The Conner Henry Interview
Michael D. McClellan
Thursday, May 6th, 2004
Imagine doing something so well that you are granted membership into one of the world’s most exclusive fraternities, where only one in every 10,000 is selected to perform before an audience of millions. Now imagine yourself sharing the stage with the preeminent talent in your chosen profession, at a time when history unfolds before you in unprecedented abundance, as if manna from heaven. You are there, in the middle of it all, plying your trade in the company of greatness. You know full well the good fortune of your circumstance, and understand that a lifetime dedication to your craft has put you in this, the most enviable of positions.
Who wouldn’t want to be you? Your stage is one of sport’s holiest cathedrals. Your teammates are the reigning world champions, and you have joined them in their quest to repeat and build a dynasty. Your debut comes off as scripted in Hollywood, with shots falling from almost impossible distances and the throaty, hometown crowd roaring its approval. Future hall-of-fame players slap you on the back, wish you well and accept you as one of their own. And when that magical game is finally over, you walk away secure in the fact that you’ve made the most of a golden opportunity.
Your name is Conner Henry. And you, my friend, have arrived.
For legions of basketball junkies, simply making it onto the Boston Celtics roster is the dreamiest of dream jobs. It is a franchise steeped in history, a standard-bearer in the realm of championships, an icon so resplendent in its deal-closing that even now, nearly twenty years removed from its last title, the rest of the NBA can only look up at those sixteen banners with a mixture of aspiration and envy. Now imagine being a Boston Celtic when the roster is populated with names such as Bird, McHale, Parish and Walton. These men are the Mount Rushmore of low-post play, and here you are, feeding the ball to them in practice. In games they find you for spot-open threes, confident that you will bury the shot if given the opportunity. This would be enough for almost anyone, but there are more surprises to come; perhaps no defending champion in NBA history battled as much adversity as the 1986-87 Boston Celtics, as a valiant playoff run would leave them two games short of their coveted repeat.
You and I can only dream of the perfect alchemy of place and circumstance. Henry lived it. He was there the night that Larry Bird stole the ball from Isiah Thomas, and he was there to witness that dagger of a baby hook by a man named Magic. The blast-furnace otherwise known as the Boston Garden? Henry can tell you all about June basketball in the fabled Garden, about the heat and the rats and the obstructed view seating that gave the place its charm.
Conner Henry’s journey from unabashed hoop addict to solid NBA player began in Claremont, California, where his father worked as a college professor at Claremont McKenna College. It was here that he gained unfettered access to the athletic facilities, gravitating to the basketball court in large part because of his lithe frame. Henry played for long hours, sometimes with others, sometimes alone, always dreaming of one day making it onto the game’s biggest stage. His idol was “Pistol” Pete Maravich, and Henry molded his game after the flashy guard, landing at UC Santa Barbara with a repertoire of fancy passes and a reputation for deadly long-range accuracy. He started right away, overcame an injured knee during his junior season, and finished atop the career assists mark in the school’s record books.
The Houston Rockets drafted Henry in the fourth round of the 1986 NBA Draft – the same draft in which the Celtics would draft Maryland star Len Bias. Henry played just 18 games in Texas before landing in Boston, where he quickly made a name for himself as a three-point specialist. Close friends with Dennis Johnson, Henry found himself on the Celtics’ roster courtesy of the NBA’s 10-day contract. Facing the Milwaukee Bucks in his inaugural home game with Team Green, Henry drained his first shot – a three-pointer – and energized the Boston Garden faithful with his hard-nosed play. He would finish the contest by converting 4-of-five from behind the arc, finally exiting the court as the sellout crowd showered him with the spontaneous chant of “Ten more days.”
For Henry, life has come full circle; now the Associate Director of Career Counseling at Claremont McKenna, the former Boston Celtic is back home and doing what he loves. It is his new dream job, but the memories of the old one are still very much alive. He can close his eyes and see Robert Parish, hobbled by a severe ankle sprain, battle Bill Laimbeer and the Detroit Pistons on one leg. He can see Kevin McHale gutting out another superb performance on a broken foot. He can see Bird’s steal and Magic’s hook, and he can take satisfaction in knowing that he was there as hoop history was being written.
The rest of us should be so lucky.