Parish Gets His Due at 'The Tradition'

BOSTON – It’s about time The Chief got his due.

Any excuse to talk about the legendary 1986 Celtics team is a good one. Honoring Robert Parish at the Sports Museum of New England’s 11th annual “The Tradition” event Wednesday night at TD Garden was a great one.

Robert Parish

Robert Parish never showed much emotion on the court in his playing days, but he was proud to be honored by the Sports Museum of New England's "The Tradition" event at TD Garden.
Tim DeFrisco/NBAE/Getty

Parish, a nine-time NBA All-Star, four-time NBA champion, one of the original Big Three, a Hall of Famer and member of the NBA’s 50th Anniversary All-Time Team, is arguably Boston’s most underappreciated sports legend. His stoic nature and reluctance to seek the spotlight, coupled with the enormous shadows cast by the gregarious Kevin McHale and incomparable Larry Bird, kept Parish in the background of three great Celtics championship teams.

But make no mistake, Parish was the cornerstone of those championship teams in 1981, 1984 and 1986, and his place among basketball historians is firmly sealed as one of the greatest big men ever.

“It’s a good feeling to know that we originated the Big Three,” Parish said. “And it’s good to see that the current Big Three are carrying the torch very well.”

Parish was the anchor of those teams as a durable big man who could run the floor, knock down the rainbow jumper — and knock down Bill Laimbeer. He wasn’t known for showing much emotion in his playing days, but the Chief was clearly moved by being honored in the city where he made his name.

“This is a very proud moment for me to be back in Boston. This is where my career catapulted to another level. I had some great times here,” Parish said. “I kind of look at Boston as my second home.”

Parish’s teammate Bill Walton, who never misses an opportunity to profusely thank his Celtics teammates and the organization for allowing him to be a part of that magical ’86 team, presented Parish on Wednesday night just as he did when Parish was inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame in 2003. Never bashful, Walton showered Parish with effusive praise, interjecting “Hail to the Chief” roughly 45 times as he sung the praises of his longtime friend.

“What a teammate, what a player. I could never thank him enough for letting me be his teammate,” Walton said, glowing while feting his teammate in Waltonese. “Every day with Robert Parish was like a day with Mozart, a day with Beethoven. He was dynamic, vibrant, explosive. He had theory, he had substance, he had stature, he had nobility, gentility, and grace. Robert Parish. Hail to the Chief. We just love him.”

Transcribing a quote from Walton really doesn’t do its delivery or hyperbole justice. But given Parish’s under-appreciation, Walton’s adjective-laden celebration seems appropriate. Especially for a player who proudly wore No. 00.