The ‘08 Boston Celtics were many things – namely, they were mentally and physically tougher than the other 29 teams. That edge helped translate to a No. 1 ranked defense and ultimately an NBA championship.
Rajon Rondo, just 21-years old at the time and a dividing figure among Celtics fans during his time in Boston, did something before the Pelicans-Celtics game at the TD Garden that that the ’08 team did so well – he defended his teammate.
“What has he done?” Rondo asked the media, Per Bill Doyle of the Worcester Telegram and Gazette. “This is the Boston Celtics. This isn’t the Phoenix Suns; no disrespect to any other organization, but you don’t hang conference titles. Do we hang going to the conference finals? What do we hang here?”
Who is He you ask? He is Isaiah Thomas – who in conjunction with Paul Pierce, the No. 2 scorer in Boston Celtics franchise history, have caused quite the stir over something that had previously appeared to be a non-issue.
When asked about his comments postgame, Rondo declined to comment.
No matter where you stand, there is no real winner in this.
Pierce’s case remains firm, and given that it is his No. 34 being raised to the Garden rafters, his say is what matters in the end. To his credit, the always candid Pierce didn’t hold back feelings about wanting his day in the sun for himself.
”(Thomas) had a shot to be honored,” Pierce told ESPN. “You came to Boston. Whether you are playing or not, you should have had your tribute then. I just don’t see how, if someone is having a jersey retirement, they’re going to be running other tributes for other players.
“Danny tried to sell me on it, but I told him, ‘He had a shot, Danny, and he punked you on it. He pretty much dictated everything.’ They let it happen because they felt sorry how (the trade to Cleveland) went down. It’s guilt. That’s what it is.”
I'd like to thank the Celtics for their gracious offer to play a video tribute on Feb 11th celebrating my 3yrs in Boston. But since it appears this has caused some controversy w/ Paul Pierce's night I'd ask the Celtics instead to focus all of their attention on #34's career.— Isaiah Thomas (@isaiahthomas) January 17, 2018
Pierce was of course referencing Thomas’ trade to Cleveland, mere months following one of the most physically and mentally grueling playoff performances I can remember.
Thomas became a cult hero in Boston last season, and by the time the ‘17 postseason began, the Celtics had eyes on making a run. Then the heartrending news occurred.
Thomas’ sister Chyna passed away in a car accident one day before the Celtics’ postseason run was scheduled to begin. With a heavy heart, Thomas gutted through the pain, even finding some sense of solace on the court.
“Being here, I guess, is what makes me sane,’’ Thomas said at the time. ‘’It makes me feel somewhat normal through this tough time.’’
On top of losing his sister, Thomas went through the gauntlet against Washington – in fact, the series as a whole felt like a heavyweight fight. Thomas lost a tooth, went through dental surgery and had to wear a temporary bridge as a result. Somewhere along the line, he aggravated a hip injury that he had originally sustained in a March game against Minnesota.
By the time the conference finals against Cleveland arrived, Thomas couldn’t play any longer.
Given that they make millions of dollars to play a sport it’s easy to paint athletes – and basketball players in general – as robots. We often times forget that they’re humans too, and underneath it all lies real emotion.
Playing under a more than team-friendly contract during his tenure in Boston, Thomas played high above expectations, continuously proving the doubters wrong in search of the brinks truck that never came.
On top of putting his body on the line and playing in the aftermath of a family tragedy, Thomas was a huge part in recruiting free agents Al Horford and Gordon Hayward to Boston – a first for a franchise that had previously never landed a marquee free agent.
Playing through his hip ailment – one that he is still getting over as we speak – likely cost Thomas a max deal. Thomas will be an unrestricted free agent this summer, and similar to most of his career, will more than likely have to prove himself all over again.
No wonder there was lingering animosity when Thomas first refused the Celtics’ video tribute offerings during a Jan. 3 Celtics-Cavs game.
Thomas was in the beginning stages of playing his way back from injury and wasn’t scheduled to play. In turn, Thomas’ family wasn’t scheduled to be there as well. Absent from the game and without his loved ones in the stands, Thomas rejected the Celtics’ proposal, much to the chagrin of CLNS Media’s own Jimmy Murphy
While Thomas played in 179 regular season games and 25 postseason games during his two-plus seasons in Boston, Pierce logged 1,102 regular games (third in franchise history) and 136 playoff games as a Celtic.
Pierce played 15 of his 19 seasons in green and white. Had he had it his way, he would’ve played his entire career in Boston.
Pierce battled from day one – and when I say he battled – Pierce fought and clawed for everything, from falling in the ’98 draft to getting stabbed within inches of his life to carrying the burden for some talent-devoid Celtics teams throughout the prime of his career.
After butting heads with new coach Doc Rivers and battling a severe case of immaturity that reached its boiling point infamously during the ’05 playoffs against Indiana, the Celtics kept their faith in Pierce. In turn, Pierce wanted to win and succeed in Boston, to become mentioned in the same breath as some of the franchise’s all-time greats.
By the time Pierce raised his fists in triumph as the Finals MVP in ‘08, you felt like you had gotten to know him. You had seen his ups and his downs, and had been there with him when the times were bad and when the times were good.
Pierce’s day is scheduled for Sunday Feb. 11 against his former rival LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers. Thomas will be there, in the midst of a difficult first season in Cleveland and at the center of this overblown controversy.
His tribute will come eventually, but for now The Truth has spoken.