Thank you for everything. 17 years and you brought me so much joy just watching you play in the NBA. You weren’t the fastest, nor the strongest out there. You weren’t the tallest, nor the flashiest. But you probably had the strongest will to win.
I hated you for being a Boston Celtic, I’m not going to lie. As a Lakers fan, we already have that “hate-DNA” in our blood against the green. You had Antoine Walker as your sidekick, and Doc Rivers as your coach while we had Kobe, Shaq, and Phil – talk about a triple-threat combo. 4 Finals appearance and 3 championship rings later for us, the Celtics were not to be found. Life was good in Hollywood, while it was definitely a living hell for you donning the legendary jersey that Larry Bird, John Havlicek, Kevin McHale, and Bill Russell had worn before you.
But the Celtic Pride lived on.
Boston surprisingly acquired Ray Allen and Kevin Garnett, 2 players who were on their way to the Hall of Fame. It was unfair. You guys started this whole big-3 thing that almost ruined the landscape of the NBA. You found success again. You brought Boston’s 17th banner, raising the ring count of the most successful NBA franchise over the LA Lakers’ 16. The worst thing about this was that the 39-point margin of victory (131 – 92) you had in Game 6 of the 2008 NBA Finals, which was the largest ever in a championship clinching game. Damn it, Lakers.
Injuries have limited your team’s ability to defend the ring in the 2009 Playoffs, with Kevin Garnett sidelined for the rest of postseason. The Green Machine still found a way to remain competitive thanks to you. You faced a young and rising Chicago Bulls, led by Derrick Rose. It was the greatest playoff series I’ve seen. You were eliminated by the Dwight Howard-led Orlando Magic in the following round, the eventual finalist that would represent (and lose to your rivals) in the NBA Finals. You promised that the Celtics would be back the following season, and you never lied.
Fast forward to the 2010 NBA Finals, and it was the Lakers-Celtics rematch we all have been waiting for. I don’t want you to relive the nightmare, but we dominated you guys in an epic 7-game series. Sorry not sorry. Everyone thought you were finished. Couple that with LeBron James‘s decision to bolt to the Miami Heat with Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh, and the window was fast closing in Boston. You still had some fight in you left though.
You had some memorable fights with the Heat, the de facto leader in the East. Everyone was so scared of them for having 3 alpha-dogs and were ready to take over the league, but you showed them a true heart of a champion. One of the best clutch shots I’ve ever seen anyone made was the dagger-3 over LeBron, in Game 5 of the 2011 NBA Playoffs against the Miami Heat. The Celtics were up 3-2 in the series, and the upset was supposed to be complete.
It wasn’t meant to be, but you continued to exceed all expectations placed upon your team, and yourself.
You changed jerseys from green to black. Joining Deron Williams, Brook Lopez, Joe Johnson, and Kevin Garnett, the Brooklyn Nets was supposed to challenge the Miami Heat in the Eastern Conference. But the team lacked the tenacity that your old Boston Celtic team had, and it proved as one of the costliest mistakes that GM Mikhail Prokhorov ever made. You helped them prevail in a 7-game series against the Toronto Raptors, making clutch shots to remind Air Canada Centre the reason why the Nets got you to join them, while blocking Kyle Lowry‘s desperate shot to tie the do-or-die game. A date with LeBron James and the Miami Heat was set again in the conference semi-finals, but the storyline was again the same as James eliminated you in 5 games.
A change of scenery was once again needed, and you saw the potential that John Wall, Bradley Beal, and the rest of the young Washington Wizards had to make some noise. They looked up to you for veteran leadership and you never failed them one bit. When the team was struggling to find its groove in the regular season due to various injuries, you were the constant presence on that team. In the 2015 NBA Playoffs, you made people say, “Holy sh*t, Paul Pierce still got it.” Just ask the Toronto Raptors and the Atlanta Hawks.
You called “Game!” when you hit that bank shot in Game 3 to put the Wizards up 2-1 in the series, while also calling “Series!” in Game 5 after a dagger 3 that could have won the game for you (yes, you lost, but still one heck of a shot). In what could have been your last game as an NBA player, you struggled with your shot as you went 1 for 7. When the Wizards needed someone to force a do-or-die game 7, the pressure was on you.
That’s the amount of time you needed more to get that fading 3 and put the game in overtime. A quick moment of relief turned into a nightmare, as they announced that the shot clock had expired before the ball completely left your right hand. Everyone was shocked, especially you. It was tough to see that as a basketball fan, much more as a Paul Pierce fan.
You may be struggling to put yourself to sleep right now, replaying the shot numerous times and asking yourself if you could have let go of it sooner.
Don’t let the stain of defeat ruin your legacy, because it never will. At the end of the day, you’re still Paul Pierce. You’re a champion. You’re a Finals MVP. You never left the Boston Celtics until you helped them rebuild by moving on. You will always be remembered for your triumphs, more than your failures. At the end of the day, people will look up to you and say “Holy sh*t, Paul Pierce was a legend.”
That’s the truth.
– David Gamboa
(image from: http://bit.ly/1PplDWN)