Ankle could force McHale to call it quits

June 17, 1992|By Bruce Bennett | Bruce Bennett,Knight-Ridder

HIBBING, Minn. -- Kevin McHale, who went from Hibbing High School to the University of Minnesota to an outstanding 12-year career with the NBA's Boston Celtics, says a recurring problem in his left ankle may force him to retire this year.

McHale, 34, has a year left on a contract that reportedly is worth more than $3 million annually. But an ankle injury that has been bothering him for a year and a half never really came around the way he had hoped. He has ruled out further surgery.

"What are you going to do?" he said with a shrug Monday after a round of golf at Mesaba Country Club. "I've had a lot of good years. This past one was a tough one for me. I played only 56 games. It was frustrating."

McHale said he will try to rehabilitate the ankle this summer but wasn't optimistic it would respond enough to let him play up to his high standards. "Hopefully, I can go back to camp in the fall, but if it doesn't feel good I'm not going to play again," he said.

If he can't fulfill his contract, he's sure the team will understand. "It won't be a problem," he said. "If I can't go, I can't go. I'll be honest with them. And we'll part ways."

McHale sustained a bad ankle sprain a year ago in February and had surgery on it last summer. "I tore the ligaments completely off it," he said. "I don't have any ligaments holding my ankle in place. They tried to reconstruct them, but there wasn't anything there."

Now deterioration has taken place around the joint capsule, making the ankle sore all the time. "I'm not going to have any more surgery," he said. "At this stage of my career, why?

"I'll try to rehab it this summer, doing some strengthening exercises and taking it easy, yet doing enough so I can get my foot, leg and calf strong. We'll see how it is in the fall and make a decision then."

It was a tough year for the Celtics, who made the playoffs but lost in the second round to Cleveland. Their famous frontcourt of McHale, Larry Bird and Robert Parish began to show its whiskers.

"Robert was pretty free of injuries, but Larry, Dee Brown and myself all went down early in the year," McHale said. "Then we came back and won 22 out of 24 in one stretch, including a few in the playoffs. We had a good little run going, but ..."

McHale said the Celtics are now bunched with a group of teams -- Cleveland, New York, maybe Detroit, Utah and some others -- "in the middle of a pack, just a cut below Chicago and Portland. After being a dominating team, that's tough to accept."

He wasn't as charitable in his assessment of his home-state team, the last-place Minnesota Timberwolves, who ironically were holding a golf outing at Mesaba the same day McHale played.

The Timberwolves made a mistake, he said, in the last two drafts, taking centers Felton Spencer and Luc Longley. "I like Pooh Richardson [Minnesota's first-round choice in 1989], but you have to take the best player available, and they didn't do that," he said. "By drafting the way they have the last couple years, they've set themselves back."

So if he ran the Timberwolves, who would he draft this year with the No. 3 pick next week? "Probably [Christian] Laettner," he said.

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