The Boston Celtics are one of the greatest franchises in NBA history. Their 17 titles are tied with their arch-rival, the Los Angeles Lakers, for the most in league history.
The height of the Celtic/Laker rivalry occurred during the 1980s. The two teams met three times in the NBA Finals, with the Lakers winning twice.
Everyone remembers Magic Johnson, Larry Bird, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, and Kevin McHale. But do you remember the silent big man of the Celtics?
Robert Parish was that center for the Celtics. He may have been a quiet player, but without him controlling the middle, certainly, the Celtics wouldn't have had the same amount of success in the 80s as they did.
Robert Parish was born on August 30, 1953, in Shreveport, Louisiana. When Parish was in seventh grade, he stood at 6 feet 6 inches.
This caught the attention of his junior high basketball coach. He approached Parish about playing, but this initially didn't interest Parish:
“I really didn’t like basketball growing up,” Parish said. “[Coach] Coleman would come to my house and take me to practice every day until I had to start showing up myself; I give all the credit to him.”
On Parish's first day of practice, he was the last to receive a basketball jersey, which happened to be Number 00, the number he wore for most of his NBA career.
Parish explained how he came to receive his number 00 from his junior high team:
“My junior high school team gave out jersey numbers to the players [based on] the scale of talent,” Parish explained. “The best players got their jerseys first. And then, the players that wasn’t as good as the starting five, that’s who got the remaining jerseys. And being that I was the worst player on the team at the time, 00 was the last jersey. So that’s how I got the number 00… and the number just stuck with me.”
Parish would eventually go to Woodlawn High School after his original high school, Union High School, closed due to desegregation.
In 1972, Parish led Woodlawn High School to the Louisiana High School Athletic Association Class AAAA state championship. He also would be named All-American, All-State, All-District, and All-City in 1972.
Parish would play college basketball at the private liberal arts school, Centenary College of Louisiana.
Even with playing at a small school, Parish's play caught the attention of plenty of people.
In his four years at Centenary, Parish led the Gents to an 87-21 record. His team spent 14 weeks in the AP Top 20 poll. Most of the weeks happened during his senior year in 1975-76.
Parish averaged 21.6 points and 16.9 rebounds per game during his Centenary career. Now, Centenary recognized his records, but the NCAA would not include Parish's statistics in its record books.
This was because in 1965 the NCAA adopted the "1.6 rule". This determined the academic eligibility of incoming freshmen.
At Woodlawn High School, Parish took a standardized test that did not fit the NCAA's formula. Centenary then converted his score to an equivalent that fit the formula.
They have done this for 12 other athletes in the previous two years. This, turns out, was a violation of NCAA regulations.
The NCAA, however, had not paid any attention to the school's actions before Parish's recruitment. But they came down hard on Parish and four other basketball players.
The NCAA told Centenary they could not use the test taken by Parish and the other players to establish eligibility.
Centenary refused to pull the scholarships, and this led to the NCAA issuing one of the harsher sanctions in its history.
Centenary's basketball program was put on probation for six years. They were barred from postseason play, and their results and player statistics were excluded from the NCAA record book.
In 2018, the NCAA announced that Parish's records would be recognized and placed into the NCAA Record Book.
When Parish was fighting with the NCAA, he played for Team USA at the 1975 Pan American Games.
The NCAA recommended that Parish not receive a spot on the team, but he was awarded a spot and was unanimously elected captain. He led Team USA to a gold medal.
Even with these sanctions put on Parish's records and accomplishments, he ended up being drafted three times!
In 1973, the ABA held a Special Circumstances draft, and they selected Perish. Then in the 1975 ABA draft, the San Antonio Spurs selected Perish.
After college, Parish was selected eighth overall by the Golden State Warriors in the 1976 NBA Draft. Parish chose the NBA over the ABA, which was the right decision, since the ABA would merge with the NBA on August 5, 1976.
Two years before Parish was drafted by the Warriors, they won the championship. In the four years Parish played for Golden State, they missed the playoffs three of those four years.
“I was seriously thinking about having a very short basketball career before the trade because of all the losing that I experienced with the Warriors, and being blamed for the Warriors demise,” Parish said. “I understand that because I was the Number 1 player taken [by the team in the 1976 draft] and the blame falls on my shoulders. But basketball is not an individual sport. It's a team sport. And I just feel like the team was an assembly of misfits and too much independent thinking. Guys were thinking about themselves as opposed to the team.”
The best thing to happen in Perish's career occurred On June 9, 1980. The Boston Celtics made a pre-draft trade, dealing the top overall pick and an additional first-round pick to the Warriors for Parish and the Warriors' first-round pick, the third overall.
The Celtics used this pick to select Kevin McHale, and with that, the Boston Celtics were ready to take over the 1980s.
“I was surprised initially,” Parish said about the trade. “But once I hung up from the Warriors after they called me and told me I was being traded to the Boston Celtics, I cheered and I jumped up and down… because I went from the [penitentiary] to the penthouse, in my opinion…That was what was so rewarding about being with the Celtics because they were all about team. You play for the name on the front of the jersey, not the name on the back of the jersey. So it was refreshing for me because that's my mentality, with the players I was playing with [in Golden State], I could not get them to understand the benefits and the rewards of playing together. They didn't get it for whatever reason. Being traded to the Celtics changed the trajectory of my career.”
Parish was 100% right about the trajectory of his career. He went on to win three championships [1981, 1984, 1986] with the Celtics in his 14 years with Boston.
Perish, along with Bird and McHale, were known as the “Big 3” and they're regarded as one of the greatest frontcourts in NBA history.
After leaving Boston in 1994-95, Parish played two years in Charlotte for the Hornets. He served as the backup center to Alonzo Mourning.
To finish his career up, Parish signed as a free agent with the defending champion Chicago Bulls in the 1996–1997 season.
In his one season, Parish won his fourth championship, and he also famously “mouthed off” to the legendary Michael Jordan.
Parish went on the CLNS Media’s Cedric Maxwell Podcast and spoke about the incident with Jordan during practice:
“We were scrimmaging, we played like six games going to five points. And so after the first two games, Phil [Jackson] put me with the second unit who I always played with. You know, my boys,” Parish told Maxwell. “We proceeded to kick their [the first unit’s] butts like four straight games. And Michael took offense to it, so I asked him, ‘How did he like that butt whooping?’”.
The other Bulls' players couldn't believe Parish stood up to Jordan because the others wouldn't dare.
Parish didn't care, he played with Larry Bird and around other great players, and his stoic demeanor didn't allow him to become star-struck.
This demeanor of Parish is what led to his famous nickname- “Chief”. Celtics teammate Cedric Maxwell gave Parish his nickname after a character from the film One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.
Parish was known to participate in martial arts and yoga, which helped him keep his cool during some of the biggest games in NBA history.
Parish ended his NBA career after 21 years, which is tied for second-most in league history.
He played 1,611 regular-season games in his career, which is the most games played by any player in NBA history.
At the end of the day, when you think back on those great 80s Boston Celtic teams, you can't forget about the silent “Chief” who clogged the middle up.
Ask his Celtic teammates, without Parish, the Boston Celtics would not have been as successful.