Due to some killer work on NBA TV every Tuesday, and his job sustaining those contributions at TNT during the playoffs, Hall of Famer Kevin McHale has enjoyed a career renaissance of late. Good thing, too, because the sporting world (myself included) really needed to stop thinking of him as the guy that drafted and/or traded for about 32 6-3 shooting guards in his later years as GM of the Minnesota Timberwolves. Or as the guy who wrote this.
Or, most damning, we needed to stop thinking of him as the biggest reason why Kevin Garnett's prime was squandered on terrible teams.
He also drafted The Kid, back in 1995. And McHale earns points for trading Garnett back onto, essentially, national TV in 2007. He also spearheaded Minnesota's rebuilding movement with the deal, as it brought in a 20 and 10 man in Al Jefferson while clearing loads of cap space. It was McHale's successor that frittered that away. And, though we wish McHale all the best, we hope NBA TV won't be looking for his successor anytime soon, as he seeks out head coaching gigs. Didn't even know the guy wanted to coach, if we're honest.
Didn't know a lot of things, until reading this fantastic Q and A with McHale from SLAM Thursday, put together by Tzvi Twersky. You really should read the whole thing. And, until you do, we'll glom onto a couple of excerpts if you don't mind.
SLAM: You had a seemingly endless array of post moves. Where and how did you develop them, or were they just natural?
KM: I actually didn't start growing 'til I was a sophomore in high school. So I was small, and I had to get shots under people, over people, throw shots. I just developed a lot of different things. I kinda always had a ball in my hand. I'd play one-on-one, two-on-two, three-on-three. I just played ball all the time. And when you play enough, you just develop an ability to get the ball in the hole. And a big part of it is, even when I was a young kid and smaller, I could always put the ball in the hole. It was one thing I was always blessed with, being able to get the ball in the hole from different angles, and then I just played a lot. So when I got in the post, I was just upfaking, pivoting, just trying to shake loose from guys. And the good Lord blessed me; I grew from 5-11 as a sophomore to 6-7, 6-8, maybe close to 6-9, by the end of my senior year of high school, and I grew to be 6-10 and a quarter. But I never knew that [was going to happen]. When I first became a basketball junkie, I was just a small, little skinny dude and then I became a real tall, skinny dude.
How often do we hear this from not only NBA players, but NBA greats?
For every Kareem Abdul-Jabbar or Shaquille O'Neal, there always seems to be a McHale, a Scottie Pippen, or Dennis Rodman that barely had varsity size in high school, and grew into NBA size later on while still boasting those smaller kid traits. And by "smaller kid," I mean the ability to do whatever it took to contribute on both ends, while featuring the enthusiasm and obsession of a kid that has to work twice as hard.
Not that the big boys (with big man size) don't have to work just as hard, but there is something to having to fight through the fire when your cheekbones come up to their elbows, first.
It's also a good reason why so many international players, the ones that start playing professional ball at an early age, are so well-rounded. So, apparently that's the answer. Every 5-8 American male should have to get a roster spot on a D-League team at age 15 for a semester. You'll love Fort Wayne, kids.
SLAM: Red Auerbach orchestrated a Draft week trade that ended up with you starting your career in Boston. Do you ever imagine what your career would've been like if you started elsewhere?
Kevin McHale: Yeah, not nearly as good, I can tell you that. The way the Draft was laid out, I didn't know where anybody was gonna go or what was going to happen. Then, the night before the Draft, Boston makes a trade with Golden State. Golden State goes from three to one; Boston also gets Robert Parish. I get a call later on in the evening, Red [Auerbach] says, "Utah is going to take Darrell Griffith two, so we're going to take you three. We got a big guy in Robert Parish we really like. We think that's really going to work out. We want to get bigger across the front line." And, man, what a blessing. Unbelievable. Got there and just started playing. Larry [Bird] was in his second year; in training camp we had Tiny Archibald and Dave Cowens, Pete Maravich, a bunch of veterans. It was a phenomenal experience the whole time.
Also remember that Red Auerbach was the man who managed to bring in Bill Russell, Tom Heinsohn and K.C. Jones in one draft. That's three Hall of Famers, and the core of a team that would combine with Bob Cousy to reel off the start of those endless championships. Russell, Heinsohn and Jones would also lead the Celtics to five championships as coaches, as well.
So, yes. We know what you're thinking. He was the anti-Kahn.
SLAM: You've been a player, coach, GM and now you're an analyst for TNT. Is the view of the game different on TV than it was courtside?
KM: Not too much. It's still basketball. I really enjoy it. The Turner people are fantastic people to work with. But I'll tell you what, you can take GM, you can take coach, you can take [analyst], but there's nothing like playing. I'll tell you what I miss most: standing at halfcourt, looking at the other guy and saying, "Let's get it on."
Only Hall of Famers can get away with "standing at halfcourt, looking at the other guy, and saying 'let's get it on.'" Believe me, I've tried.