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This article was originally run on Aug. 25, 2011 but it seemed like something that could be re-run on Paul Pierce Day. It describes how I feel like I grew up with Paul Pierce on a distant parallel path.
My best friend answered the phone. "Hello?" I didn't bother to introduce myself, I just immediately let out a joyous "Yeaaahhhhhhhaaaaahhhh! We got Paul Pierce!!! I can't believe he dropped to 10! Ahhhh ha ha ha hooooo!" Nothing but nervous giggling on the other end of the line, thinking that I must have completely lost my mind.
It was 1998 and I was a year out of college. I had starry eyes and big (if vague) dreams. I graduated with a business degree and I was going to go into... business. Somewhere I was going to make my mark. Maybe I'd go into the stock market where it seemed like the stocks just kept going up and up. Maybe I'd jump in with a dot-com company that was all the rage at the time. Surely someone would see my talents and give me those glorious stock options I'd heard so much about. In fact, I considered the new American dream to be to build a company from scratch and then sell it for a huge windfall of money. For the moment though, I toiled in my entry level position and did what I could to fit into new surroundings and make a few new friends along the way.
Young Paul Pierce showed signs of promise right away. He cut his teeth under Rick Pitino and seemed to bond with Antoine Walker well. Pierce was arguably the more talented of the two but 'Toine had a natural leadership quality that made him the logical spokesman of the young team. Unfortunately, those young teams didn't have a lot of success and it wasn't till Pitino left town that they were able to taste some early success. Under Jim O'Brien, Pierce and 'Toine put together a post season run that saw them come within 2 games of heading to the Finals. The future was bright.
Three years and three jobs later, I was ready for a change of pace. I decided to go back to school and get an MBA. I was back in academia where things made sense again. Instead of toiling away at a desk on a menial task, I was allowed to dream again. I double majored in Entrepreneurship and Emerging Technologies. Again I eyed the small companies that would make me rich. The world was once again my oyster and I was going to find that pearl.
Paul Pierce was never the most athletic player, but he had enough hops to do the trick. He was never the greatest 3 point shooter, but he has had enough swagger to keep shooting them and made enough to keep defenses honest. He has never been the quickest player from point A to B but somehow he still finds ways to get past guys with fresher legs. How does he do it? He does it by doing it his own way. He waits for an opening and attacks it like a running back. He watches the floor like a chess player and figures out the next three moves before he takes his first step. Then he just lets his reflexes take over, which have been honed with hour after hour after hour in practice and in games throughout his career.
Around this time I started dabbling in the world of writing about sports online. Blogs hadn't even been invented yet, but I was just fascinated with sports and websites so it was a natural fit. My friends and I founded a site called SportsRant.net and we had a lot of fun with it, though our readership probably topped out at around a dozen people or so.
Pierce was on his way to becoming an All Star, but it wasn't always easy. It must have been rough on Paul to taste that success and then fail to duplicate it. Somewhere along the line he took part in Team USA and was singled out as one of the selfish, me-first problems of that team. Fairly or not, he had developed a reputation. Things went from bad to worse as he got ejected from a playoff game and gave a surreal and stupid press conference with a bandage wrapped around his head.
My next job out of college was with a small, family owned company. I had finally found the opportunity I was looking for. Unfortunately things didn't go as planned. I was a poor fit for the position I was put in and I flat out wasn't very good at what I was doing. I felt frustrated with my position and never felt like I belonged. So a couple years into it I was back working for "the Man" in a major corporation, in a not-much-higher-than-entry level position.
New GM Danny Ainge stepped in and traded away his co-pilot and installed Doc Rivers as head coach. They didn't get along and Pierce didn't see why he had to change anything but soon found out that the coach was in charge and he had better get in line or get out of town.
I wasn't crazy with my new job but I was pretty good at it. Besides, I had a wife now and I wanted to earn a steady income and start to develop an actual career for myself. My 20's were behind me and it was time to grow up. I still had that creative itch to scratch though. So right around that time I started CelticsBlog. It was small at first, but people liked what I was doing and at the very least enjoyed having a Cheers-like place to socialize and talk about the Celtics.
Pierce became a perennial All Star and saw his game become refined under the tutoring of Doc Rivers. The two worked through their differences and Paul finally started to come into his own.
I found that I had a real knack for the job I was doing and was trusted with more and more responsibility which made the job more interesting. At the same time, the blog started to become a lot more popular. To the point where I was spending good money trying to keep up with the costs of the server space the site was chewing through. Advertisements were added to offset the cost but they were very up and down and at one point I had to take a leap of faith and keep the blog going despite the drain of my personal expenses.
As successful as Paul's personal career was becoming, he was increasingly frustrated with the team's lack of progress in the playoffs. He was surrounded by reminders that Celtics were Champions and he had to start thinking about his legacy. There was a point where he had to decide, should I stick it out or should I demand a trade? Thankfully he stuck it out and was rewarded for his patience.
I got a few promotions and the blog started to steamroll in the right direction. Some very talented and generous folks got involved and it became much more about a team than it was just about me, which is exactly the way I wanted it to be.
The draft lottery loss ended up becoming a blessing in disguise as Danny Ainge made a pair of moves that changed Paul's life and legacy forever. The rest is written in the history books and in our hearts. I'll never forget being there during the game 7 showdown between Pierce and LeBron where James blinked and Pierce got the last laugh. I'll never forget seeing Pierce carted out on a wheelchair only to return to the game and hit a couple of hobbled 3 pointers in the Finals. And I'll never forget seeing him hoist that trophy up over his head, finally realizing the goal that he had long longed for.
The blog mirrored the growth of the team and became the most popular Celtics blog, not to mention one of the highest trafficed team-specific blogs on the web. I had no intention of leaving my day job because now there was a kid in the house and I had established that career that I was looking for. Besides, if I could continue doing my day job and maintain the blog in my free time then why not? Then a chance encounter led to a small but rapidly growing company named SBNation purchasing the rights to the blog. I no longer had to worry about the costs or the ads or the server or anything else that was secondary to running the site the best way I knew how. (I don't feel comfortable discussing the details of the deal but suffice to say I'm still working a day job but got a very fair price for the blog.) In short, I got to "sell out" without getting out. I finally realized my entrepreneurial dream.
Of course the story doesn't end just because our hero got his title. Paul keeps coming back, chasing championships and furthering his legacy as a future Hall of Famer and Celtic Legend in his own right.
In a similar way, the blog continues to grow and evolve and I'm humbled to no end to be a part of it, never mind the original founder of it. Things don't always go as we would want. Sometimes injuries happen to key players and the Celtics miss a chance at another banner. Sometimes the sport goes into a lockout and the blog goes into a lull like we're experiencing now. Still, that doesn't mean the story is over.
There are still chapters to write in Paul's legacy yet and I intend to blog about them along the way. At some point in the not-too-distant future Pierce will hang up his sneakers and I'll have to move on to a new era, but I'll never forget what he has been to me.
We've never met and I'm not even sure he's aware of who I am, but I kind of feel like I grew up along side him on a distant parallel path. I'll always feel a bond with him and for that I'm forever thankful.