Parish, Robert 1953–
Robert Parish 1953–
Professional basketball player
Robert Parish holds the distinction of playing in more games than any other player in the history of the National Basketball Association (NBA). In an outstanding career that spanned a record 21 seasons, Parish’s remarkable endurance and skilled playing brought him numerous a-wards and four national NBA championship crowns. It also landed him in the Basketball Hall of Fame in what Celtic Nation called “the culmination of a career unparalleled in its length and unquestioned in its brilliance.” Considering that Parish, after only four years of professional play, had seriously considered retiring, this was quite an achievement.
Robert Lee Parish was born on August 30, 1953, in Shreveport, Louisiana. Though he soon shot up to a gangly six-foot eight-inch junior high school student, Parish was not the least bit interested in basketball. He even admitted many years later to the Boston Herald, “I really didn’t like basketball growing up.” Parish focused instead on football, baseball, and track. Then Coleman Kidd, the basketball coach at Union Junior High School, noticed Parish, and knew from his incredible height that he had potential on the court. Parish was not so sure. “[Coleman would] come to my house and take me to practice every day until I had to start showing up myself,” Parish told the Shreveport, Louisiana, Times. “I give all the credit to him.” However, Parish was far from the Hall-of-Famer he would become. He was uncoordinated and lacked confidence. Still, Kidd didn’t give up on him. He gave Parish a basketball to practice with at home, and continued to nurture his skills. Parish continued to grow, topping out at seven-foot one-inch in height, and his skill on the court grew along with him. Parish started at Woodlawn High School in 1968, where he became a state champion. He was named All-American, All-State, All-District, and All-City in 1972. That same year he led his team to the state championships.
Colleges soon came calling, but Parish preferred to remain close to home, choosing to attend Shreveport’s Centenary College. “The reason why I chose Centenary is because of their coaches,” Parish told the Times. “I was very impressed with the coaches. They
At a Glance…
Born Robert Lee Parish on August 30, 1953, in Shreveport, LA; married Nancy Saad, early 1980s (divorced, 1990); one child. Education: Centenary College, Shreveport, LA, BA, 1976.
Career: Golden State Warriors, center, 1976-80; Boston Celtics, center, 1980-94; Charlotte Hornets, center, 1994-96; Chicago Bulls, center, 1996-97; USBL Maryland Mustangs, coach, 2000-01.
Awards: Centenary College, Freshman of the Year, 1972; World University Games, Gold Medallist, 1975; Louisiana Collegiate Player of the Year, 1974-76; nine-time NBA All-Star, 1981-87, 1990-91; four NBA championships, Boston Celtics, 1981, 1984, 1986, and Chicago Bulls, 1997; 50 greatest players in NBA history, 1996; USBL Coach of the Year, 2001; elected to Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame, 2003.
Addresses: Office —Chicago Bulls, 1901 W. Madison St, Chicago, IL 60612.
didn’t try to sell me on the material things. They sold me on the school. That’s what I was impressed with.” Parish’s decision was a coup for the small school. “It was critical for us to find someone talented but we also needed a good person to go with it, and Rob filled the bill,” Centenary’s former coach told the Times. “Rob allowed our program to really take off. We had lots and lots of packed houses in [our stadium] and he was the primary reason.”
Parish took the court with the Centenary College team in 1972, and promptly began setting records for scoring and rebounding. He was named Freshman of the Year and Louisiana Collegiate Player of the Year three times in a row. In 1975 he was named captain and starting center for the U.S. Pan-Am team, and in 1976 Sporting News named him to their All-American team. In his senior year he led the nation in rebounds with an average of 15.4 rebounds per game. His efforts helped Centenary earn a spot in the top 25-ranked teams in the nation. They also made Parish a top draft choice for the 1976 NBA draft. However, Parish was never a player to seek the limelight for himself. He preferred winning. “He was very unselfish,” one of Parish’s college teammates told the Times. “If he didn’t have a shot, he had a great outlet pass and would wing it back out to me.”
Following his graduation in 1976, Parish immediately went pro. The Golden State Warriors picked him up during the first round of the draft and made him their star player. It was a mistake. “He didn’t fit into the Warrior system, which placed most of the scoring burden on the young seven-footer,” wrote Celtic Nation. “He was regarded as a leading man, when his true calling was that of supporting actor.” As a result, Parish floundered for four years with the team. It was a difficult time for Parish, and he was soon ready to give it up. “I was contemplating retiring because I was losing my passion for the game,” he told the Boston Herald. “I didn’t enjoy playing and the guys I played with were very selfish and individualistic. We weren’t playing as a team, we weren’t going anywhere, so I thought about giving it up.” That all changed on June 9, 1980, when the Boston Celtics organized a trade that picked up not only Parish but top draft pick Kevin McHale. “Once I got traded, I felt rejuvenated, with a new lease on life,” Parish told the Boston Herald. “It was a shot in the arm and I needed that. That change recharged my batteries.”
Wearing jersey number 00, Parish became the Celtics’ starting center and went on to make some impressive statistics his first year out, including 18.9 points and 9.5 rebounds per game. The Boston Globe noted that “Parish found the perfect atmosphere in which to blend, which had always been his idea of hoop nirvana. He could be himself, cede the spotlight, and go about his business.” He did this very well, landing on the NBA All-Star team for 1981, and earning a spot on the All-Star team eight more times during his career. Meanwhile Parish would form, along with McHale and superstar Larry Bird, the formidable “Big Three” of the Boston Celtics. “We were focused, very professional and everything fell into place,” Parish told the Boston Herald. “I came into my own as a player. We put our egos aside because the name on the front of the jersey was more important than the name on the back of the jersey.” The strategy paid off and the powerhouse trio led the Celtics to 13 playoffs, nine Atlantic Division titles, and five trips to the NBA championships. They captured the title in three of those years, 1981, 1984, and 1986.
