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Robert Lee Parish (born August 30, 1953 in Shreveport, Louisianamarker) is a retired Americanmarker basketball center. He was known for his strong defense and jump shooting, and was elected to the Basketball Hall of Famemarker in 2003. In 1997, Parish was also named as one of the 50 Greatest Players in NBA History.His nickname was "The Chief", after the fictitious Chief Bromden, a silent, giant Native American character in the film One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest. According to Parish, former Celtics forward Cedric Maxwell gave Parish this nickname because of his stoic nature.

College career

Although Parish had a hugely successful college career at Centenary College of Louisianamarker from 1972 to 1976, it received virtually no notice because of one of the most severe penalties ever levied by the NCAA.

In 1965, the NCAA adopted the so-called "1.6 rule" to determine academic eligibility of incoming freshmen. Under its provisions, freshmen would academically qualify if their high school grades and standardized test scores predicted a minimum college grade point average of 1.6 on a 4-point scale.

Parish took a standardized test that did not fit the NCAA's formula; Centenary converted his score to an equivalent that would fit the formula, which it had done for 12 other athletes in the previous two years. This was a violation of NCAA regulations; however, the NCAA had not paid any attention to the school's actions before Parish's recruitment. Shortly before Parish was to enroll, the NCAA notified Centenary that he and four other basketball players whose test scores had been converted were ineligible to play there, but said that the school would not be subject to penalty if it rescinded the five scholarships. Centenary argued that the rule did not say that the school could not convert the scores of Parish and the other players, while the NCAA argued that Centenary could not use the test taken by Parish and the other players to establish eligibility. When Centenary refused to pull the scholarships, the NCAA issued one of the most draconian sanctions in its history. The school's basketball program was put on probation for 6 years, during which time it was not only barred from postseason play, but its results and statistics were excluded from weekly statistics and its existence was not acknowledged in the NCAA's annual press guides.

Literally within days of its decision, the NCAA repealed the 1.6 ruleā€”but refused to make the five players eligible. A few months later, all five, including Parish, sued the NCAA for their eligibility at Centenary, but lost. The decision made Parish a sort of "invisible man" who racked up huge statistical totals in virtual obscurity. In his four years at Centenary, the Gents went 87-21 and spent 14 weeks in the AP Top 20 poll, mostly during his senior season in 1975-76. He averaged 21.6 points and 16.9 rebounds per game during his Centenary career. However, although the school recognizes his records, the NCAA to this day does not include Parish in its record books. For example, the NCAA's official Division I basketball records book includes a list of all players since the 1972-73 season (Parish's freshman year) to have averaged 15 rebounds during a season. To this day, Parish does not appear on this list, even though he averaged at least that many rebounds in each of his four seasons, and his career rebounding average is higher than that of any player on the NCAA's official list of post-1972 career rebounding leaders.
The NCAA lists seasons by the calendar years in which they end. The only mention of Parish's time at Centenary in the official NCAA record books is that of the Gents' appearances in the AP Poll from the 1973-74 through 1975-76 seasons.

Between his junior and senior years, he played for the US national team at the 1975 Pan American Games. His difficulties with the NCAA indirectly led to his not being recommended for a spot on the team. Centenary paid his way to Salt Lake Citymarker to try out; he made the team, was unanimously elected captain, and led the team to a gold medal.

Throughout his time at Centenary, Parish chose not to escape anonymity by either jumping to the National Basketball Association or American Basketball Association (the latter of which existed until the ABA-NBA merger in 1976), or by transferring to another college, even though the professional ranks offered him potential riches and a transfer would have given him eligibility and far more publicity. At the time, professional scouts did not question his physical skills, but were divided as to whether his decision to stay at Centenary was a show of loyalty or evidence of poor decision-making. One NBA scout said during Parish's senior season, "The jury is still out as to whether Parish can win games for a pro team. He can definitely play in the pros and he's going to get a lot of money, but that doesn't mean he's going to be another Abdul-Jabbar." For his part, Parish would say during the same season, "I didn't transfer because Centenary did nothing wrong. And I have no regrets. None."

NBA career

After college, Parish was drafted in the first round of the 1976 NBA Draft by the Golden State Warriors, before being sent to the Boston Celtics. He had also been drafted by the Utah Stars in the 1973 ABA Special Circumstances draft and by the San Antonio Spurs in the 1975 ABA Draft. Parish signed with the Warriors. He compared his transition from Golden State to Boston in a televised quote where he jokingly said it was like going from an outhouse to a penthouse. Playing 14 years with the Celtics from 1980 to 1994, Parish won three NBA titles (1981, 1984 and 1986) teaming with legendary small forward Larry Bird and power forward Kevin McHale. Parish, Bird and McHale came to be known as "The Big Three". All three members of the "Big Three" were named by the NBA to the NBA's 50th Anniversary All-Time Team and are regarded as one of the greatest frontcourts in NBA history.

He played two more seasons with the Charlotte Hornets and then played his final season with the Chicago Bulls in 1996-97, which led to his fourth NBA title. At 43, he is the third oldest player to ever play an NBA game (to Nat Hickey of the Providence Steamrollers, and Kevin Willis of the Dallas Mavericks) and as of 2007, his 1,611 games played over 21 seasons are unmatched.

Legacy

He was known as a versatile center, using his impressive 7' 1/2" size and speed to contain opposing players, launch precise shots from outside the paint, and finish fast break - the latter uncanny for a man of his stature. Fellow Hall of Famer and teammate from 1985-87 Bill Walton once called Parish the "greatest shooting big man of all time", perhaps because of Parish's field goal and free throw shooting ability, an unusual talent among most centers. His trademark was his high release jump shot, which traversed a very high arc before falling.

In honor of his achievements, the Celtics retired Parish's famous #00 jersey number in 1998 at halftime of a Celtics-Pacers game; this allowed Larry Bird, then head coach of the Pacers, to participate in the ceremony. He was enshrined in the Basketball Hall of Famemarker in 2003. In 1996, Parish, along with teammates Larry Bird and Kevin McHale, was selected as one of the 50 Greatest Players in NBA History.

Today, he remains active as the Celtics' team consultant and mentor for current Celtics big men.

In 1995, Parish's former wife, Nancy Saad, alleged that he psychologically and physically abused her throughout their 10-year relationship, including pushing her "down a flight of stairs" when she was eight months pregnant. Parish denied the allegations, and no charges were ever filed.

Notes

  1. At that time, freshmen were not eligible to play varsity athletics. The NCAA would allow freshmen to play varsity sports other than football and basketball in 1968, and extend freshman varsity eligibility to those sports in 1972.
  2. At that time, the Associated Press ranked only 20 teams instead of today's 25.
  3. John Stockton: Still Going Strong at 41, published March 26, 2003
  4. Sports Illustrated/CNN: Sports' Dirty Secret
  5. Peter May and Jackie MacMullan. "Parish denies he was batterer". Boston Globe. November 23, 1995. 97.
  6. Chris Frates. "Chief interest in NBA". Boston Globe. September 5, 2001. C10.


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