This isn’t breaking news anymore, but take a deep breath and picture the reality of the following sentence: Paul Pierce won’t be playing for the Boston Celtics next season.
It’s a business, they say, and business required Pierce, Kevin Garnett, Jason Terry, and DJ White to be traded to the Brooklyn Nets for Kris Humphries, Gerald Wallace, Kris Joseph, MarShon Brooks, Keith Bogans, and three future First Round picks. One team wanted to clear away their past and start afresh, and the other needed to add the necessary pieces to become a championship contender. It’s the nature of the business of the game that will see Pierce emerge in a Nets jersey next season. It’s the nature of the business that a player who symbolized everything about the new millennium Celtics won’t be a Celtic anymore.
And so ended the era of one of the league’s greatest and most loyal players of our time with the league’s most-storied franchise.
I’ve long had my eye on one very specific – but extremely important – list of NBA players. It’s the list of players to have spent their entire career (of minimum 10 years) with the same franchise. The career-long longevity signifies loyalty, both from the player and the team. It signifies the ability of the player to remain relevant and important to both the team and it’s fanbase for them to extend his stay amidst never-ending trade rumours, free agency, and the temptation of greener grass on the other side.
You could skip over quickly to Wikipedia to check on the surprisingly short number of NBA’s one-team guys such as John Stockton, Reggie Miller, and John Havlicek; but if you cut the list down to just players who are still active in the league, you’d be left with a chosen few legends, players who have forever become synonymous with the jersey they wear and the city they represent.
There’s Kobe Bryant (17 years with the Lakers), Tim Duncan (16 years with the Spurs), Dirk Nowitzki (15 years with the Mavericks), Tony Parker (12 years with the Spurs), Manu Ginobili (11 years with the Spurs), Dwyane Wade (10 years with the Heat) and surprisingly, Udonis Haslem (10 years with the Heat).
And until recently, that list also featured Paul Pierce, who had been a Boston Celtic for all of the 15 years of his professional career.
Paul Pierce journey into Celtics’ lore has been a roller coaster of highs and lows. When the Celtics picked him 10th in the 1998 draft, the storied franchise was welcoming the young swingman into a world where the past had been much brighter than the present. The Celtics had won a record 16 NBA titles at that point, but none of them since 1986, and had been stuck between mediocrity and awfulness since greats like Larry Bird, Kevin McHale and Robert Parish finally departed in the early 90s.
While the Celtics remained awful, Pierce made a good impression in his early years in Boston. But it was his bravery a year later that began the city’s true, long-lasting love affair with him. In September 2000, Paul Pierce was involved in a violent altercation, leaving him with 11 stab wounds across his body and requiring him to undergo lung surgery to repair the damage. Astonishingly, the youngster showed unbelievable heart and courage to bounce back by the time the season began and become the only Celtic to start all games in the 2000-01 season!
Armed with Antoine Walker by his side, Pierce became an All Star for the first time a year later and carried the Celtics to their best record in a decade. Pierce and Walker were the heart of the team that reached the Conference Finals only to lose to the Nets. For the next few years, they were stuck in basketball purgatory, being good enough to make the playoffs but never going past the Second Round. Pierce continued to amass All Star appearances.
He developed into one of the league’s elite scorers, leaders and clutch-performers. When he dropped 42 on the Lakers in 2001, Shaquille O’Neal nicknamed him ‘The Truth’. While he was always a step below the NBA idols of his time like Shaq, Duncan, Kobe, Iverson, and Garnett, he remained a constant thorn in their side, and kept the Celtics relevant and fun. He hit many big shots, orchestrated many big wins, and scored a lot of points.
The Celtics missed the playoffs in 2006 and 2007, with the latter being the worst year of Paul Pierce’s era with the team. Injuries limited Pierce to just 47 games that season and the Celtics stumbled to a 24-58 record which included an 18-game losing streak.
Suddenly, Pierce was touching 30, peering at the upcoming decline of his peak years in a team that offered no sense of optimism for the future.
And just as suddenly, everything changed.
In the summer of 2007, Danny Ainge mastermind a couple of trades that brought Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen from Minnesota and Seattle respectively to Boston. They were teamed up with a now-healthy Paul Pierce and The Boston Big Three was born, also featuring a young point guard by the name of Rajon Rondo who was thrust in the starting role to run the show.
The arrival of Garnett, in particular, completely changed the culture in Boston as the team became a defensive juggernaut and made one of the greatest single-season turnarounds in NBA history, winning 66 games in 2007-08 en route to the best record in the league. Pierce, Garnett and Allen meshed together in perfect cohesion.
Garnett won the Defensive Player of the Year award and was in MVP contention, while Pierce remained the team’s most potent offensive threat. The threesome carried the Celtics all the way into the NBA Finals in a face-off against their old rivals Lakers.
In a Finals that was symbolized by Paul Pierce’s return from early injury and his subsequent dominance, the Celtics defeated the Lakers in six games for their 17th championship and their first in 22 years. Pierce, the Celtic who had just completed a decade with the franchise, was named Finals MVP. The pain and agony of the past was vanquished; and in one year, all the hard work and loyalty of Pierce finally paid off.
For the next five years, Pierce, Garnett, Allen (until 2012) and Rondo kept the Celtics in contention despite battling injuries and old age. At the helm, Doc Rivers became the perfect coach and mentor for this never-say-die team. A Garnett injury hurt their chances of a 2009 title, and they lost in 2010 on the season’s very last day in Game 7 of the Finals to the Lakers.
The team kept on punching above their weight and surprising sceptics, and Pierce continued to show flashes of offensive dominance. In 2012, they were one step away from the Finals against the new Big Three of Miami. Ray Allen left them for the Heat that off-season, and when the Celtics lost to the Knicks in the First Round in 2013, it was clear that an era was finally coming to an end.
Rivers left first, joining the Los Angeles Clippers. And then, trade rumours that had swirled around Pierce and Garnett for a long time finally amounted to some truth, as it was announced that the Celtics had sent the two players who had so closely embodied the spirit of their franchise to Brooklyn. The past had to make way for the future.
And so, with 10 All Star appearances, a championship, a Finals MVP award and 15 years of service, Paul Pierce leaves the Boston Celtics. He leaves as the franchise’s second-leading All Time scorer, with only two other players having more games and minutes than him for the Celtics.
I admit, it’s going to be weird and jarring to see him in any other colours except for the Celtic green and white, to see him wearing any other NBA jersey except the one that says ‘Boston’ or ‘Celtics’ in the front. It would be like watching Hakeem Olajuwon in the Raptors, Patrick Ewing in the Magic or the Sonics, Karl Malone in the Lakers, and of course, Michael Jordan with the Wizards.
And for the Nets, the future is now increasingly brighter. The team which already featured Deron Williams, Joe Johnson and Brook Lopez will be adding Pierce, Garnett, Jason Terry and Andrei Kirilenko to the mix. If new Head Coach Jason Kidd can find a way to make things work, they could become true contenders in the Eastern Conference. And we may well be on our way to see many more memorable Pierce moments in the near future before he finally retires from the NBA.
Yet, where he finally retires from the NBA won’t eventually determine the legacy that he has amassed with the Celtics. No matter what happens ahead in Brooklyn, Pierce will forever be a Celtic. He will enshrine his name amongst the other Celtics to be in the Basketball Hall of Fame and his jersey #34 will be raised up in the rafters amongst the franchise’s other greats. When they team’s historians rattle off names like Bill Russell, Bob Cousy, John Havlicek, Larry Bird, and Kevin McHale, they will be sure to include Paul Pierce, too.
Pierce has moved to Brooklyn, but The Truth will always be in Boston.