During his 14-year tenure in a city that deemed him the “Chief,” Robert Parish made history on its court as a Celtic. Now, the NBA legend and Hall of Famer is back in Boston, but this time to mentor its adolescent boys as they start a journey of their own.
EBONY got the chance to talk with the man himself about his work with The Boys and Girls Club of Boston and their Passport to Manhood Program, the people who helped shape him, and a potential endeavor that will bring him back on the NBA court.
EBONY: Can you tell me about the Passport to Manhood Program and what you’re doing here today?
Robert Parish: I was very drawn to this particular program because of the work the Boys and Girls Club is doing for the youth of the community…I think it’s very important what the Boys and Girls Club and Gillette are doing. They have fostered a relationship for the betterment of our children. That’s important and they should be commended for that because they’re doing something that’s going to help our youth be better people in the future. They’re giving our kids the tools they need to make good decisions, not only about what they look like and what they smell like, but also who they hang out with. You know making intelligent choices. That’s very important.
EBONY: What are your feelings on being able to give back to the Boston community after having made such a name for yourself on the court as a Celtic?
RP: I think it’s very important to give something back. Hopefully I was able to help highlight some of the pitfalls of growing from adolescence to a teenager. Good grooming and hygiene are essential. It’s never too early to start being concerned about your appearance—first impressions are everything. Part of the message that I was trying to instill in them was to start taking care of yourself early because you want to begin making good habits instead of bad habits. Also, be confident. If you don’t feel good about yourself, how can you expect others to? I always feel like you should walk into a room or walk down the street, like you belong. That’s the philosophy that I always try to subscribe to.
EBONY: Who was your mentor growing up?
RP: To be honest my mentor was my mom and dad. I was very blessed and fortunate to have parents like I had. I was so much taller than everyone else and had a tendency to slouch as a result. I didn’t walk with correct posture. And so my parents stayed on me about that – pushing me to walk erect, with my head up. I was always looking at the ground because I was self-conscious about my height. I had big feet, big hands, and all that. Not to mention all of the ridicule that I took from my antagonist growing up. They taught me to be proud of who I was and to not let anyone or anything make me feel otherwise.
EBONY: What is one piece of advice that you learned from your parents that has stuck with you through the years?
RP: One piece of advice that I still subscribe to in terms of philosophy is to treat others like you would want to be treated. That’s something that my parents always told us, not just me, but my siblings also. Treat people like you want to be treated. That’s a philosophy that I always try to monitor myself by.
EBONY: You hold the record for playing more games than any other player in NBA history. What has and does the game of basketball mean to you?
RP: Everything that I have and had experienced is a result of basketball. Basketball has done a lot for me. I am very honored and I think it was a privilege that I was able to play basketball for a living.
EBONY: You made history with the Celtics—you, Larry Bird and Kevin McHale became known as the “Big Three.” What was the most memorable part of being on the court with these guys?
RP: What stood out for me, when I think about Larry and Kevin is that during their premium years they got better every year. I always respected that about them, because they didn’t have to. Their basketball resume was so impressive they could have just let themselves live off of their past accomplishments, but they never did. They had a 5 to 6 year window where they got better every year. And so I had to step my game up because they stepped their game up.
EBONY: Are you still in touch with them today?
RP: Only during the playoffs. We don’t correspond much during the season, but during the playoffs I follow what they’re doing more closely, because Larry is with the [Indiana] Pacers and is Kevin with the [Houston] Rockets. And obviously I follow the Celtics that goes without saying.
EBONY: What are you up to these days? Any new projects in the works?
RP: I do things like this [Passport to Manhood Program] where I speak to the youth. I also work with the NBA—I guess you could call me an ambassador for the NBA. I promote not only the organization, but also the game of basketball. They send me to different countries, not just the U.S., to teach clinics and take part in various speaking engagements geared towards young people. It’s great because I get to meet different people and experience different cultures.
EBONY: What’s been something surprising in that experience of going abroad and teaching the game of basketball?
RP: How hungry they are for basketball knowledge. That’s what impressed me about going abroad, the thirst for anything pertaining to basketball. They just loved it, especially when they meet a former player. You know someone who has played in the NBA and that they can relate to.
EBONY: You’ve mentioned that you would like to get back into the NBA as a coach— any moves on that front?
RP: Not yet, I’m still waiting to hear back. I got a late start, so I’m fishing the field right now. Hopefully by next year something will open up for me.
EBONY: Any teams in particular that you’re hoping to make that move to?
RP: If I had a choice, which I probably don’t, I would prefer working for a good team as opposed to an underachiever. If I had a choice in the matter, ha.
EBONY: What is one thing you wish you had known as a ball player that you would want to share with young players?
RP: I would tell them to stop and revel in their accomplishments. I always thought doing that would breed complacency, so I never did pat myself on the back for all I achieved in that moment. I did it after I had retired. So now I’m patting myself on the back, but I wish I had enjoyed the whole experience more – that I had taken the time to enjoy the whole journey of my career instead of after the fact. Enjoy it. That’s something that I have to say I really like about LeBron James. He’s enjoying the whole process of his career.
The Boys and Girls Club’s Passport to Manhood Program promotes and teaches responsibility to Club boys ages 11 to 14. It consists of 14 sessions, each concentrating on a specific aspect of character and manhood through highly interactive activities.
Ravelle Worthington is a writer living in New York. Follow her on Twitter @ravmo.