As the days pass and the reality of Paul Pierce not donning the Celtic green next season becomes more and more of a reality, I reflect upon the man’s storied, lengthy and honor filled career with Boston. And I ask myself, how such a man should be properly thanked, not only by the fans, but by the Celtic brass.
To answer this question I have to reflect upon some of Paul Pierce’s defining moments. Most Celtic fans could almost recite them from memory by now, so often discussed as they have been, particularly around the time of Pierce’s departure. But still, they bear repeating.
Paul Pierce has been a Pariah of sorts throughout his career. Yes, he has been well compensated, but he has also absorbed many unfair criticisms, that might have something to do with the fact that he trailed in the wake of the most beloved Celtic superstar to ever grace the Garden parquet, Larry Bird. Fans, (myself included), have at times contrasted and compared Pierce to Bird, wondering why the Kansas star could not bring about the sweeping changes in the Celtics fortunes as Bird once did. An expectation that was completely unfair.
Looking at Pierce’s career, you will see patterns of inequities. Touted as a top three lottery pick, Pierce fell to the tenth selection, where the Celtics drafted him. A lifelong Lakers fan, Pierce was initially unhappy Boston chose him, but decided to make the best of the situation, vowing to make the teams that passed on him sorry.
While Pierce went on to shine individually, the Celtics teams seemed to get worse as the seasons progressed, with few bright spots along the way. Teaming with Antoine Walker, Paul watched as poor drafting, and bad trades off the court, led to a floundering, inconsistent product on the court. But through it all, Paul Pierce stayed loyal to the Celtics as he signed multiple extensions.
Further horrors occurred when Paul Pierce was stabbed in a nightclub, and very nearly died. While recovering Kevin McHale’s poorly timed comments that Pierce; "Couldn’t carry Larry Bird’s jock strap.", only added insult to injury. But still Paul Pierce stayed.
Fans around the NBA, locally and across the U.S. never once voted Paul Pierce as an All Star squad starter, even in the season he led the league in total points scored. But Pierce took it in stride, waiting for the coaches to acknowledge the talent fans failed to see year after year.
Seasons came and went, but the talent pool seemed to wane. Pierce became frustrated with the team’s lack of roster stability. He withdrew, and was labeled a sullen, spoiled star by some in the media. When the Celtics hired Doc Rivers, the two initially clashed, and it was Pierce, not Rivers, who was labeled the problem. A label most fans seemed only too happy to seize upon. In reality all Pierce had done up until that point was try to win games. But he had become a lightning rod for the fans frustration at the teams’ lack of winning. But still, Pierce stayed on, and reached an accord with Rivers.
In 2007, after the Celtics saw their chances at the number one pick dashed, Paul Pierce finally decided he had bled green long enough. With his odometer reaching numbers only eclipsed by his point totals, Pierce finally declared that the Celtics needed to surround him with Championship caliber help, or trade him to a team that did. The result was Kevin Garnett, Ray Allen, a young Rajon Rondo, Kendrick Perkins, a niche bench that filled most of the gaps, and the 2008 Championship.
And finally the man who was never fully embraced in Boston won an MVP, and for the briefest of moments he was beloved. And when he helped to raise the 2008 title to the rafters with tears in his eyes, you better damn well believe I had tears in mine too.But father time is relentless, and memories, even good memories, fade.
It is 2013, five years removed from the title season. And Paul Pierce never gave up on the Celtics; but the Celtics gave up on Paul Pierce, trading him for a "player to be named later."
Anyone who watched the Brooklyn Nets meet and greet with Pierce, Garnett, and Terry could see the hurt Pierce carried with him, and later it would be confirmed multiple times when interviewed. He is upset over what happened, and he damn well has a right to be.
And while this could become another "business vs. humanity", discussion, this is not why I took the time to write this musing. The point is to ask myself as a fan, what is the best way honor Paul Pierce? How should we thank him for his unfailing years of service? How should we thank the man that served on a team that he grew up hating, a team that he suffered through countless losing seasons with? A team that was always the last to be discussed on the news and the radios? A team that didn’t allow him to "market a brand"? A team without constant sunshine and warm weather? A team in which he kept the promise he made in his rookie season and delivered the Celtics a title? A man who gave his best basketball to an often times indifferent city, and was then kicked out the door when his best years were through?
I say we retire his number. Yes, that is a given. But I say we don’t wait. We do it now. The first time the Nets come to Boston for a regular season game, we raise #34 to the rafters, with him there. Let him be the first active player, the first Celtic to see his number go up while he’s still currently in the NBA. Let him know the Celtic fans appreciate him so much that he deserves the honor immediately.
It’s a symbolic gesture, I know. Nobody will ever wear #34 again, and waiting is typically the way things are done. But for a player, a man who did so much for the green, a man who has always existed in virtual anonymity, a player who played in the shadows of more beloved Celtics, let’s do something for Paul Pierce to show him we honor and appreciate everything he did for the Celtics and Boston.
Raise #34 this season. Don’t wait.