We don’t really know the professional athletes.
But sometimes we get a glimpse of a universal truth, and it makes us feel a little closer to the rich and famous ballplayers.
This happens when we see them with their kids. We see them as dads. And it connects.
Remember that video of Tedy Bruschi rolling around the football field hours before the Patriots played the Eagles in Super Bowl XXXIX? Remember Eddie House’s son, Jaelen House, the little kid with the big eyes, who served as a ballboy for the Celtics? Ever seen tow-headed Dylan Pedroia dragging his red fat bat as he follows his dad around Fenway?
We all have our own dads. A lot of us have sons and daughters. When we see the sports stars being dads, we relate.
I write about this today because Kevin McHale, one of the greatest Celtics of them all, lost his 23-year-old daughter over the weekend. Alexandra “Sasha” McHale, who wore No. 32 when she played high school basketball, died of complications related to lupus.
And so Kevin McHale and his wife Lynn, high school sweethearts from the Iron Range of Minnesota, became devastated new members of the saddest club in the world; they are parents who have lost a child.
McHale was always a favorite on Causeway Street. He played 13 seasons with the Celtics, winning three championship rings. He was Lou Gehrig to Larry Bird’s Babe Ruth. He retired after the 1993 playoffs, joined Larry and pals in the rafters over the parquet floor, and made a life for himself as general manager of the Minnesota Timberwolves.
He always has been in demand for television commentary and was serving as coach of the Houston Rockets when he took a leave of absence to be with his daughter a couple of weeks ago.
McHale is a true family guy. This was always obvious. He comes from a family of normal-sized people and has little use for celebrity status. When he played for the Celtics, his best friends were his buddies from high school and college.
He was decidedly Midwest. Substance over style. Humor over pretension. He was the kind of guy who wanted a big family. Kevin and Lynn started their family during his Celtics days and had five children.
In the era when McHale played, reporters had plenty of access to the ballplayers. McHale was easy to work with. And it often came back to kids — his kids and everybody else’s.
When the Celtics went to the White House the day after winning the 1984 NBA championship at home against the Lakers, Kevin and Lynn McHale brought their 1-year-old daughter Kristyn to the Rose Garden.
In 1985, when the Celtics were required to play a noontime game in New York on Christmas Day, McHale was the Celtic who broke a team rule and stayed home with his family for Christmas Eve and Christmas morning. It made perfect sense to McHale.
He and Lynn had two little kids by this time, and he wanted to be home in Weston. He took the 9 a.m. shuttle from Logan to LaGuardia Christmas morning and made it to Madison Square Garden with time to spare. The Celtics blew a 25-point third-quarter lead and lost to the Knicks in double overtime.
“I’d do it again,’’ McHale told author Peter May (“The Last Banner”) a couple of years later. “People lose their perspective on the family and holiday part of Christmas. Yeah, it’s fun to see the kids open their presents, but it’s also a special time to be together as a family. And that’s what I wanted to do.
“I knew it was wrong from the team perspective, but I knew that I would not miss the game and I got there in plenty of time.’’
Alice Cook, a television reporter at Channel 4 in Boston for 25 years, had three children during the years she covered the Celtics and remembers McHale as the only player who offered parental advice.
“When I was really pregnant and covering practice in 1991, Kevin would stick a basketball under his jersey at practice and ask me how things were going,’’ said Cook. “He told me the pacifier was the greatest invention ever.
“He said that parents would sterilize the pacifier for their first baby, rinse off the pacifier for the second baby, and by the time you had a third kid, you’d just stick the thing in your ears so you didn’t hear the crying.’’
Lynn and Kevin’s third child, Joey, was a 6-year-old ballboy with the Celtics when McHale played his last regular-season home game in 1993. The Garden messageboard flashed, “Thanks, Kevin,” when McHale came off to a thunderous ovation after scoring 17 points with 11 rebounds in 32 minutes. When little Joey asked his dad what all the fuss was about, Kevin McHale kissed the boy on the head and told him, “No big deal.’’
Sasha was the fourth child of Kevin and Lynn McHale. Her funeral is Wednesday in Minnesota.