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Number double zero hangs high above the parquet floor at the TD Garden. Representing the glory of the 1980s, it's situated next to the numbers 32 and 33. Each number represents a moment in time faded by years but not forgotten in it's distinction of Celtics lore.
Robert Parish often told the media that he chose double zero in high school because teammates used to refer to him as "double nothing" in response to his lack of talent as a tall, gangly, often uncoordinated player.
Robert Parish joined the Boston Celtics in a trade that has been described as one of the most shrewd and lopsided deals in NBA history. At the time, the trade was more celebrated for bringing a young rookie, Kevin McHale, to Boston then it was for acquiring an often underrated center from a poor Golden State team.
Though Parish's stats had showed improvement every season with Golden State, the Warriors failed to make the playoffs three of the four years Parish had been on the roster. Despite the lack of playoff appearances, Robert had gained valuable experience playing on a Golden State team that had all-star players such as Rick Barry, Jamaal Wilkes and Phil Smith.
Parish declared, role player Clifford Ray to be his biggest influence; publicly stating that Ray is solely responsible for his longevity in the NBA, proclaiming that Ray's work ethic was inspiring, and his introduction to yoga had been the determining factor in the conditioning that allowed Parish to play until he was 43 years old.
As the Warriors continued to lose, Parish's NBA stock continued to rise. He posted a "Chamberlain-like" performance in 1979 against the NY Knicks when he hammered them for 30 points and 32 rebounds.
Though Parish had gained a wealth of experience playing with perennial all-stars past their prime in Golden State, it was not until he was traded to the Celtics in 1980 that he first got the taste of playoff glory. In his first season with Boston, replacing Dave Cowens in the starting lineup, Parish averaged 18.9 points per game, 9.5 rebounds per game and shot 54% from the field.
It was that season that Cedric Maxwell coined Robert Parish as the "Chief" because of his similarities to the character portrayed in the movie One Flew Over The Cuck0o's Nest—The nickname stuck.
Winning two more championship in 1984 and 1986, the Chief cemented himself as one of the most reliable, consistent a prolific centers in the NBA.
Being the third option on a team stacked with all-stars, Parish's talent and value to the championship Celtics teams was often overlooked and taken for granted.
It was the high arching mid range jumper at a crucial point in the game or a lightning fast baseline spin move leading to a dunk or a subtle slip of the pick with Larry Bird leading to a roaring dunk that summarized the Chief's worth to the team. Such patented moves often sparked the Boston Garden crowd to chant "Chief - Chief - Chief".
I can still hear the echoes as clear as I can hear the faithful chanting "Larrreee - Larrreee" for the legendary forward who played on the same front line.
Early on in his career, Parish's quiet and unemotional demeanor was often mistaken for a lack of effort. In the 1987 Eastern Conference finals, Robert showed a rare emotional outburst. After four, hard fought-physical games the defending champion Celtics found themselves deadlocked with the upstart, bad boy, Pistons.
Detroit had showed the tradition steeped Celtics very little respect in their bid to replace them as the Eastern Conference elite powerhouse. With boasting brovado, physical play and taunting trash talking, the Pistons seemed to be figuring out the Celtics championship formula.
Bill Laimbeer, in particular, displayed a noticeable distain for the Celtics winning ways.
Robert Parish had played through severe pain with two heavily sprain ankles and Laimbeer showed him no sympathy with his, sometimes dirty, physical play.
After bumping and grinding, for 4 1/2 games, in a style that would be considered flagrant today, Parish had endured enough.
In one powerful smack down he knocked Laimbeer to the parquet floor leaving the, self proclaimed bad boy in tears. After the dramatic knock down Parish returned to his unemotional demeanor as if nothing had just occured. Robert was ejected from the game but left a moment that, combined with Bird's stealing Isiah's lob pass in the same game, defined an era of Celtics domination over the Pistons from 1985 thru 1987.
As the years past by and the Celtics were replaced by that Pistons as the elite Eastern Conference team, Bird and McHale would see injuries diminish their effectiveness. Parish, giving credit to Clifford Ray for his mentoring many years earlier, continued to be consistant and more effective.
In 1991, Parish's fifteenth season, Robert made his first appearance on the cover of Sports Illustrated. This accolade was seen by most media and NBA players as long overdue. It seemed as his younger teammates career's winded down, Parish's was still going strong.
Robert continued to play with effectiveness after Bird and McHale's retirement. Though his love for the Boston Celtics never wained, his desire to win a fourth championship seemed to take priority.
In 1995, the unthinkable occured as he was signed as a free agent by the Charlotte Hornets. He would play in a limited role for two seasons with the Hornets until being signed by the Chicago Bulls in 1996 at the age of 43.
In his final season he would play in 44 games, making three starts for the championship Bulls. That season Robert would win a fourth NBA title making him the lone member of the Celtics fabled "Big Three" to win a fourth championship.
Parish had come a long way from his "double nothing" early days in basketball.
A career that spanded 21 NBA seasons saw his entrance into a league dominated by John Havlicek, Pete Maravich, Rick Barry, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Julius Erving, Walt Frasier, Earl Monroe and Bob Lanier. He played through an era that saw the coming of age of Larry Bird, Magic Johnson, Michael Jordan, Charles Barkley and Partick Ewing.
1600 games, 4 championships and 9 all-star appearances later, Parish would leave the game in the hands of all-stars Shaquille O'Neal, Dikembe Mutombo, Alonzo Mourning, Kevin Garnett and Allen Iverson.
A career that spanned three generations of NBA domination, Parish is no longer underrated or overshadowed by his teammates.
Today, 13 years after his retirement, we can continue to proclaim "Hail to the Chief"!
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