From Chinese to Chipotle: An Edible History of the Boston Celtics (Part Two)
People & Loudon County
Dabbling in the restaurant business might be a common trend for NBA stars now, but in the league's early days, few players made enough from their player salaries to embark on what has always been a risky venture. But in the 1960s and 70s, a select group of Celtics had a hand in the rise of a fast food giant, and later generations of Boston players would make their own mark on commercial dining culture.
While Red's dalliance in Chinese restaurant ownership was likely the earliest such example of Celtic eatery investment, (Bill Russell had a failed venture called Slade's in the 1960s), it would be John Havlicek that took the plunge into restaurant ownership in the 1970s, becoming an early investor in a neighbor's nascent fast food business, named for his daughter. "Dave Thomas, who was the founder, was a friend of mine and he named it after his daughter, Wendy. Wendy used to baby-sit for me in Columbus, Ohio. So I go back a long way with them," said Hondo, as he is sometimes called, in an interview with Celtics.com's Jeff Twiss. "I still have three Wendy's (fast-food restaurants). I also own a piece of a food company in Ohio."
The New York Times
Despite low pay for NBA players in the 1970s, Hondo's interest in investing in the Wendy's chain was piqued after Thomas shared how profitable the business was for his franchisees. "After speaking with him, I became interested in starting my own restaurant," noted the Hall of Fame wing in an interview with the New York Times' Stephen J. Jesselli. "When [founder Dave Thomas] was starting out, they promoted some of our exhibition games," explained Havlicek while speaking to Forbes' Steve Schaefer, a practice he would later pay forward, using some of the proceeds to support youth athletics in towns where he had restaurants.
Teammate Paul Silas would get in on the Wendy's game while taking a respite from basketball after getting fired from his first coaching gig with Donald Sterling’s then-new Los Angeles Clippers. Silas went into business with his friend and Milwaukee Bucks wing Junior Bridgeman.
Fast food began to take off in a big way everywhere as the 1980s arrived on the scene, much to Red's chagrin. Cedrick Maxwell would indulge in his favorite pregame meal, a Big Mac, fries and a coke, and somehow still managed to average over 11 points a game in his final season with the team.
A young Mike Tagliere, now a well-known NFL analyst, recounted how Big Macs punctuated one of his formative sports memories involving Larry Bird, just after he had retired in the early 1990s. "My parents used to take me to French Lick, Indiana," explained Tagliere in a recent article highlighting the encounter.
"French Lick happens to be the hometown of ... Larry Bird. My dad got us in the car and drove us to see his property, ... my brother and I wanted to walk up to the door and meet Larry himself ... we walked up to his front door and rang the doorbell. My heart was beating faster than it probably ever had before, but when the door opened, we saw ... his bodyguard who just stared at us.
"Is Mr. Bird home?" ... The large man started to tell us how it was Larry’s personal home ... but mid-sentence, Larry himself walked out from the kitchen and told the man to let us in. There were a few large bags of McDonald’s on the counter, to which Larry told us we could have whatever we wanted. He said, “They sponsor me, so feel free. There’s no way me and the big fella are going to eat all this food."
While Bird's career eclipsed Maxwell's for a number of reasons, it had less to do with their oppositional attitudes towards eating unhealthy fare and more to do with Bird's innate talent and relentless drive (though, for what it's worth, Larry once battled Michael Jordan for a Big Mac in an iconic commercial from that era).
Bird, in fact, probably ate worse than many less-gifted peers near the end of his career by his own admission, relating his more eyebrow- raising tastes from when he was on the mend from a back injury that would cut his storied career short.
"I was so bored, I'd set around the house, drive my wife crazy, and eat and eat." said Bird in Jack McCullum's history of the 1990-91 Celtics, Unfinished Business. "In two and a half weeks I was off I ate ten gallons of ice cream and seven weddin' cakes. Why them? I ate weddin' cakes 'cause you knew they was gonna be good. I mean, who would [eff] up a weddin' cake?"
Such eating habits probably didn't help prolong Bird's career any more than it did McDaniel's. But the McDonald's-eating duo had teammates who eschewed junk food and even meat altogether, such as Scott Wedman. Known for his healthy lifestyle, Wedman was mocked mercilessly by his teammates for eating so well.
"We would always kid Scotty that he had an advantage over us," said teammate Kevin McHale in Peter May's "The Last Banner". "After games we'd go out and eat and have a few beers and he would go home and do his yoga and the go to sleep. So when he'd beat us in practice, we'd always say there had to be an asterisk because it wasn't fair. Larry would tell him, 'I'd like to see you come out with us after a game and drink as much beer as we do and be able to practice like that.'"
Wedman was rigid early in his career with dietary choices, chalking them up to his upbringing. His mother used to make the family a mysterious health beverage every morning; "It had molasses, wheat germ, eggs, orange juice. That was the root of my health food concerns," explained Wedman. "Scott was was taking care of his body in ways that separated him from other NBA players during that era,” said KC Jones in an interview with Celtic Nation's Michael D. McLellan. “Back then, you didn’t see players meditating, or doing yoga, or eating organic food."
The Ralphie Report
McHale recalled a time they went out to eat and Wedman mistakenly ate McHale's burrito, which had chicken. "I offered to switch with him, but it was too late. He was so upset he had eaten a piece of chicken." It could be that this incident was the proverbial straw which broke the camel's back, as Wedman temporarily gave up his vegetarian lifestyle, even doing a commercial for an area steakhouse. He'd soon go back to his kinder, gentler diet, though.
Bill Walton was another Celtic of that era who did not eat animals, nor any of their products, a fairly radical diet for one of basketball's most radical (in the political sense) players of that time. Robert Parish may have noticed how Wedman stayed spry compared to Larry and Xavier, as he also was a vegetarian who practiced yoga -- no word on the molasses-wheat germ-eggs concoction of Wedman's youth, though. Regardless of who or what turned him onto the change, it paid off big. "Chief," as Parish was sometimes called, had a 21-year career spanning 1,795 games.
Stay tuned for part three where we look at how food impacted Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett, and others, in a unique way.