Growing up during the not-so glory days in Boston Celtics history, my father would tell me stories about Larry Bird. There was no one like him. He was the greatest competitor I’ve ever seen. He’d tell me how the Celtics rocked the old Boston Garden. He’d tell me about the playoffs, the championships-- when the Celtics were the most exciting basketball team on the planet. All of this was orchestrated by a white man who couldn’t jump in a black man’s game full of arguably the greatest athletes in the world. Larry Bird seemed like a god to my father way back when.
I cannot remember a specific time watching a Celtics game before the age of five years old, but one of my first clear memories was August 28th, 1992 when I was only three years and eleven months old— the day Larry Bird retired. I remember exactly where I was at the time and what I was doing-- playing a Super Nintendo basketball game that featured Larry. My favorite move was taking a three-pointer with Larry while jumping over the three-point line. I figured that jumping closer to the basket would make it an easier shot while I knew it before Antoine Walker said it "3 is more than 2." While it didn’t faze me that Larry was retiring, I remember my father being very serious and the news seemed to bother him. Twenty plus years later, I finally understand why.
Almost fourteen years ago today, a lockout delayed the start of the 1998-1999 NBA season. Not only was it delayed (as it was last year), this thing carried on until January 6th when a settlement was finally reached between players and owners. I loved basketball and boy I loved this news. Although the Celtics had struggled in recent years, I was excited to see my two favorite players, Ron Mercer and Antoine Walker, build on promising starts to their respective careers and bring the Celtics back relevance. Not yet a fan of college basketball or the NBA draft, little did I know that a special player could be joining Ron and Antoine this very season.
I remember it vividly, much better than when Larry retired in 1992. I was at my best friend Michael’s house and the Celtics were playing the Toronto Raptors. The Celtics were losing, Ron Mercer couldn’t hit his signature jump shot, and a rookie was making the game look easy. I guess Michael was a step ahead of me in basketball knowledge back then (I definitely had him beat in baseball though)—You don’t know who Paul Pierce is!? He should’ve gotten picked at 2, we got him at 10! (He was right)! Well, it took one night and some solid motivation for me to start following the college game and the draft, but it seemed like the Celtics found themselves a winner.
Since then, Paul Pierce has done it all during his climb to greatness in green. Yes he’s had some slips and maybe even fell a few times, but a remarkable journey nonetheless. From a more than promising rookie to an unorthodox budding superstar to the best player on an outside contender to a prima donna to trade bait to a champion and NBA finals MVP. Yes he did it, a champion and NBA Finals MVP.
Somehow Paul Pierce made it to the top of the mountain as a Boston Celtic as the captain and go-to- guy. Don’t let anybody tell you that it was only because of the additions of Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen. Yes, Pierce finally had a good team around him, but he carried them through the 2008 playoffs. If you object, throw in a tape of game 7 of the conference semi-finals as he dueled LeBron. You watch it all yet? Case cleared-- he carried that team.
While he reached the top in 2008, it seems like this mountain stays high until there’s a ledge when it ultimately drops, hence his retirement, where we still do not know where this will be. Four full years later, now 34 years old, you can still put a team on Paul Pierce’s back and ask him to carry them on any night. Everyone saw it coming in game 2 of the first round against the Hawks in this past spring’s playoffs. The ball would be in Paul Pierce’s hands much of the night without Rondo and Ray Allen playing trailing the series on the road 1-0. We all know what happened next-- vintage Paul Pierce and a tied series heading home.
While the end may be near for Pierce’s career, he has solidified himself as one of the greatest Celtics of all time as well as one of the greatest clutch scorers the game will ever see. A sure first ballot hall of famer and a legend in Boston sports folklore. When this day comes and he makes the ultimate decision to retire, a somber effect will come upon me just as it had on my father when Larry did the same back in 1992. One day, I’ll be able to tell my kids the same stories about Paul Pierce that my dad did for me.
The best part of it all is that these days have not yet come. Maybe the best Paul Pierce story cannot yet be told. Maybe it hasn’t happened yet. Whether it has or hasn’t, a second title would be the icing on the cake for a career that will never be forgotten. The truth will continue on…