During my teen years, my greatest love was the Boston Celtics. I was enamored with Larry Bird, Kevin McHale and Robert Parish- in a manly sort of way of course. The Red Sox had cooled off after the debacle of 1978. The Big Three captured the heart of New England, selling out the venerable Boston Garden for years on end. I had many fond memories of the Boston Garden. I recall seeing Parish there when he was still a member of the Warriors. I hated being up in the nosebleeds, fearful of falling down those steep cement steps. But my father often had tickets during those years as he courted customers. I was an occasional tag along. Including the magnificent 1984 Eastern Conference Game 7 versus the Knicks.
So, the other day i was in the local library looking for some non-fiction and saw Peter May’s book The Big Three. It was time to relive part of my youth.
But it was much more than that. I learned alot about how the NBA used to be. It is astounding how different the NBA is today. I’m not talking about the style of play. I’m talking about free agency, the draft and more. All of these things mattered, setting up both the rise and the fall of one of the greatest frontcourts in all of NBA history.
In the late 70’s and early 80’s, when you signed a free agent you had to pay the other team compensation. This was negotiated, and a master negotiator got the best end of the deal. Red was a master negotiator, often getting the best end of the deal. It was these types of deals that set them up to trade down to get McHale and Parish.
It was the strange trade rules that prevented Boston from trading any of them away, crippling the Celtics just like Bird and McHale suffered crippling injuries that stifled their careers in what should have been their prime. Trading Bird would have been like trading Ted Williams or Yaz. McHale, maybe, but those rules meant that there was no way they could get what he was worth.
So, Peter May provided some very interesting background to the game, and the players. He had chapters on each of them. Not as in depth as a biography, but certainly the high points and their development as players. Oddly, both Parish and McHale attended schools that spent the duration of their college careers under probation.
Their time together as starters was too short thanks to Bird’s back (well, his heels first) and McHale’s ankles. One can only imagine what might have been if those injures had not seriously curtailed their abilities on the court.
The 1980’s were a transitional time in basketball. The resurgence brought about by Bird and Magic initiated numerous changes in the industry. Salaries soared. The draft became serious business (prior to this they never even brought in players for interviews). During their period of dominance, the game change on and off the court.
I’m not a big fan of Peter May. But this book is a good one, filling in many of those gaps that existed before the incredible transformation of information accumulation resulting from the internet. This was a time before bloggers (including Celtics Blog) and access to 24-hour news stations (ESPN was just getting started). I’m glad he put much of this down for people like me to remember, or learn for the first time. Any fan of the NBA, and especially the Boston Celtics ought to read a copy.
Read Full Post »