NBA 75th Anniversary Season

Archive 75: Kevin McHale

Shaun Powell

Shaun Powell

 

From first off the bench to frontline history, from storybook beginning to a glorious role on the league’s most storied franchise, Kevin McHale lived quite the NBA life, right from the opening jump ball. Who knew a tall kid with XXXL-arms would become the second person to put his hometown of Hibbing, Minn., on the map? (Bob Dylan was the first.)

McHale spent his entire NBA career with the Boston Celtics and much of it either winning championships or coming close. Mostly, he was the player supremely qualified to give you the lowdown on the low post. Allow him to explain:

McHale’s touch around the basket was softer than your grandmom’s kiss. Tap-ins, floaters, baby hooks, they all seemed to find the mark — none more than against the Pistons in an epic game on March 2, 1985, when he set the Celtics’ single-game scoring record. As you observe how it was done, take note of the final basket, and the full-court pass that made it possible, and the teammate who threw it.

As an interview subject, McHale was a reporter’s dream, always affable and available and willing to address any subject. Obviously, after a 56-point game, anyone would be in a talkative mood. But as you watch this interview, you come to realize that the Celtics should thank whomever took the hockey stick and goalie pants away from a certain kid, which is no easy thing to do in Minnesota.

How do you top 56 points? And just two nights later? You do it by coming close, which is good enough, and in New York of all places. McHale’s presence in the paint remained very strong and evident against the Knicks, who had the misfortune of feeling the remnants of a very hot hand. Those 98 points in back-to-back games revealed what everyone already knew: McHale was on track to become one of the greatest players in NBA history.

McHale was a free spirit and therefore exactly what the Celtics needed in the robust 1980s, always keeping the locker room loose, always making the atmosphere light, at least until it was time for the ball to go up. And then McHale was as competitive as anyone, never backing down, always willing to meet the challenge of that night’s game and opponent. He’d get laughs at practice and gasps during games, the perfect balance for him and the Celtics.

You gave McHale a hard time at practice at your own risk. Danny Ainge discovered as much when he tried to trade barbs and baskets with the master. As always, McHale tried to get the last laugh, the last dig and, if possible, the last basket.

McHale always fancied himself as being more than a basketball player, having a variety of interests that went beyond the sport. He was a big rock-‘n’-roller, and just by chance, Nils Lofgren was a big basketball fan. Therefore, their worlds were properly aligned.

In this jewel from the NBA vault, you’ll see (and hear) quite the music-and-sports combination between a member of the E Street Band and a member of the greatest frontline in basketball history. What better way to break up the tension of the 1987 NBA Finals.

How many players in NBA history had a better combination of hands and arms and feet?
McHale’s limbs always seem to work in harmony, and that’s why he became a multiple All-Star, three-time NBA champion and time-honored Celtics legend.

Kevin

He could affect a game at both rims, he came off the bench, then he became a starter, and through it all he flourished in whatever role he was asked to do. If you inspected the soles of his shoes, there likely would be plenty of paint on them. And that would be the sign of a classic power forward who literally knew where he stood.

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