He almost pulled it off. He almost slipped through his brilliant
career without a scratch and came close to walking away from the
NBA with his reputation intact, waving one last time to the
weepy-eyed fans, living a lie to the end.
Robert Parish hopes to play one more season with the Charlotte
Hornets, but things won't be the same for the venerable Chief,
who turns 42 in August. A light has been shined on his dark
side, and it probably would be a good thing if we all just got
up off our knees now. After his ex-wife's description of how
Parish beat her (page 62), it doesn't matter how many points he
has scored or games he has played.
Our hero, it turns out, is the worst kind of coward. According
to Nancy Saad, Parish abused her for years, beginning when they
were dating in 1981 and culminating in a severe beating during
the '87 NBA playoffs that left her hospitalized with head
injuries for a week. She draws a detailed picture of Parish that
could not be more disparate from the public perception of the
future Hall of Famer, and it leaves us wondering how, in this
age of a minicam on every corner, we could have been so blind.
Maybe the young tough guys in the press box are not as far
removed from the old ink-stained lushes who played cards with
their heroes on the midnight train to Chicago as we would like
Parish was respected, inside the league and out, for his
restrained demeanor. He rarely spoke ill of teammates, coaches
or even officials, and aside from a memorable sucker punch at
Detroit Piston center Bill Laimbeer in the 1987 playoffs, public
outbursts during his career totaled zero.
Unfortunately, the 14-year Boston Celtic veteran didn't exhibit
the same self-control at home. Saad, 5'9", says her 7'1",
230-pound ex-husband once kicked her down a flight of stairs
when she was eight months pregnant. Clearly, Parish didn't waste
his best moves on the basketball court. He saved them for his
few TV commercials and interviews, where he succeeded in fooling
most of the people all of the time.
There were members of the media who had heard rumors that Parish
battered Saad, but he was never exposed. True, until recently
Saad had never spoken publicly about the abuse, but she claims
her phone didn't exactly ring off the hook as journalists tried
to check out what they'd heard. "I kept wondering when someone
would call," she says. Unlike Parish, Saad had a history of
emotional outbursts in public, including memorable verbal
assaults on reporters, referees and opponents. She was casually
dismissed as a crazy woman by most of the Boston media,
including this alleged hard guy who went soft on the Chief. I
was there. I was fooled. In five years at the Boston Herald, I
wrote more than a couple of columns in praise of Parish, the
ageless wonder, as graceful off the court as on. I was a
slow-footed dupe, oblivious to the real Parish and therefore
part of the lie.
In the winter of 1990-91, at the age of 37, Parish was in the
midst of perhaps the most remarkable season of his career, and
in detailing his resurgence, Boston reporters would often make
lighthearted mention of his divorce, finalized in September
1990. The implication was clear: good for the Chief. He finally
got rid of her, as if she'd been an extra 10 pounds around the
waist. Now look how happy he is.
Parish left Boston a year ago, but the Celtics don't let go of
the past easily. Parish's 00 is the next Boston uniform number
likely to be retired. Last season there were Celtic fans who
felt that Reggie Lewis, if indeed cocaine had been a factor in
his death, did not deserve to have his number retired. How do
they feel about Parish? Can abusing your body with drugs be
worse than abusing your spouse?
Of course, even if they saw the other side of Parish, some fans
would continue to cheer the Chief as long as he could bury the
12-foot turnaround. Even after the secret life of O.J. Simpson
was laid out, there remain vocal cretins who believe domestic
abuse is a personal matter, no different from, say, religion or
one's choice of bedroom carpet. To them, wife beating is no
different from wife cheating. We'll boo the drug user and the
malingerer and the pitcher who can't keep his fastball down. The
wife beater? Hey, what business is that of ours?
These same fans invariably want to know why women don't just
leave, when they should ask: Why don't their husbands just stop
hitting them? These fans wait for an explanation from their
hero, as if there can be a good reason to punch your wife.
Warren Moon can line up with his family and plead until he
passes out, but there still is no room for argument here: Guys
shouldn't beat up their wives or girlfriends, not once, not
ever. Any athlete who beat his child would be roundly and
rightly condemned, and men who beat their wives or girlfriends
should be treated likewise. There is no gray area when a woman
has a black eye. There are no points awarded if she declines to
press charges or fails to document every detail of the abuse.
And there sure shouldn't be a statute of limitations on kicking
a pregnant woman down the stairs.
COLOR PHOTO: JOHN W. MCDONOUGH [Robert Parish]