“It’s hard for me to even believe how good we were,” Parish later told the NBA website. “Some nights I’d be out there just kicking some guy’s butt, really feeling it, and then I’d look over and see what Kevin was doing, and what Larry was doing, and I’d say, ‘Man, this is something. This is special.’” Coaches and teammates had nothing but praise for Parish’s on-court demeanor. “Robert was special because he knew his place on the team,” Parish’s former coach K.C. Jones told Celtic Nation. “He knew that there were only so many basketballs to go around, and that Larry and Kevin were going to get the majority of the shots…. He just understood what was expected from him and he went out and did his job. Robert was awesome.” Hall-of-Famer Bill Walton told the NBA website, “He’s probably the best medium-range shooting big man in the history of the game.”
By 1994 Bird and McHale had retired and the Celtics’ run at the top of the NBA was winding down. Though 40 years old, Parish was averaging 11.7 points and 7.3 rebounds per game, and still had a lot to contribute to the team. He has credited that energy to his off-court hobbies, including Tae Kwon Do, a martial arts discipline. “I did a lot of stretching and meditation and I think that’s the reason I played so long,” he told the Boston Herald. “The stretching and meditation did a lot to keep the body loose and relaxed. I had longevity, durability and dependability.” In fact, during all his years of play, Parish never once suffered a serious injury. After the 1994 season came to a close, Parish decided to leave the Celtics and sign on as a free agent with the Charlotte Hornets, a new expansion team. He served two seasons as a reserve center with the team, and during a 1996 game he became the NBA’s leader in number of games played, totalling 1,560, and surpassing the previous record-holder, NBA superstar Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. The high of this achievement was dampened by the dissolution of his decade-long marriage to Nancy Saad amid allegations of spousal abuse. Though the charges didn’t hold, Parish was left with the first negative press of his stellar career.
In 1996 Parish was named by the NBA as one of the 50 greatest players of all time. In September of that same year, he made headlines again when he became the oldest player in the NBA to land another free agent contract, this time with the top-seated Chicago Bulls. He had been a professional basketball player for 20 years by that time, and became the first to launch into a 21st season. Though his role with the Bulls was described by the Boston Globe as that of a “bench warmer/guru,” Parish played in 43 games during the 1996-97 season, starting three times. He also shared in the victory when the Bulls took home the 1997 NBA Championship. It was his fourth and final championship game.
With 1,611 games under his belt, Parish finally decided to hang up his uniform. A few days shy of his 44th birthday, he announced his retirement during an interview with ESPN. “I know in my heart that it’s time to walk away,” Jet quoted him as saying. “I’m just tired of it, not playing, but the other things like training camp.” He added, “I’m going to miss all the players that I’ve played with.” And with that he was gone. At his retirement Parish was 13th in the NBA in points with 23,334, sixth in rebounds with 14,715, sixth in blocked shots with 2,361, and eighth in field goals with 9,614. His record for most games played continued to stand through the end of 2003, as did records for most seasons played (21), most offensive rebounds (571), and most defensive rebounds (10,117). He was also second in playoff appearances and fourth in total playoff games played. In 2000 he enjoyed a stint as coach for the Maryland Mustangs of the United States Basketball League (USBL), and was named that league’s Coach of the Year.
Parish enjoyed an amazing career, and was admired by basketball insiders, observers, and fans alike. “Robert is an extraordinary individual, a unique person who will go down as one of the greatest centers to ever play the game of basketball,” a former teammate told Celtic Nation. In September of 2003, the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame agreed with this assessment and inducted Parish into their revered ranks. “I was never one to be conscious of single awards but this has got to be the ultimate single award there is,” Parish told the Boston Herald. “This is just a very humbling day for me. I am truly flattered and honored by this.” In the Hall of Fame he joined former teammates Bird and McHale, and “The Big Three” were together again. It was a fitting end to his career. As Parish told the NBA website, “I will always be a Celtic at heart.”
Boston Herald, April 8, 2003, p. 90; September 6, 2003, p. 46.
Jet, September 15, 1997, p. 46.
Times (Shreveport, LA), April 13, 2003, p. 8, p. 16; September 5, 2003, p. A1; September 6, 2003, p. C5.
“Chief Achieves Fame in Boston,” Boston Globe, www.boston.com/sports/basketball/celtics/articles/2003/09/07/chief_achievesjame_in_boston/ (December 23, 2003).
“Chief Appointment,” Celtic Nation, www.celtic-nation.com/news/2003_2004_news/08_19_2003_chief_appointment.htm (December 23, 2003).
“Chief Gets His Due,” Celtic Nation, www.celtic-nation.com/news/2003_2004_news/09_07_2003_chief_gets_his_due.htm (December 23, 2003).
“Robert Lee Parish,” NBA Website, www.nba.com/history/players/parish_bio.html (December 23, 2003).
“Robert Parish, Hall of Famers,” Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame, www.hoophall.com/halloffamers/parish_robert.htm (December 23, 2003).
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