Dan Shaughnessy

Son is in forecast

Duke's Henderson has bright future

In preparation for tonight's game vs. Villanova, Duke's Gerald Henderson loosens up at practice. In preparation for tonight's game vs. Villanova, Duke's Gerald Henderson loosens up at practice. (Jim Davis/Globe Staff)
By Dan Shaughnessy
Globe Columnist / March 26, 2009
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If you are a basketball family, there's a moment when the scales finally tip in favor of the kid.

You know the drill. Father and son. One-on-one in the driveway, shooting at the hoop over the garage. In the early years, Dad toys with the boy, teaching him how to play and sometimes letting him get close to victory.

Years pass and Junior gets bigger and stronger. Dad just gets older, slower, wider. The games get a little competitive, but Dad still wins probably just because that's the way it's always been.

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Then comes the day everything changes. Junior beats Dad in sweaty overtime and that's it. It's the ultimate irreversible rite of passage for father and son. From that day forward, Dad can only watch. Junior is the family ballplayer and Dad's just a guy with boring stories of the glory days.

Meet the Hendersons. Gerald and Gerald Jr.

Gerald the dad won two championships with the Celtics. He made the most important steal in franchise history (sorry, Hondo and Larry). He also was the man traded for the pick that became Len Bias. Gerald the son is a starter and probably the best player on the Duke squad that tonight plays Villanova in the second game of the East Regional doubleheader at the Garden.

Young Gerald was born in December 1987 in Caldwell, N.J., while his dad was playing for the 76ers.

They played ball out back when the kid was growing up, but the dad never let the kid win.

"I beat him that last time when he was in ninth, 10th grade," says Gerald Sr. "I played him until I got to the point where I said, 'I can't take this punishment no more.' He was getting bigger and stronger. He had that athleticism. That's something you can't teach. He was getting too good, so I quit."

"He was smart," says Gerald Jr. "Once I started getting really good, he stopped playing me. He knew he wanted to go out on top. I was 12-13. Once I started tapping the backboard on my layups, he gave up."

And so Gerald Sr. retired undefeated against Junior.

Young Gerald played his high school ball at the Episcopal Academy in Merion, Pa., and was a McDonald's All-American, and also won the McDonald's slam dunk contest. He almost went to Villanova and knows a lot of the Wildcats from his AAU days. His sister graduated from Villanova last spring.

Henderson's a go-to guy for Duke. At 6 feet 4 inches, 215 pounds, Gerald Jr.'s got a couple of inches on the old man and projects to be a better pro than his dad. He's got the NBA first step, the vertical leap, and explosiveness to the basket, but could use some work on his midrange jump shot. He wears No. 15 for the Blue Devils.

Gerald Henderson Sr. starred at Virginia Commonwealth, then wore No. 43 when he joined the Celtics along with Larry Bird and M.L. Carr in 1979-80.

Henderson's signature moment with the Celtics came in the 1984 Finals against the Lakers. The series (the best of the Bird era) was wall to wall with Hall of Famers, but it was Henderson's steal that made the difference. The Celtics were about to go down, 2-0, at home. LA led by 2 and had the ball with mere seconds remaining. After the Lakers successfully inbounded under the Celtics' basket, James Worthy threw a lazy crosscourt pass that Henderson stole and converted for a tying layup. Boston won in OT, then lost Game 3 at the Forum, 137-104. The Celtics wound up winning the series in seven games, but without Henderson's steal, they'd have trailed, 3-0, and no doubt expired.

"If it wasn't for me, they wouldn't have that 15th banner up there," says Gerald Sr.

He's right.

"K.C. [Jones] had put me and M.L. in the game," he remembers. "We were telling each other to make something happen. The defense rotated perfectly. I had to come back to make that steal. That pass was just a softie up there. I skipped in there and laid that thing in and we were tied. That was it."

"I've seen that steal hundreds of times," says Gerald Jr., smiling.

The 1984 Finals wound being Henderson's farewell scene with the Celtics. In the autumn of '84, he signed with the Celtics after a lengthy negotiation that stretched into the preseason. Before the ink on the contract dried, Red Auerbach traded Henderson to Seattle.

"Red shipped me to Siberia," says Henderson. "That's the way he would do things. He'd make sure you were far enough away not to come back and haunt him. There's no loyalty in professional sports. I guess it was a little naive on my behalf thinking that the Celtics were different. I never talked to him about it. I just wanted market value at the time."

It wound up being one of Red's shrewdest moves. For a day. Henderson was swapped for Seattle's 1986 first-round pick. Red was projecting the Sonics would tank in 1985-86 season. They did. After winning the NBA title again in 1985-86, the Celtics wound up with the second pick in the draft. It was all working out perfectly until Bias died of cocaine intoxication two days after the draft.

"The whole thing wasn't right," Henderson says. "The way it ended up - it just wasn't right."

He never played in the New Garden, but brought his family (Gerald Jr. is the youngest of Gerald and Marie Henderson's three children) to Game 1 of last spring's NBA Finals.

"This new building ain't the old Garden, I'll tell you that," Gerald Sr. says with a laugh.

Tonight, the new building won't even have the old banners. Celebrating sameness, the NCAA strips venues of all professional banners and local icons. The Blue Devils and Wildcats won't even be playing on a parquet floor.

A generic court has been brought in for the big weekend. You'll never know the game is being played in the Garden, which is exactly what the NCAA wants.

Still, it's a special time for the Henderson family. Gerald Jr. is here playing in the East Regional on the same site where his dad made hardwood history a quarter of a century ago.

"All he talks about is our shorts and how the guys didn't used to dunk as much," says the dad. "I tell him, 'Man, the players back in the day were so much more skilled.' "

"My dad brags about how good he looked in those shorts," says the kid.

The young man has seen the video and heard the stories, but he can never know what it was like here when his dad patrolled the parquet with Dennis Johnson, Danny Ainge, Larry Bird, Kevin McHale, Robert Parish, and Cedric Maxwell.

Dan Shaughnessy is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at

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