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Ball Don't Lie

Robert Parish is ‘restless’ and wants an NBA coaching job, but may be going about it the wrong way

Kelly Dwyer
Ball Don't Lie

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Robert Parish stands in front of the Colosseum in 2007 (Getty Images)

Robert Parish would like a job. The Basketball Hall of Famer and four-time NBA champion hasn’t been associated with the NBA since his final season with the Chicago Bulls in 1996-97, and he cannot understand why he’s been passed over for so many potential NBA coaching or scouting gigs while so many of his contemporaries continue to find work both on the sideline and in the front office. The nine-time All-Star would like to put an end to this.

In a revealing interview with Stan Grossfeld of the Boston Globe, Parish points out that he’s “restless” and “need(s) the money,” and we can’t blame the guy. Until you read on, and find out that Parish’s aloof off-court nature from his playing days has carried over into his post-NBA career, and that his tastes in NBA employment might be a little too selective.

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Still, the frustrations are setting in as he sees his former teammates Danny Ainge, Larry Bird, and Kevin McHale all working as both NBA GMs and NBA head coaches since each retired in the early to mid 1990s. As well as former teammates Kevin Pritchard, Michael Jordan and Steve Kerr – players that have gone on to work as personnel bosses. To say nothing of former teammates Rick Carlisle, John Lucas, the late Dennis Johnson, Quinn Buckner, Chris Ford, and M.L. Carr; all of whom worked as head coaches. And this is all before getting into ex-teammates turned assistant coaches like Jerry Sichting, Ed Pinckney, Brian Shaw, Clifford Ray, Joe Wolf, Pete Myers, and Randy Brown. Without even listing the endless opponents from the era that stayed with the league following retirement as players.

Parish details his take on his job searches, from the Globe:

“In my case, I don’t have any friends,’’ Parish said. “I saw Kevin at an event; he said he was going to call me. He never called. I called Larry twice when he was at the Indiana Pacers; he never returned my call. And not just Larry. Across the board, most NBA teams do not call back. You need a court order just to get a phone call back from these organizations. I’m not a part of their fraternity.”

Bird has a rather different recollection. Traveling, he sent a concise text in response to questions from the Globe: “Robert never called me for a job. Period.”

McHale, for his part, expressed remorse in a voicemail. He said he tried to hire Parish when he was in Minnesota, but “I went back and checked . . . we were actually reducing spots at the time. Then I was let go from Minnesota.”

He says he saw Parish later, when McHale worked for TNT.

“I feel terrible about the whole thing, but I just didn’t have a position,’’ McHale said. “I would have loved to have hired Robert if something would’ve came up.”

More damning, Parish goes on to call Danny Ainge “selfish” in the interview in regards to a conflict about shot attempts in the late 1980s. Not exactly the best word to use on record, even if the incident was nearly a quarter of a century ago, in Ainge’s hometown paper. Especially while you’re looking for a job from the guy.

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Worse is the Globe’s assertion that Parish turned down a $80,000 a year job with the Celtics in 2004 because the role was in public relations, the salary was too low, and because he doesn’t want to live in Boston full time because the weather is not to his liking. Parish was after a better-compensated sidelines role on a Celtics team in flux with former combatant Doc Rivers about to take on the head coaching role with his assistant staff already in mind. A staff that already included former Parish teammate Clifford Ray.

Parish dances around having the best of both worlds in talking with the Globe:

“I want to make it clear, I’m not whining, and the Celtics owe me nothing. But having said that, you would think at least I would have a conversation about a coaching job, since that’s what I want to do.”

Parish, who earned roughly $24 million in 21 years in the NBA, says he needs a job with a substantial six-to-seven-figure salary. “I don’t want to have to start over. I’m not homeless and I’m not penniless, but I need to work.”

Parish, who lives in an immaculate, tastefully decorated tan stucco home on the edge of a golf course, says his money was drained away because he wasn’t working and he was “too generous” with family, friends, and significant others.

“There’s no need in crying about that now. I’m not making no excuses ’cause I’m to blame. I enjoyed it. I don’t want to come across as Poor Robert.’’

It’s understandable that after retiring as a champion in 1997 with the Bulls, Parish would want to step away for a while. His 1611 career NBA games still rank as the most played in league history, a startling accomplishment when you realize that Parish (unlike most blue-chippers of the modern era) played his first NBA game at age 23. We’re right to fawn about how amazing Kobe Bryant continues to be deep into a career that saw him playing right out of high school, but also consider the fact that Kobe would need until midway through the 2017-18 season to break Parish’s records for most NBA games played.

And that’s only if Kobe makes it out of this season without missing a contest. And the next four and a half seasons after that.

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Boston's Big Three, 1980s Version (Getty Images)

The Globe went on to note two run-ins (one significant, one not so much) with the law that may have gotten in the way of his return to the sidelines, that Parish did do well as a head coach with the USBL’s Maryland Mustangs in 2001 (winning the Coach of the Year Award), and the fact that he has sold off some of his championship rings over the last couple of years to make ends meet. In all, though you root for someone that you respected quite a bit as a player, the feature doesn’t present Parish in the best light.

You don’t want to act callous in discussing Parish’s situation, but he also hasn’t worked much since retiring in 1997, and refused an $80,000 entry level position with the Celtics a while back that would have only consisted of promotional trips and events that would also serve to keep him in the public eye. He admits that recently, even after getting desperate for NBA work, he still had issues returning calls from NBA teams.

And while the Larry Bird aside is a “he said/he said” scenario, also remember that Bird is the same guy that imported trainers and bench help (including one staffer that acted as Bird’s game-day workout partner dating back to the early 1980s) from the Boston Celtics to the Indiana Pacers in 1997 when Rick Pitino cleared house, and that the Pacers (mostly run under Bird over the last decade and a half) feature an unending array of former players working both behind the scenes or in public for the team. This is a loyal organization when it comes to ex-players, and it would be hard to fathom them turning down a spot for Parish (even as a non-Pacer) had he reached out.

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In all, while Stan Grossfeld at the Boston Globe did fantastic work in detailing Parish’s struggles to find NBA employment, this column may have done more harm than good. Then again, losing out on the same sort of gigs that his teammates took on may not have to be the low point. Maybe this interview can be the low point, and Parish can start to understand that NBA teams aren’t exactly keen on offering “substantial six-to-seven-figure” salaries for ex-players that haven’t been in the NBA since 1997 to start working as assistant coaches. While only in warm weather climates, on top of that.

It was his choice to keep teammates and opponents at arm’s length, and to avoid phone calls or nights out with the boys. I can totally understand this, and relate to it. But if he wants in the fraternity that those phone calls and cheery convos allowed others into, Robert Parish is going to have to make up for lost time.

And possibly lower his expectations for what he considers suitable employment. As any bleary-eyed tape operator, assistant coach up at all hours working with the team’s 12th man, and scout working out of a rented Chevy Cobalt will happily tell Robert Parish.

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