The Last of the Truth
For the sake of full-disclosure, Paul Pierce is and always has been my favorite player. I own one jersey, a black Celtics #34 with “Pierce” stitched on the back. I watched him be a star for three years at Kansas and got to see him live during his rookie year in 1998. Never the fastest, the flashiest or the most skilled, The Truth has simply gotten it done for the past 19 years in the NBA.
1 minute of playing time and 0-2 from the field was the stat line of his final game. 11.5 minutes and 3.4 points over 25 regular season contests is a rather inglorious end to a sure-fire Hall of Famer’s career. Draymond Green reminded him this season that, “Chasing that farewell tour. They don’t love you like that … you thought you was Kobe?” There was no 60 point finale like Kobe Bryant and the 82nd game of the season was an unfeted affair but make no mistake, Paul Pierce is one of the all-time great professional basketball players.
At the University of Kansas he was a skinny scorer from Los Angeles. Playing with the more highly touted Raef Lafrentz, they didn’t bring a championship to the Phog Allen Fieldhouse. If anything, they underachieved just like every other Roy Williams coached KU team by losing in the 2nd round of the NCAA tournament during Pierce’s final season in Lawrence. Yet, as a junior Pierce scored 20 points a game as a portent to his professional career.
For fifteen years he was king of the court as a Boston Celtic and will retire with more points than Larry Bird, Kevin McHale and Bill Russell; in fact Pierce is the 2nd leading scorer in franchise history behind only John Havlicek. As of this writing, he is also the 15th All-Time Leading Scorer in NBA history. Not bad for the 10th overall pick in the 1998 draft, one selection after Dirk Nowitzki was taken by the Milwaukee Bucks.
A review of his highlights on YouTube show a plethora of herky-jerky crossovers, jab-steps, step-back 3 pointers and tomahawk slams. Pierce was never going to win an All-Star 3 point shootout or slam dunk contest. His handle was a little loose, he wasn’t that great of a defender, he did make an effort rebounding but he never carried his team single-handedly. He needed Antoine Walker to make any noise for the first decade in green and was nearly traded to the Portland Trail Blazers for a pick that became Brandon Roy. He even missed time due to being stabbed at a nightclub. Instead, the Celtics kept him and made a mega move for Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen. There was a wheelchair scare, then the super team brought home a 17th championship to Boston by destroying the Los Angeles Lakers in a rivalry renewed.
Pierce was nothing short of a legend in Boston. Even his departure set the team up for the next decade of success by netting a plethora of draft picks in a trade to Brooklyn. He spent one incomprehensible season in Washington as a small ball 4 and taught the youngster, John Wall and Bradley Beal, how to win in the playoffs with several vintage performances and a reminder to the league that veteran savvy and championship experience makes a legitimate difference. His last two years were spent in the California sun where he cheered on the Clippers Lob City and not much else.
Night to night he could hang with Kobe, go point for point with Iverson, corral Dwyane Wade and bested LeBron before he formed his own superteam in Miami. He always had It when he needed it. Year by year, #34 got it done. His jersey will hang in the rafters and he will be enshrined in the Hall of Fame. Goodbye to Paul Pierce, my unlikely favorite basketball player.