He was, in the eyes of the players, someone to be tolerated, but not necessarily trusted. Still, he had an up-close view of their lives and relationships that was rare back then and today no longer even exists.
Dan Shaughnessy of The Boston Globe has written a book about the good old days of not so very long ago, but nevertheless are days that are gone forever.
It's about the Boston Celtics of the 1980s. They were the legendary teams of Bird, McHale, and Parish; and the Globe's beat writer back then was a young guy of about their age named Shaughnessy. He drank beer with them, traveled with them, stayed in the same hotels, and bet with them on free throw contests. He was friendly with them but not their friend. He had a different agenda. He was, after all, a member of the media, which disqualified him forever from gaining true family status. He was, in the eyes of the players, someone to be tolerated, but not necessarily trusted. Still, he had an up-close view of their lives and relationships that was rare back then and today no longer even exists.
No wonder that the book is called "Wish It Lasted Forever."
Shaughnessy and the Celtics were tied together and there was nothing to do but make the best of a sometimes awkward situation. Except in the case of Robert Parish. Parish was adored by all his teammates for his unselfish style of play, often sacrificing his own self for the good of the team, but he was a sensitive type and did not take well to Shaughnessy's sometimes abrasive writing style. As a matter of fact, the two hardly even spoke during the four years that Shaughnessy covered the team. When, after Parish had an abnormally low-scoring game in the 1985 playoffs, the Globe writer with an instinct for the jugular vein characterized him as "basketball's Mr. October," his teammates thought it was a cheap shot and rushed to Parish's defense. For his part, Parish's attitude toward Shaughnessy turned from frosty to frigid. It never thawed out.
Bird and McHale, on the other hand, both had an instinctive grasp of the sometimes combative relationship between reporters and players. They remained guarded but friendly, McHale with his irrepressible sense of humor and Bird with his unstoppable competitive spirit. Bird and Shaughnessy once got into a foul shot -- shooting contest, Bird with his shooting hand totally taped up, four fingers, thumb and all. After a slow start, he soon got the hang of shooting that way and beat Shaughnessy out of 160 dollars. For all of the millions of dollars Larry Bird made playing professional basketball, none of them was more satisfying than the 160 bucks he beat Shaughnessy out of -- and he never let Dan forget it.
They were a unique group and the Celtics of those days all loved one another, but the true icing on the cake was the addition of Bill Walton to the team in 1985. Walton had been an NBA superstar since the day he arrived in the league after having had a great college career under coach John Wooden at UCLA. A seven footer more interested in passing than scoring, Walton quickly led the Portland Trail Blazers to the 1977 NBA championship and was the league's MVP the following season. Then the injuries started to come. He missed more and more time, sometimes entire seasons, and had less and less impact as the years wore on. By the mid-80s, he was considered to be just a shadow of his former self, a once-great player who could no longer get it done. But he had reconstructive surgery on his foot and longed for one last chance at greatness, though he knew he could no longer go for 40 minutes a night.
Wouldn't it be great, he thought, if he could get himself into a situation where he could combine his unique talents with those of Larry Bird? It so happened that Cedric Maxwell had fallen into disfavor with Celtics' guru Red Auerbach, so Boston had something to give in return. A deal was put together and Maxwell was sent to Walton's then team, the San Diego Clippers, and Bill Walton became a Celtic.
The 1985-86 season would be, thought Walton then and now, the happiest, most fulfilling year of his professional life. One of the first things he did upon arriving in Boston was to assure Parish that he was not after his job but merely to act as his substitute. That's just what happened, and his time spent with Bird and the other Celtics was everything he'd hoped it would be and more. On the way to their 16th championship, they were perhaps the greatest team in NBA history. But change was on the way.
Before the year was over, Shaughnessy would be offered the job of the Globe's baseball columnist. Being from the area (Groton), he knew what the Red Sox meant to the community and he gave up the Celtics' beat. Professionally, it was the right decision, but things would never be the same again. He would go on to become one of the country's most influential sports writers. In 2016, he would be given the J.G. Taylor Spink Award by the Baseball Hall of Fame for "meritorious contributions to baseball writing." But he quickly relearned the lessons he had first been taught as a cub reporter for the Baltimore Evening Sun covering the Orioles in the late 70s; namely that covering baseball teams is very different from the basketball beat. For one thing, baseball rosters are much larger and tend to be more split into factions than are basketball's. Added to that is that baseball is much more a competition between individuals (e.g. batter versus pitcher) than basketball, and thus has less of a family aspect to it.
Both sports have changed dramatically over the years -- Larry Bird is 65 years old now, Shaughnessy is 68, and Walton, 69 -- and life will never be the same again for any of them, but as they reflect on those glorious Celtics years of the 1980s, it is very likely that they all wish it lasted forever.
- Dick Flavin is a New York Times bestselling author; the Boston Red Sox "Poet Laureate" and The Pilot's recently minted Sports' columnist.
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