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Still Going Strong
Alexander Wolff
March 11, 1991
At 37, Robert Parish is the oldest player in the NBA—and he's playing better than ever
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March 11, 1991

Still Going Strong

At 37, Robert Parish is the oldest player in the NBA—and he's playing better than ever

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Rule No. 5: Avoid running at all times.

"I'm in the wrong profession for that," Parish says.

In fact, throughout his career in Boston, he has shown a knack for loping again and again to the rescue. His average number of shots per game slowly declined through the 1980s, as Bird and McHale became more established across the front line and as Danny Ainge was integrated more prominently into the offense. But when Bird missed all but six games of the 1988-89 season, Parish's shots and points jumped, while his accuracy held steady.

The past two months of this season have been similar. From Jan. 6 to March 1, Bird and McHale were available together for only three games. Yet the Celts were 16-10 in that span and recently concluded a nine-game stretch away from Boston Garden with six wins. Parish was the anchor. In an instructive first quarter at the Forum on Feb. 15, Parish dropped 21 points on the Los Angeles Lakers' Vlade Divac and then added seven more big ones in the fourth period of a 98-85 win. On Feb. 27, after the Minnesota Timberwolves had sneaked back to within four points in the final minute and a half, the Chief came up with a dunk and a jumper to put away a 116-111 victory. After Parish put up 21 points and took down nine second-half rebounds to help beat the San Antonio Spurs 108-98 last Friday night, Bird said, "He looks as good as he did when I was just a kid."

You already know Rule No. 6: Don't look back. Something might be gaining on you.

"I never look back," Parish says. "Besides, what's to look back for?"

But then he sneaks a peek. "Basketball's been great for me. It's enabled me to do things I would never have been able to do. It's given me a livelihood, status and reputation. It's taught me to take pride in my body. And it taught me patience. I'd never been real big on patience."

In the fall of 1989, Parish signed a two-year contract extension worth $5.5 million. That deal will carry him through his 38th birthday and next season. "I'm definitely winding down," he says. "I feel I have three strong years left. That puts me at 40. After that, we'll wait and see." A reserve role, perhaps for a team that's one backup center away from contending for a championship, wouldn't bother him at all. "I put my ego aside a long time ago," he says.

Parish has not missed more than 10 regular-season games in any one of his 15 years in the league. Thus he has been phenomenally durable, even if he hasn't always been entirely healthy. "I've never had a major injury," he says. "And at center, if you can avoid a major injuy, the older you get, the better you get. You know the shortcuts and when to pick your spots. You see all the defenses. You've got to be smarter. If you're not, something's wrong."

Walton, for one, believes Parish will outlast both Bird and McHale. "His body's younger," he says. "I don't see him slowing down at all—although I don't see the fun being there for him after Larry and Kevin retire. Of the three of them, the Chief's the healthiest and strongest."

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