It has been 15 years since Parish, affectionately known among Celtics fans as "Chief," played his last game in the NBA at age 43. He holds the record for 1,611 games played over 21 seasons in the NBA, having collected four NBA championship rings and nine All-Star selections in his career. He was named one of the 50 greatest players in league history during the NBA's 50th anniversary, and his No. 00 is retired by the Celtics.
He has stayed active in that time and continues to follow the game closely. Now 58 years old, Parish feels he is ready to assume a seat in front of the camera as a TV analyst, joining some of his contemporaries like Magic Johnson, Charles Barkley, Shaquille O'Neal and Kenny Smith.
Parish will be honored by the Boston Sports Museum at "The Tradition" on Wednesday at the TD Garden. He took time to speak with NESN.com's Ben Watanabe about his time in Boston, why one bad decision may have extended his career, and the lifelong lesson he learned from his mother that he applied throughout his life.
NESN: First off, congratulations on being recognized by The Sports Museum. What are your thoughts on being invited to The Tradition?
Parish: I am honored to be recognized by the Boston Sports Museum. I'm flattered. I thought all my basketball awards were over with. To be recognized and to be a part of Boston's sports history is definitely a big honor for me. (coughs) Excuse me, I'm a little hoarse right now from working out earlier. I think I was sitting in the steam too long. I'm a little dehydrated so bear with me. I've got to rehydrate.
NESN: Do you still work out regularly even though it has been 15 years since you last played basketball?
Parish: I don't play basketball, but I still work out. I'm still active. I try to recapture the feelings of being in tip-top shape. I know that's never going to happen but I'm chasing that anyway. I have a temperamental back, so it helps keeps my back stabilized also.
NESN: Did you ever imagine that you would not only play in the NBA, but that people would still remember you more than a decade after your career ended?
Parish: Not in my wildest dreams. First of all, I never thought I'd be a professional athlete. I thought after college my playing days would be over. Even though I got drafted after I went to college by the ABA, it still never dawned on me that I would be able to make it my livelihood, not to mention play as long as I played.
NESN: A lot people might not be aware of your saga in college. When you enrolled at Centenary, the school adjusted your academic scores based on a formula it had used for several years. But the NCAA disqualified you and to this day your records are not recognized by the NCAA. What kept you striving through that time, when you were almost a forgotten man?
Parish: My teammates. It wasn't just me, it was that whole class that came in. Because I was the star, the focus was on me, but it was me and five other players. The NCAA came in and said we could leave, go someplace else, but collectively we decided to stay at Centenary and show loyalty to the coaches and also to the school.
NESN: Who instilled that sense of loyalty in you?
Parish: I would have to say it was my mother [Ada] who instilled that, not only in myself but in my siblings. She always said loyalty ranks right up there with love. When you're loyal to someone, that's the highest compliment you can pay. Love, trust and loyalty were the profound words we received from her.
NESN: You played your first four seasons with the Golden State Warriors before Red Auerbach traded the No. 1 pick and another first-round pick for you and the No. 3 pick, which the Celtics used on Kevin McHale, prior to the 1980 NBA Draft. When you arrived in Boston, how did the Celtics compare to your expectations?
Parish: I knew about the Celtics' winning tradition, but I was looking at it as somebody from outside, from afar. Being there and being around the Celtics organization and the Celtics personnel, you get a feel for why they were so successful. They take it seriously. From day one in training camp, I knew that my career had just changed. When I was at Golden State, everybody pretty much coasted and kind of played themselves into shape. Everybody on the Celtics reported to training camp in shape, except for me, because when I got traded I basically took the summer off. It was the first time I had ever not trained since I started playing basketball. I took the entire summer off and it taught me a valuable lesson because there are no vacations when your livelihood depends on your body. You've got to keep yourself in condition year-round. That was the one and only time in my basketball career that I allowed myself to get out of shape.
NESN: Did that lesson, in the end, elongate your career?
Parish: Oh, without a doubt. That was my best teacher, that experience. It was a valuable lesson. Even more, it was an invaluable lesson. Any pro athletes that have had a long career, that's the one thing all of us have in common. We stayed in shape year-round. That's important. You've got to because if you lose that conditioning, it's tough on your body to get it back.
NESN: Later in your career, did you find that you had to lean on the mental aspect of your game more than you did earlier in your career?
Parish: No, not at all. I always had that mental toughness. It was instilled in my training not to cut corners because I learned that's how you get hurt. I always felt that once you get in a regimen, you stick with it. When I was in Chicago, I had a two-year contract and I could have come back for another year, but because I no longer had the motivation to train my body, I felt like that was a sign for me to retire.
NESN: The day after you retired, did you look around and say, what do I do now?
Parish: Yeah, I went, 'Damn, I don't have nothing to do.' Excuse my language. But especially when September rolled around and I wasn't going to training camp, that really felt odd.
NESN: You are obviously more removed from the game now than you were then, but do you still get restless around that time every year? Does part of you miss getting ready for the season?
Parish: I would say the only thing I miss — obviously, I miss the finances — but what I miss most are my teammates and the camaraderie, trash talking in the locker room, trash talking on the court by my teammates. I miss that.
