June 6, 1986
An intangible but unmistakable strength of the Boston Celtics is their great camaraderie, usually expressed in the form of irreverent, biting humor. Personal fouls are a way of life with the Celts, and the No. 1 hatchetman, the jolliest and nastiest of green giants, is forward Kevin McHale.
All business on the court, McHale was monstrous in a 106-103 victory over the Houston Rockets Tuesday night at The Summit that gave the Celtics a 3-1 lead in the NBA championship series night. He scored 19 points, had 9 rebounds, helped hold Akeem Olajuwon to a human 20 points on 8 for 21 from the floor and made deflection-steals with those 15-foot long arms on the last two Rocket possessions.
The first deflection was a gamble, as he snaked around Olajuwon to tip the ball away. "Do or die, a steal or a dunk," he said. The second, with 11 seconds left, was a giant paw that re-routed a Ralph Sampson pass. His defense on Akeem was based on coach K.C. Jones' pregame admonition that he was allowing the young giant position too close to the basket, where he is unstoppable. Thanks to benign neglect from the officials ("they really let us play," McHale said), he was able to push Olajuwon out.
"He played me very tough," Olajuwon said. "He has very long arms, and I can't make my spin moves. He came over my back on that steal, and I was cussing the officials, but I was pushing, too. It's part of the game." In four games, McHale is averaging 23.3 points on 63.7 percent from the floor. So far, he is the series MVP choice of one observer with pretty fair credentials.
"They'd give it to Larry Bird, but I'd go with McHale," said Oscar Robertson. "He's got Ralph's number. Ralph just can't guard him." "That's nice of the Big O to say, but nah," McHale said. "It's Larry. No question." If they awarded a MVT (Most Valuable Tease), however, it would be McHale,
no question. Only the sainted Bird seems off limits.
A McHale sampler:
-- On Danny Ainge: "Danny looks like Opie Taylor. Every time I see him, I feel like asking, 'Hey, where's Barney?' He also lies all the time and cheats at golf. He's the worst Mormon I've ever seen."
(Ainge has tried to fire back, noting that McHale's passing had improved from the days that throwing him the ball was like throwing it "into a black hole--it never comes back." Retorts McHale: "I had to become a passerbecause Danny's man was always leaving him to guard me").
-- On Greg Kite: "He's a present-day Eric Fernsten (a little-used Celtics sub of the early '80s). In practice, he's like a Mansonite, a guy who gets off on beating people to death. Sometimes I come to practice and say,'No, Greg. Not today.' "
But McHale's favorite target by far these days is Bill Walton, the supersub center whose clutch rebound basket--"the turning point," said Lord Larry--accounted for the game's final points Tuesday night. McHale, the MVT, was unimpressed. "My gosh, he's 7-3, he ought to be able to get a rebound like that. That 6-11 stuff is nonsense."
McHale was off and ripping.
"Hey, I've played 110 more games than Walton, and this is only my sixth year. He's like a used car--1,000 minutes or the end of the season, whichever comes first. I think he's got about 10 minutes left in him." But Walton had a golden opportunity for payback at practice Wednesday, thanks to a local item written in one of those sleazoid, kiss-and-tell gossip columns.
It said McHale was seen at a watering hole Saturday night, was drinking Lite beer until 2:30 a.m. and was signing autographs, and even a shirt, to the effect that Houston simulates the action of a vacuum cleaner. The clear implication was that McHale wasn't taking Sunday afternoon's game (a two-point
Rocket victory) very seriously.
McHale says he was there with his wife and other Celtic couples until 12:30 and drank only cranberry juice. He admits signing a shirt as described, but says he did it only after being pestered for an hour by a drunk, who had opened the conversation by saying Boston simulates the action of a vacuum
The Pulitzer candidate responsible for the item always wears a straw hat, which, combined with his goatee, makes him look like Col. Sanders' son. When McHale spotted him at practice, he laid into him.
"Bad story. Totally erroneous. No factuality." On the defensive, Pvt. Sanders advised McHale not to worry about it, to which McHale replied, "Don't worry? Baloney!"
"Calm down, McHale. I thought the story was factual. I know it was factual. I was there."
Suddenly, Pvt. Sanders was forgotten, as McHale turned with a mock vengeance on Walton.
"How would you know? You were too busy sleeping. There you are, encouraging bad writing again. That's how you wound up being linked with Patty Hearst. That's how Patty Hearst wound up in your basement."
"In my closet," said Walton, a stickler for accuracy.
For all of McHale's zingers, it would not be accurate or fair to conclude he's just a towering flake with orangutan arms. He is a free spirit, but he's not the only one among the Celtics. Why not? He considers himself extremely fortunate to be doing what he loves, doing it for the league's greatest
franchise and being paid extremely well.
But he keeps it all in perspective.
"Basketball isn't forever," he said. "Your marriage, children and beliefs--those are forever.