, the Big Three of the Celtics' three NBA championship teams in the 1980s, could have retired together.
They didn't. So retirement ceremonies, a frequent sight at the Garden to start with, have turned into an annual event.
DJ's number was raised to the rafters two years ago. Bird's No. 33 was raised last February. McHale's No. 32 will be retired today. The late Reggie Lewis' No. 35 is scheduled to be retired next season. Parish's No. 00 will hang from the Garden rafters as soon as he hangs up his sneakers.
"All the hoopla and the dinners, I don't want any of that stuff," said Parish."I just want a 20-minute halftime. Put my number up and let the game commence. There's no need to get all worked up about it. I came into the league quietly. I might as well go out quietly. There's no need to fuss. Raise it up and get on with what people have to do."
They're fussing over McHale this week. With reason. In 13 seasons with the Celtics, he averaged 17.9 points a game and ended his career ranked sixth in both scoring and rebounding in franchise history. He played in seven NBA All-Star Games, was named first-team All-NBA in 1987 and the league's best sixth man twice. He made the NBA All-Defensive team six times.
Playing in the shadow of Bird never bothered him. As he said, he could have scored more without Bird, but he would have won less. Even in Bird's shadow, McHale was quite a player. And he didn't go unappreciated. McHale, not Bird, guest-starred on "Cheers."
"The way teams prepared for a guy like Michael Jordan or Larry, or Magic is the way you had to prepare for Kevin," said DJ. "I played with all three of them (McHale, Bird, Parish) and I played with a lot of big men, but there's just none better at the forward spot than Kevin.
"He'd say stuff like, "I feel like scoring 48 tonight,' and, by God, he'd go out and score 48 or 49 points," said DJ. "The next night he'd come in and say, "I don't really feel like that many points, but I feel like just shutting down somebody.' He'd come in and shut down anybody he'd want to.
"You get him the ball down low and it would be two points 90 percent of the time," said DJ. "If he didn't make the basket, he'd get fouled. That would be automatic."
Automatic, but not flashy.
"He's like one of those guys out of the '40s and '50s," said Celtics forward Xavier McDaniel. "He didn't jump very high or run very fast. He just basically did the job. Just like Larry.
"Nothing glamorous about his game. He fit right in with the whole Boston tradition - hard work, playing hurt. Look at our jerseys, they're basically the same style jerseys since the beginning, whereas a lot of other teams have gone to new styles. Kevin was just a plain ordinary guy, just like these uniforms, plain and ordinary, and a guy who got the job done night in and night out."
Until foot injuries slowed McHale down, opponents couldn't stop him.
"He redefined the post-ups moves and added all kinds of dips and doodles and you name it," former Celtics coach K.C. Jones told WEEI Radio. "Some people say he had bad hands. That's a lie. He wanted that to get out because if he has bad hands, that means he can't pass. So what's left to do is shoot the ball. He's crafty."