NESN: And you played with some of the all-time great trash talkers. Larry Bird, Kevin McHale…
Parish: Of course, and don't leave out Cedric Maxwell, either. He's probably the biggest trash talker along with Larry and Kevin. Big trash talker.
NESN: Do you ever have a chance to hear his color commentary on the radio?
Parish: I heard he's a very colorful analyst. He has a flair.
NESN: His wardrobe has flair, too. He might be the most well-dressed member of press row.
Parish: Well, he has always had an eye for fashion. I will say that about Cedric. He's always been a well-dressed man.
NESN: So what are you doing with yourself now?
Parish: I'm doing a lot of nothing right now. I'm currently campaigning to be an analyst. I have my representative reaching out to ESPN, TNT and NBA TV. I would like to be an analyst. I would like to talk about the game. If I got an opportunity, that is what I would like to do.
NESN: Why now?
Parish: I'm starting to get bored now. I know it's a little late. I'm damn near 60. Now I want to do stuff.
NESN: In that case, here is your chance for an open forum. What is the one thing about today's game that you would like to make a statement on?
Parish: I'll tell you one thing I do not like about today's game, and that's that zone defense. I don't think professionals should be playing a zone. I think they're just giving up, conceding, personally. When we played there wasn't any thought to playing a zone. It was man-up, man-on-man, mano a mano. Of course, you can't stop anybody one-on-one at the pro level, so that's where your teammates come into play.
NESN: Then I take it you like the Celtics' current system, which is almost entirely man-to-man.
Parish: I love their system. I like the way they play. San Antonio also plays a lot of man on man, as do the Lakers, Miami and Oklahoma City. I like man to man. Zone, to me, is admitting you have a deficiency in your defense. You don't need talent to defend. Defense is mental, like rebounding. You've got to want to do it.
NESN: You were mostly known for two things as a player: defense and shooting. Are those the areas of the game you pay the most attention to when you watch games nowadays?
Parish: Actually, I pay attention to tendencies, what players like to do, and does the defense take that away. For instance, Harden for Oklahoma City. It's just beyond my comprehension why he's able to go left every time. He's left-handed! I don't know why you wouldn't overplay him and force him to go right. I never understood that. Granted, he's talented. He's going to go left eventually, but he shouldn't be able to go left every time. You've got to take something away. Force him to go right. Make him use his weak hand as opposed to his dominant hand.
NESN: Did you need to learn to do that on the fly more when you played, since video and other types of analysis were not as developed as they are now?
Parish: You definitely had to be more of a student of the game back when I played. Technology has gotten better, obviously.
NESN: What sort of analysis do you see yourself doing?
Parish: I would love to be behind the desk like Charles, Kenny and Shaq, also Magic and Jon Barry. If that's not available, I wouldn't mind doing games. Whatever's available, I'm begging, soliciting. I'm trying to get some love.
NESN: You don't feel like you are being overlooked, do you?
Parish: Not at all. Just last summer I started reaching out to people. To be honest, if I wasn't really bored, I probably wouldn't be serious about doing it today. I'm starting to get that restless feeling. It took me long enough to get bored, I have to say that. I've been out of the game 15 years. It's about time.
NESN: At least that means your golf game is sharp.
Parish: (laughs) I'm not a golfer. I like reading, working out, going to the movies, traveling. That's what I do to keep myself busy. In terms of a job, I haven't been doing anything seriously. I did a little work for the Celtics for two or three years and that was about it. I coached for a year [in 2000 with the Maryland Mustangs of the USBL], but I have to say I didn't like the way things were done from a business standpoint. The owner was all about the money. It wasn't about the players, so that kind of soured my taste for the minor leagues. That's why I only did it one year.
NESN: You mentioned that you do a lot of reading. What was the last interesting thing you read?
Parish: Well, I don't know if everyone would find it "interesting," but I read a lot of Stephen King, Dean Koontz, James Patterson.
NESN: Did you pick up that hobby after you retired, or were you a big reader as a player, too?
Parish: I read when I was playing. It helped pass the time on the planes.
NESN: What would you say is your favorite book?
Parish: That's a good question. I would have to say Pet Sematary by Stephen King. Also, I might be getting the title wrong, but I think it was The Dark Tower. I really favor him out of the three authors that I named. I really appreciate Stephen King. I like him a lot. He's got a wicked imagination. His imagination makes you wonder about him sometimes.
NESN: How about The Green Mile?
Parish: I was just going to say that one, too.
NESN: I've got to say, The Shining creeped me out.
Parish: Not like those pets coming back to life. That grabbed me. That novel was a page-turner.
NESN: Do you have any pets?
Parish: When I was married. I don't have any now, but I had a couple dogs.
NESN: And you were careful not to bury them in any ancient Native American burial grounds.
Parish: No, no way, none of that. They may raise up! Not that I'm superstitious or anything, but it did cross my mind.
NESN: Well, let's come back to sports before we leave off. What do you plan on saying at The Tradition?
Parish: I'm just going to speak from the heart. I'm obviously going to thank the Sports Museum for keeping my legacy alive. I'm going to thank them, thank my teammates, thank my presenter, thank my coaches, and just talk about my time in Boston. My stay in Boston was a great time for me. Being traded to Boston catapulted my career to another level. I like speaking from the heart. That way you come across as more sincere.
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