You’ve heard of the Boston Celtics’ mystique. Their history. Their legendary players. Their 17 championship banners. Their retired numbers. Their tradition and culture. The aura that makes their franchise so special.
Today, for the first time in over 15 years, they’ll be raising another number to the rafters, forever. Paul Pierce now sits at the table with the legends who used to inspire him while standing on the infamous parquet floor in Boston. A career that has truly earned Pierce the right in holding the title as one of the greatest Celtics of all-time.
Paul Pierce All-Time Celtic Rankings:
Points – 2nd (Bird)
Minutes – 3rd (Russell, Havlicek)
Three Pointers – 1st
Steals – 1st
Rebounds – 7th
Assists – 5th
Win Shares – 3rd (Russell, Bird)
Value Over Replacement Player – 2nd (Bird)
I’ve said it many times before, but Paul Pierce was the reason I fell in love with basketball and the Boston Celtics.
The Boston Celtics were in town to face the Minnesota Timberwolves, and I was an eight-year-old boy lucky enough to be in attendance that afternoon. While my entire life revolved around sports, I’d never actually seen a game in person up to this point. I mean, I wasn’t even sure what most of the players names were. And by “most”, I mean anybody who wasn’t named Kevin Garnett or Wally Szczerbiak.
During that game I watched a man by the name of Paul Pierce score 32 points for the Boston Celtics, including knocking down free throws in the closing moments of the game with the arena screaming at him. I watched Pierce defeat the Timberwolves 103-100 and gallop around the Target Center the entire afternoon as if he was untouchable. Well, in that moment, he was untouchable. He captivated me and drew me in as a fan as I watched him confidently carry himself around the court as if he was in a different league than the rest of the players. He’d hit a shot, and talk trash to a defender. He’d make a basket and jog back on defense as if he was the only reason you were watching the game. And he was the reason us fans watched, me particularly. I was hooked.”
The road to get here wasn’t perfect, and at times, it was nothing short of ugly. Pierce himself almost demanded a trade out of the place he calls home. Pierce wasn’t easy to deal with early on, but he road the roller coaster of a fallen franchise, finishing seasons ranging from only 19, 24, and 33 wins.
Despite the high expectations for a team lost in history, Pierce managed to have four straight playoff appearances during his early tenure, including an Eastern Conference Finals appearance for the first time in 14 seasons, despite Antoine Walker being his most talented teammate.
At one point, Pierce and his teammates lost a franchise record 18-straight games during the 2006 season. Most All-Stars would run for the hills, or whatever team offered them a chance at competition, let alone the ability to compete for titles. Pierce was different. His loyalty remained unshakable. He trusted the process that Danny Ainge had put in place, and was rewarded with Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen only a season later.
Turns out, that was a pretty good decision as it not only gave them three validation as champions, but restored the Celtic faithful. A task Pierce wanted to complete since he was drafted.
When thinking about Paul Pierce, what stands out to me is his ugly, beautiful game. The grit, and mentality, and swagger he played with on a night-to-night basis is unmatched by any player with his level of talent, to us Celtics fans. His style of play, with his herky-jerky ways to score the ball, gave the Celtics a superstar to cheer for that organizations spent years searching for. With his superstardom, Pierce was never scared to dive on the floor for a loose ball, take a night off from scoring to facilitate the offense, dive into the stands, or play through countless injuries.. His unselfishness is what made him special to us fans.
In the September of 2000, Pierce was attacked at a Boston night club and stabbed 11 times in the face, neck, and back. After undergoing surgery, he didn’t miss a preseason game two weeks later, and then started in all 82 games that season averaging 25.3 points, 6.4 rebounds, and 3.1 assists, yet didn’t make the All-Star roster.
In 2004, Pierce was playing the Phoenix Suns and ended up cracking four teeth. He tossed in a mouthguard and returned to win the game. The following morning, he underwent seven hours of dental surgery and hit the game winning shot against Charlotte.
In 2008, the Celtics had reached the NBA Finals and were facing their nemesis, the Los Angeles Lakers. With just under seven minutes remaining in the 3rd quarter, Pierce contested a Kobe Bryant fallaway, but landed awkwardly while colliding with Kendrick Perkins. Pierce laid on the ground writhing in pain, holding his knee. All the air in the area had went out and the Celtics crowd was silenced as they watched their captain and season come to an end. Pierce had to be carried to the infamous wheelchair, and wheeled back to the locker room. After a couple of game minutes, Pierce came trotting out wearing a knee sleeve and wanting to come back into the game. The Boston crowd was as loud as it has ever been before as they watched Pierce return and knock down back-to-back three pointers. He was later diagnosed with a sprained knee.
It goes without saying that Paul Pierce was more important to us than he was to you.
You’re going to hear the negative storylines, the articles talking about how he was overrated, or didn’t succeed until he had help, but that’s the whole bit. Pierce was criminally underrated during his time by everybody who was on the outside looking in. Words can’t describe what he did for his teams, for the organization, for the fans, for me.
His name will always echo throughout the rafters, shaking the banners, and his retired 3-4. The game winners and daggers may slowly drift away, but his legacy will be enshrined forever.
He helped turn a rebuild into a championship team. He assassinated LeBron James in Game 7, and out-dueled Kobe Bryant in the NBA Finals. He carved out a spot as the 2000’s best small forward who wasn’t named LeBron. He extended his prime, while holding off others. He is the greatest Celtic of my life span. The greatest since Larry Bird. His veins were cool as ice, he was an ultra-competitor, an all-time scorer, a trash talker, a clutch-time wizard, and The Truth.
But most importantly, he’s our legend. Our Champion. Our Hall-of-Famer.
Here a few of my favorite Pierce memories.