CORNELIUS, N.C. — He was always the mystery man in the middle, 00 on a team where 33 drew the spotlight and 32 the laughs, a proudly impassive, hugely talented, ever elusive presence.
Robert Parish, “The Chief,” rarely talked to the media and never hung around with Celtics teammates after a game. Associates say he would not answer his phone, letting messages go to voicemail. After leaving the team in 1994, he let his connection to the Green fray and fade, even to the point of selling off his 1986 world championship ring for spending money.
So it was a surprise when this resolute loner picked up the phone at his home in North Carolina on the third ring.
“People shouldn’t feel sad; they should help me get a job,” said the Hall of Fame center with the deep voice on the other end. “I need a coaching job in the NBA. I’m restless and I need money. ”
At 8 the following morning, a jovial Parish, looking as if he could still hit that rainbow jumper over Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, stretches out on an enormous couch, sips mineral water, and answers questions for nearly two hours.
Parish, 59, said that Bird and McHale, both of whom have held coaching and front office jobs in the league (McHale is the coach of the Houston Rockets), have done nothing to help him in his quest to return to the NBA, although he says he has reached out to them. He calls his Hall of Fame teammates “acquaintances.”
“In my case, I don’t have any friends,’’ Parish said. “I saw Kevin at an event; he said he was going to call me. He never called. I called Larry twice when he was at the Indiana Pacers; he never returned my call. And not just Larry. Across the board, most NBA teams do not call back. You need a court order just to get a phone call back from these organizations. I’m not a part of their fraternity.”
Bird has a rather different recollection. Traveling, he sent a concise text in response to questions from the Globe: “Robert never called me for a job. Period.”
McHale, for his part, expressed remorse in a voicemail. He said he tried to hire Parish when he was in Minnesota, but “I went back and checked . . . we were actually reducing spots at the time. Then I was let go from Minnesota.”
He says he saw Parish later, when McHale worked for TNT.
“I feel terrible about the whole thing, but I just didn’t have a position,’’ McHale said. “I would have loved to have hired Robert if something would’ve came up.”
Parish said he never called former teammate and Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge directly, but he has talked to the Celtics.
“You would think Danny would’ve stepped up and said something,’’ he said. “I think he’s got a little pull with the organization. But I didn’t take it personal. I understood.’’
He won championships with these guys, so why no love?
“I know it’s hard to believe,” he said with a shrug, “But trust me, that’s right.”
Pressed for a further explanation, he answered, “I don’t know. I would not consider myself part of Larry’s inner circle, like he’s not in my inner circle. Same thing with Kevin. He’s not in my inner circle; I’m not in his inner circle. Same thing with Danny. You know we respect each other. We had the camaraderie, obviously, collectively, on the team because of our success on the court. But off the court, you know, we weren’t hanging out going to dinner, drinks, going to the movies, double dating, whatever you wanted to do. We weren’t doing any of that.”
Parish is pressed on his relationship with Ainge.
He responds by reaching back in time, telling a story about how Celtics president Red Auerbach and coach K.C. Jones once asked him to take fewer shots because Dennis Johnson and Ainge wanted more scoring opportunities. The Chief readily agreed.
“Danny is selfish, even after I made the sacrifice for him and DJ, he still asked to be traded.’’
Parish said that Bill Walton, whom he calls “the most honest person I ever met, besides my parents,” has given him some realistic advice.
“He said most teams are not going to call you back, it’s not personal, it’s protocol. Don’t take it personal, don’t be insulted by it. It’s just the way it is.”
Several years ago, his representatives reached out to all 30 NBA teams. Only two called him back. Now he’s trying harder. “I’ve been guilty of that, too, not returning phone calls.’’ he said. “We all have. “
He says he’s not angry at his teammates, either.
“I have never sat here and said those [expletive] didn’t call me back. Not one time. I am very proud of this fact.”
Named one of 50 greatest
Nobody played in more NBA games than the Chief. He was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2003 and had been named one of the 50 Greatest Players in NBA history in 1996. Continued...