Jay C. Brandriet
I have this close friend. It doesn’t take much for us to disagree. Actually, we argue about everything. Inside our sports passion, we have a pile of debates we’ve been digging through for almost 20 years.
One of them that drives me nuts is his disrespect for Kevin McHale.
He will say, “He was a BENCH PLAYER. He wasn’t good enough to start. He was a role guy who handled his role well. He was a lurp.”
I’ve been listening to this trash for too long.
The other day I ranked my 75 greatest players of all time. I had McHale number 45 and Paul Pierce number 53.
So my buddy freaks out.
“You have Paul Pierce behind Kevin McHale? The guy scored more points than Larry Bird and you put him behind a guy that typically comes off the bench? Paul was Finals MVP. Kevin couldn’t touch that or him. What a joke!”
I’ve got zero against Pierce. Guy was a stud. I think I called him the 53rd best player to ever live?
He was a more versatile scorer than McHale. He played in three more All-Star games. Paul was better at all those general guard like traits.
Pierce spent more time as a leading man, sure. He later become a Finals MVP, with a loaded roster.
McHale arguably did more, in less of a starring role.
When the NBA says you are both top 75 players, they are comparing you to the 4,500 that have been in the league.
Do the math. That means they are on the exact same level.
KEVIN’S TEAM JOURNEY
McHale was late to his first day of practice. Larry Bird was pissed and thought, “I’ve got something for him today.” McHale blocked Bird’s first two shots and altered a third. Bird thought, “wow, we have a defensive guy here.”
The Boston Celtics had plenty of big men and McHale started off as a bench player.
In that role from 1982-85, Kevin averaged 16.5 points, 7.5 rebounds, and 1.9 blocks per game.
He was named the Sixth Man of the Year, twice. That essentially means he was too good for the bench. It was a strategy and the Celtics benefited from it.
Boston eventually had a time without Cedric Maxwell. McHale became the starter.
First year with that duty? 21.3 ppg, 8.1 rpg, 2.0 bpg, and 57.4 percent shooting.
My buddy had said Kevin could never be a Finals MVP like Pierce.
True, he is 63 years old after all.
How did Kevin play in the Finals vs the Houston Rockets young Twin Towers?
25.8 ppg, 8.5 rpg, 2.5 bpg, and 57 percent from the floor. EVERY BIT as well as Pierce played in 2008.
Kevin was the second best player on arguably the greatest team ever.
He was Larry Bird’s, Pippen.
Then came 1986-87.
Kevin scores 26.1 ppg, 9.9 rpg, 2.2 bpg, and 60.4 percent shooting.
No player has ever had that high of field goal percentage taking as many as 17 shots per night.
McHale became the first guy to hit on 60 percent of his field goals and 80 percent of his free throws in the same season.
He was now an NBA superstar. He came in 4th for league MVP.
Paul Pierce highest finish for MVP? 7th.
HIS UNIQUE BASKETBALL BODY
What some would call a lurp, others may see the irony in that.
Kevin’s odd build was his major advantage on both ends of the court.
“A BENCH PLAYER” DID THIS?
I feel awkward having to explain Kevin is a Hall of Famer. He was named one of the 50 greatest ever in 1996, and one of the 75 greatest this last Tuesday night.
He made the All Defensive team six different seasons. This is loosely saying, he was one of the top ten defensive players in the world six times.
Was 5th in free throw percentage in 1989-90 at a clip of 89.3%. Read that again.
Led the NBA in field goal percentage twice.
In May of 1985, had the following stat line vs the Detroit Pistons.
56 points, on 22-28 shooting, 16 rebounds, 4 assists and 3 blocks. Was that “playing his role well?”
Though he only started half of his career playoff games, his scoring average is higher than Mr. Paul Pierce.
Dennis Rodman played in two All-Star games.
Chris Webber and Reggie Miller were named to five each.
McHale is a seven time All-Star.
Some bench player huh?
AMONG THE TOUGHEST
When getting his number retired (Ya know that thing the most successful franchise does for it’s best players?) He was giving gratitude to his teammates and fans. He was blushing over the memories of three world championships. He randomly said, “I played in a lot of pain.”
You bet he did. The most notable example comes in 1987. He had broken his foot. Bird and many others advised him to shut it down. McHale risked it. After the injury he averaged 21 and 9, and Boston won the East.
THE BACK BREAKING POINTS
You don’t have to listen to me. You must listen to legendary opponents and teammates.
McHale wasn’t just some tall dude that came around and had some production. His best attributes were all time special.
In 2002 I asked Karl Malone who his toughest ever matchup was?
With no hesitation, “Kevin McHale and Charles Barkley.”
How does Barkley feel about this Celtics legend?
“My personal nemesis is Kevin McHale. He was unstoppable offensively. He gave me nightmares on defense. He’s the best player I ever went head to head with.”
“He’s the best in the league with his back to the basket. Nobody has more pet moves.” (Hubie Brown).
Dominique Wilkins added this.
“It got to the point they started calling him the man of a thousand moves. He and Hakeem had the best footwork. Nobody could guard him in the post. He could feel contact. He felt you? You were done. If the double team didn’t come right away, he had too much stuff down in the box.”
When on a roll his Boston teammates called getting the basketball down to Kevin as “THE TORTURE CHAMBER.”
Kevin Garnett on why he would take McHale on his all time team?
“The master of the inside, outside, however you want it game.”
Teammate Quinn Buckner . We knew Kev could drop 30 any night. Length, footwork, supreme confidence. He had that 14. 15 foot jumper. One dribble to a spot. One dribble to the rim. He had all that.”
LARRY KNOWS BEST
When asked about the elite post players, Larry said the following.
“They talk about Olajuwon, others, and they are great. Kevin was as good as anyone I’ve ever seen. He liked his shots. He sacrificed more than anyone.”
The saddest part of this long running McHale debate? My buddy is a Celtics fan who saw him play. He respects him for close lining Rambis, but has never been able to absorb his impact.
What’s the issue with me having him centimeters ahead of Paul Pierce?
Your Hall of Famer is better than my Hall of Famer?
That’s like arguing if the sky was more blue yesterday, or today.
My friend doesn’t listen very well, and I’m obnoxious when I preach.
It needs to soak in through print.
This Kevin McHale argument is over!
They don’t just let anyone behind the bar at Cheers.
Jay C. Brandriet