Bill Sy: As a kid, I idolized Larry Bird. I bought the black Converse and switched out the black laces for white because that’s how he wore them, I tried to copy his game, and I always tried to play as hard as him. He helped me fall in love with basketball and made me a Celtics fan for life. But when you’re 10, 11, 12-years-old, it’s all so ethereal and magical. Your heroes are untouchable. The closest you’ll ever get to them is reaching for that poster hanging over your bed.
But with Paul Pierce, it was different. I grew up with Paul Pierce. He was drafted the same year I graduated from college and even though he was a multimillionaire professional athlete, in a way, his life paralleled mine. In my twenties, I had lost touch with the game. Boston went through a playoff drought, I was slogging through bad job after bad job after bad job, and Rick Pitino was coaching the Celtics. Pierce was quickly becoming one of the league’s best young players, he made his first All-Star team, and the Celtics made that magical ECF run in 2002. I fell in love again and that was because of PP.
We had gone through the same growing pains of youth and enjoyed the later successes of hard work, loyalty, faith in family, and sacrifice of self. While Bird inspired me to dream when I was a kid, it was Pierce that helped me grow up.
Paul Pierce will undoubtedly go down as one of the greatest Celtics ever, but more importantly, he was my guy. I never got a chance to watch Russell or Havlicek, and my memories of Bird and McHale and Parish pretty much live in my childhood home.
Paul Pierce isn’t just The Truth; he’s my truth and my captain. Thanks, PP. #34 Forever.
Alex Kungu: At 10 years old I was uprooted from my home in Quincy to a foreign neighborhood in Lowell. With no friends and parents barley around, times were initially hard, but at 7:30 pm I always found solace. The team wasn’t great and the chances of winning a championship were low, but every night Paul Pierce stepped on the court you gave a kid from Lowell something to be excited for every night. I practiced your stepback tirelessly, I imitated the up and under moves, and boy did I try the iconic Al Harrington shot on every single one of the friends I eventually made by bonding over your greatness.
The Boston Celtics have a rich tradition of winning titles and producing some of the most legendary talents this league has ever seen. Those highs were scarce throughout your career, but through the frustrations you continuously fought for this city no matter who was next to you. Everyone will remember the title and the Big 3 era, but I’ll always remember you for the times when things weren’t great because that’s when you gave the city the most hope.
From the bottom of my heart, thanks for everything, Truth.
Mike DePrisco: Paul Pierce is my favorite basketball player ever, and for a kid that grew up an hour outside of Philadelphia you can understand just how rare a statement like that is.
Pierce’s combination of skill and grit made me fall in love with his game, and his appreciation for what it meant to be a Celtic got me hooked on the organization. Through the lows of the mid-2000’s to the absolute high of winning a championship in 2008, Pierce played with the same level of heart and Celtic pride every single game.
But what probably resonated with me the most was the games he wasn’t to supposed to win, and the shots Pierce wasn’t supposed to make. It was evident when the Big Three had passed their prime, but from 2011-13, Pierce and company kept on winning.
I think back to Pierce’s dagger three against Miami in that 7-game ECF series in 2012. Putting in 36 points to beat the Atlanta Hawks on the road in a playoff game without Rajon Rondo. Then his game-winner over Amare Stoudemire and of course the 20-0 run Pierce sparked in his final game as a Celtic.
He never stopped playing hard because he didn’t know any other way, and he wouldn’t let his game fading away stop him from winning as many games for Celtics fans as he could.
Celtics fans have been waiting a long time to see #34 added to the rafters overlooking the TD Garden floor. The Celtics bring me a lot of joy and I owe it all to The Truth. I hope he enjoys every minute of his retirement festivities just like we enjoyed every minute of his playing career.
Keith Smith: I feel like Paul Pierce has been involved in a lot of my adult life. He was drafted by the Celtics just after I wrapped up my freshman year of college. I remember going crazy at my landscaping job in the summer because he had fallen to Boston in the draft.
Things were a little rocky early, especially when we thought we would lose him after he was stabbed. But he bounced back and became an All-Star. And then he carried the Celtics on one of the more unlikely playoff runs the NBA has seen in 2002.
2002 happened to be the year I moved away from home in the Boston area to Orlando. I knew no one and was on my own for the first time. That Celtics team, and their run to the Eastern Conference Finals, was something familiar I could latch on to. That group, led by Paul Pierce, gave me more comfort than they could ever know.
Then, as so often happens, life changed. I met my wife, my career took off and basketball didn’t have the top rung on the ladder of importance for the first time in my life. I still watched regularly, but I was drifting away. The Celtics being really bad, while the Lakers were really good, I’m sure didn’t help things.
In 2006, my wife and I would move all the way across the country to Southern California. That’s right. Fully embedded in Laker country. And it was just as bad as it sounds. The Celtics drew me back almost as a matter of pride. But man did that 2006-07 team stink. Pierce got hurt and they put him on the shelf. Then the ping pong balls bounced every which way but Boston’s.
Around that point, we wondered how much longer Pierce would be in Boston. The team had gone through highs and lows and maybe it was time to just move on. But Danny Ainge had other plans and in came Ray Allen, followed by Kevin Garnett (best birthday present I ever got! Thanks Danny!). And the Celtics were back!
Man did I rock the green and white in SoCal. And I made sure Lakers fans knew it, as that Celtics team rolled to a dominant regular season. Then, on the eve of the playoffs, we were moved back from California to Orlando. For someone as superstitious as me, I was worried that was temping fate way too much. Seven games with a lowly Hawks squad did nothing to ease those fears. Then the Cavaliers and LeBron James had the Celtics on the brink.
But Paul Piece had other plans. In what became one of his signature performances, Pierce out-dueled James in Game 7 and the Celtics would ultimately capture Banner 17, as Pierce raised both the Larry O’Brien Trophy and the Bill Russell Trophy as the Finals MVP.
Now we come full circle. The Cavaliers are in town on Sunday and so is Paul Pierce. This time to have his #34 raised to the rafters. Pierce might have played with the Nets, Wizards and Clippers after Boston, but he’s forever a Celtic. And he’s forever a part of my history as an adult Celtics fan. For that, I can’t ever thank him enough
And that’s The Truth.
Paul Pierce Speaks to the Media: