Kevin McHale grabbed the trophy.

"They've been trying to get me to carry stuff all year long," the Celtic rookie yelled, a cigar bobbing up and down in his mouth. "This I'll carry."

M. L. Carr grabbed the game ball.

"St. Louis.Detroit. Israel. Trenton, the two years I was out of the league," he said, recalling the times his career seemed permanently deflated. He hid his special prize under a towel deep in his dressing stall, saying, "I deserve this."

Larry Bird grabbed a beer.

Standing in the shower, his uniform still on, water spritzing over him, Bird had the most satisfying chug-a-lug of his life. He slam-dunked the empty can, then grabbed some privacy with a back-home friend.

Rick Robey grabbed a slice of basketball history.

"The triple crown," he said. "A high school championship, the NCAA championship (at Kentucky) and now the NBA championship. Tell you what, though. This was the toughest race."

Robert Parish grabbed Chris Ford.

"Slow Mo," Parish said, noting this Ford's lack of acceleration, "I show you something?"

Ford nodded. He was with the Celtics two years ago, when they were 29-53, and apparently was one of those uncertain whether Parish's heart was in proportion to his 7-foot body when he was acquired before this season. It is. p

"All we needed back then," Ford said of that dreadful season, "was for Red (auerback) to get control of the team again. When he got it (before this season), I knew we'd be okay."

Cedric Maxwell grabbed the proper theme.

"Everybody covered for everybody else," he said. "I wasn't supposed to be tough inside; Larry wasn't supposed to be tough on defense. Ford was sypposed to be too slow and Tiny (Archibald) was supposed to be too old. This team works. Hard."

Bill Fitch grabbed ghosts.

Somebody reminded the Celtic coach that exactly 10 years ago, with one of the sorriest athletic teams ever assembled, the expansion Cleveland Cavaliers, he lost an astonsihing 67 games. Could he tap his memory about that?

"My definition of a memory is something you use to forget with," he said. "I got one helluva memory." It took Fitch's Cavs three seasons to muster as many victories as Fitch's Celtics had this season and these playoffs.

None of his players grabbed Fitch on the court, hugged him when the last Rocket spurt had been shot down; a week or so ago, they finally grasped the method to his apparent coaching madness. Most Celts probably agree that replacing the first letter in Fitch with B would produce the proper description of his behavior.

"We'd have a 12-game winning streak," McHale said, "and the way he acted you'd think we'd been losing regularly. Why push so hard, especially then? Well, we found out when we were down 3-1 to Philly (in the Eastern Conference finals). We had the character to come back."

And a character named Bird who kept them safely ahead of Houston in the final 90 seconds of the title game here Thursday. Maxwell was judged the most valuable player for the series; Bird was the man the Celts wanted to determine their fate during the final few plays.

He relished the role.

Bird is not the most versatile player in basketball, for Majic Johnson is comfortable at every position on the court, or the most gifted. But he is unique, as unselfish as the last man on the roster and as heroic under pressure against Philadelphia and Houston as anyone in the Hall of Fame. Who else would take a charge one minute and the game-winning shot the next?

"When that three-pointer went up and in," McHale said, "I screamed, 'LBJ! LBJ!' That's for Larry Bird Jumper."

"Very little arc," said the coach, acting Fitch-like but smilling, "and I'll talk to him about it tomorrow. Technically, it was not too good."

It only won the 14th NBA title for Boston.

"For a man in a shooting slump," said Fitch, referring to Bird's 38 percent accuracy in the previous five games against Houston, "he was there when we needed it. For the first time in five games, he said, 'I'm gonna shoot.'

"When he sets his mind to something, it happens. If he set out some night to set a rebounding record, it'd be his."

Bird set out to make that three-pointer from the left baseline. Unlike Babe Ruth's legendary feat, there was no doubt about what Bird did. He called this shot, all but demanding the ball, then taking a half-step backward to give the moment its full dramatic impact.

Other players, other Celtics even, would have replayed The Shot with the emotion it deserved. They would have embellished it, perhaps given it religious significance. Bird said: "It was there. The corner shot was no farther away thanmost shots I take."

Even off the court, he is more craftsman than artist. This Bird is an athletic eagle, not a peacock.

"If that thing rattles around and out and we get it, I like our chances," said Houston Coach Del Harris. The Rockets would have been down three points with the ball after Bird had missed; instead they were down six.

"That's why he's paid a big buck," Harris said. "That's what he's supposed to do. But keep this in mind: we didn't lose; they won."

In the end, the NBA's annual marathon went to the swiftest team, the one that had the most players with multidimensional games. Larry Birds's team.

"It's the first championship I've ever won," Bird said. "I went to such a small high school. And at Indiana State we came up just short (of the NCAA title). Everything that was supposed to happen happened, but it really hasn't hit me yet.

"When I get away from here, with some friends who've followed my career for a long time, is when it'll hit me."

It had hit M. L. Carr long ago. What has seemed almost a natural progression for Bird was a dream Carr dared not consider for so long. For him, one championship is worth 10,000 points.

"If I could share this," he said, "it would be with two people: Pete Maravich (who retired from the Celtics before this season) and Bob Lanier (Carr's teammate with the Detroit Pistons). I know how badly Pete wanted a title, how badly the big fella still wants it."