Paul Pierce didn't see it coming. A kid from Southern California who grew up with a love for basketball and the Los Angeles Lakers, only to wind up having a wildly successful career with the team he hated most, the Boston Celtics.
Years later, that hate has turned into extreme admiration and the utmost respect.
"Well growing up in Inglewood, I would have said I wouldn't be a Celtic," Pierce said. "I'm not going to be a Celtic if somebody was to say it at the time."
My oh my, how things have changed. As it turns out, Pierce would become a Celtic after a long journey through high school and college, and what was in store was nothing short of incredible. Pierce didn't just play for the Celtics, he became the Celtics.
Over the course of a decade, he rose through the ranks to become one of the best players ever to wear Celtic green. Hard work, determination and loyalty have highlighted his entire career in Boston.
All of those traits led to what went occurred inside TD Garden on Tuesday evening.
Pierce entered Tuesday's game against the Charlotte Bobcats needing nine points to move into second place on the franchises' all-time scoring list. He scored seven points in the first half and missed a handful of field goals at the end of the half, including a three at the buzzer, but he would ultimately reach the historic mark early in the third quarter.
Rajon Rondo drove the ball up court and passed it into the paint, but the ball was tipped and bounced off the rim and nearly went out of bounds. But the ball was recovered and tipped back to Rondo, who took the ball under the basket.
And then, he passed it to Pierce at the perimeter. He set his feet and let it fly. The rest is history.
Pierce's three gave him 21,792 points, one more than none other than franchise legend Larry Bird.
"That's incredible," Pierce said of passing Bird. "In my mind [he's] one of the top five players that ever played the game. I'm not going to sit here and say that I'm anywhere near his accomplishments, but just to be mentioned with him with this organization is a great honor."
And a well-deserved honor at that. It's true, Pierce is not as great as Bird, who is certainly the most iconic basketball player in the history of the city and a basketball icon. Bird won three titles and went toe-to-toe with Magic Johnson and plenty of other NBA greats, all while building his reputation as one of the most clutch scorers in the history of the sport.
Don't look now, but Pierce isn't that far behind. In fact, he's technically in front now. Pierce now has more points than Larry Legend, and although he has two fewer rings, he has paved his own way.
Pierce's career began on February 5, 1999 with the Celtics, who drafted him No. 10 overall in the 1998 NBA Draft. Over the course of the next 14 seasons, Pierce was nothing short of electric. The franchises' leading scorer of the past decade quickly became a force in the NBA, putting up dominant performances on both sides of the ball.
There were good times, like the Celtics' playoff run of 2001-02 when Pierce's team reached the Eastern Conference Finals, and of course, the championship run in 2008. But there were bad times, too, such as the middle of his career when things in Boston went sour. In fact, there were several times when Pierce's days in Boston appeared to be over.
The door for his departure was open and unobstructed. He could have left. But he didn't.
"You know, here's the part I wish people wrote more about Paul: Paul had a chance to leave us when we were bad," said Celtics head coach Doc Rivers. "And instead of moaning that he wanted to go to a championship team, he stayed. And he said, 'I simply want to be a Celtic and I trust that we're going to win a title some day.' He had no reason to believe that, at that time. I mean, we were pretty awful.
"And to me, I wish people talked about his loyalty more, because I think that's special, especially in this day and time, when everybody's jumping from team to team. And that's their right, too. I don't begrudge that with anybody, but I do think it's special that Paul Pierce decided that he wanted to be a Celtic for his life. And I think that's pretty cool. In this day and time, in any sport, I think that's special."
Pierce's loyalty paid off, big time. A few years later, Danny Ainge made the trades for Ray Allen and Kevin Garnett, and the Big Three era began anew. Pierce and his two new teammates put together a glorious season that ended with a triumphant victory over the Los Angeles Lakers in the NBA Finals. At long last, Pierce had his championship.
And yet, it could have gone the other way. Had he chosen to force his way out of town, which at the time would have been completely justified, it would have meant that he could never reach the level he has today. Maybe he would have won a title elsewhere, but it just wouldn't have been the same.
Take one LeBron James, for example. Had James opted to stay in Cleveland instead of darting to Miami, and if he had won a championship there, he would have been viewed in a completely different light. James' decision to leave the Cavaliers was just as justified as the opportunity presented to Pierce during the Celtics' days in the basement.
LeBron left, Paul didn't. Look how it has turned out so far. Pierce is a Celtics legend, a future Hall of Famer and a champion. James is a much more talented player and is likely a future Hall of Famer as well, but so far he hasn't won a championship and his reputation will always be tainted for leaving Cleveland. There's something to be said for loyalty. Sometimes, it doesn't wind up working in your favor, but when it does, it makes the taste of victory much sweeter.
Pierce can attest to that, as he took the high road and made the decision to stay with his team.
"Just having confidence in the ownership and Danny," Pierce said regarding his loyalty to Boston. "Just knowing how great this franchise can be, knowing the history, knowing that once this franchise gets back to where it needs to be and if I'm a part of it there's no other franchise like this in all of basketball. You knew eventually it would turn around. I've just always been the optimist just knowing eventually 'the next year, the next year' that's what I always kept saying to myself that it would eventually turn around and it took one summer for us to turn things around and I'm just thankful that just my patience was able to pay off."
Patience and persistence paid off big time for Pierce, allowing the events of Tuesday to take place. And it was awesome for all involved. The fans, the players, the coaches, and of course, Pierce.
"It's just awesome," said Rivers. "I mean, I told the guys you'[ve got to have several things: One, is longevity. The second thing is health. And then I said the third - and the fourth - the third things is you've got to be old as hell, because you've got to stick around a long time. And then the fourth thing: you've got to ball.You've got to play some amazing basketball. Here, to do what he did, you know, passing Larry Bird - that's impressive."
Impressive, indeed. Thanks for sticking with it, Paul. We are all forever grateful. That's the truth.
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