I never quite thought it would come to this, but Paul Pierce’s recent decision to opt out of the final year of his contract with the Celtics and become a free agent could spell the end of his majestic career in Boston.
I grew up watching Pierce and he was a Celtic in every sense of the world, right there with legends like Larry Bird, Bill Russell, and Red Auerbach. He will go down in history as one of the best to overplay the game and, although he was overshadowed in his generation by the likes of Kobe Bryant, Tim Duncan, and Allen Iverson, he is still a lock to one day join that triumvirate in the basketball Hall of Fame.
Let’s take a trip down Memory Lane and see just what Pierce has accomplished in his 12 years in Boston.
Pierce was drafted 10th overall out of Kansas in the 1998 NBA draft (Vinca Carter – 5th, Dirk Nowitzki – 9th). He joined a mediocre Celtics team that also featured, at the time, star forward Antoine Walker. In 2002 the pair made an improbable run to the Eastern Conference Finals, including a Game 5 win against the New Jersey Nets that is still today the greatest 4th-quarter comeback in NBA playoffs history.
The out-of-shape Walker was jettisoned soon thereafter and Pierce had to endure several years as the team’s only go-to player on an, at best, mediocre squad. Then after a 2006-07 season in which the Celtics went an embarrassing 24-58, Pierce was finally gifted with a couple of capable sidekicks in Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen by Celtics general manager, Danny Ainge.
The Big Three, as they would come to be known, won an NBA championship in their first season together with Pierce leading the way – playing LeBron James to a stalemate and making Kobe Bryant look human as he cruised to a Finals MVP award. The team made two more runs but fell short each time. And now, Pierce may have played his final game as a Celtic.
It’s rare for one player to spend most of his career with a single team, and 12 years is a loooong time. If there’s any doubt about what Pierce means to his teammates and to the city of Boston, consider this. In 2000, Pierce was stabbed 11 times in the face, neck, and back in a Boston nightclub. He was on the verge of dying and had to be rushed to the hospital for emergency surgery. The next season, Pierce was the only Celtic to start all 82 games.
The man is a WARRIOR. Off the court he runs a charitable foundation called The Truth Fund, which helps support children from the greater Boston area and California inner cities by keeping them out of gangs. On the court he is the team’s captain, emotional leader, and go-to crunch time scorer.
Now, barring an act of unexpected generosity in signing a contract below max value, Pierce will likely be gone (look for the LA Clippers to scoop him up – he’s from the area and they need a veteran presence). He will pass the torch to Rajon Rondo, the next Celtics star, and finish his playing days somewhere else. Paul, it’s been a hell of a ride. Thank you.
12 seasons, 8-time NBA All-Star, 3-time All-NBA Third Team, 1-time All-NBA Second Team
18.3 PPG, 4.4 RBP, 3.1 APG
45 FG%, 37 3P%, 80 FT%
1 NBA Finals MVP
1 NBA Championship
1 Legacy – “The Truth”