In the summer of 2017 Paul Pierce is going to sign a one day contract with the Boston Celtics and then retire. As a member of the Celtics, Pierce played in 1,109 games. He scored 21.8 points, pulled down 6.0 rebounds and shot 44.7% and 37.0% from three. The Oakland, California native and Inglewood High product was never the most athletic or explosive but he was a cunning player with intelligence, wiles, a little fakery (i.e. 2008 NBA Finals wheelchair stunt) and a tremendous shot maker. He was an All-Star ten times. Shaq gave Pierce the nickname “The Truth.” It’s been a great Paul Pierce NBA ride that will end with a Hall of Fame speech. So why is Draymond Green hating on him?
Because Pierce is the latest of the old school crowd, the ones drafted in the 90’s who think you suffer, you stay, you bleed, you suck it up and then you win. According to that cohort, these modern players are soft frontrunners for joining a championship team instead of having “pride” as Damian Lillard put it and staying where you were planted.
It’s a bad sign that Draymond Green is already getting a little tired of the shade. The season hasn’t even started. Wait till it ramps up from coast to coast and everyone is booing Durant and the Warriors, plotting their downfall because they committed the egregious crime of stacking the deck.
Draymond, who is notoriously thin skinned anyway and impulsive and loves to talk, couldn’t help himself.
“You got all these guys talking. Like Paul Pierce today, like dude, nobody cares what you did or who you did it for. OKC has their team, we have ours. He left there. Nobody talks junk about the CEO who leaves Apple and goes to Google. As a basketball player, you are the CEO of a business. You are a business. Kevin Durant is a big business. He is the CEO of that business. So him going to play basketball for a different team, the CEO decided to leave where he was at and go somewhere else. But there are so many guys in this league that are so stupid, they don’t think like that. They don’t think business wise. It happens every day in the world. But in basketball it’s a problem. I don’t understand it. I’ll never understand it.”
Emotional and reactionary, Draymond is hardly the one to preach about restraint. He is the one who got suspended and it cost the Warriors a title so I wouldn’t fling the stupid card around. That no one cares about what Paul Pierce did is dead wrong. The city of Boston cares. It was a 22 year drought between titles for the Celtics. Pierce’s jersey will be retired. He followed Larry Bird and was a superlative representative of the Celtics lore. He is part of NBA history, of championship excellence.
Draymond is right, however. The corporate world has employees leave to join their competitors. But just because it doesn’t make social media news, doesn’t mean their defection isn’t a large ripple in an even bigger pond. The people who work for them and under them and with them are pissed. If Samsung execs leave to join Apple because they can’t fix their phones on fire they would be treated with derision and scorn inside the offices of Samsung but not in the outside world. The tech world is not the sports world.
Sports is a religion, a way of life, a passionate diversion, an entertainment stream. It fills millions with equal measure joy and pain. Unlike other professions, sports traffics in passion and pride and exhilaration and wins and losses. The elite members of the sports labor force move merchandise, sell merchandise, energize cities, fans and the generation who watch them play. Tech execs do their jobs in obscurity; athletes don’t.
Are elite athletes a business as Draymond adamantly argued? Yes. The old school way of doing things was one in which basketball came first, business second. In this era, business and basketball are intertwined interests. Business is also the excuse that athletes use when they can’t think of a reasonable answer.
But let’s be clear. Kevin Durant is not a CEO. Kevin Durant is labor who has a brand. He is paid a salary. He generates revenue that he doesn’t get to keep for himself. He has a paycheck signed by someone else. He must share in the profits. He doesn’t own the new San Francisco arena the Warriors will move into a year from now. Kevin Durant works for the Warriors. They don’t work for him.
But he does have a brand. He has customers. He has fans. He has people he has to please if he wants them to continue to buy his stuff. Some of those people live in OKC and they hate Durant right about now.
The problem here is old school athletes live in mythology, new school athletes live in the present. It is romantic to say the athletes of a long time ago created a perfect world of past achievements in which they didn’t want coattails. They wanted all the credit. They wanted to be responsible for the ring.
Paul Pierce said “I could have left Boston years ago but I stuck it out. I just feel like when you are that close as a competitor, you don’t go join the team that just pushed you out. That’s just me personally but we’re living in a day and time where there’s a new generation. Guys, I don’t think they are as hungry or competitive as my generation was and that’s why you’ll probably see more of that.”
Pierce was rewriting history a little bit. He wasn’t leaving the Celtics but in the summer of 2007 the Celtics were shopping Pierce and Pierce was ready to go. The team was too young. He had put in too many NBA years to deal with the unprofessionalism and the losing. And then Danny Ainge made the trade for Ray Allen and made the trade for Kevin Garnett. Pierce was the direct beneficiary of Hall of Fame help. The difference was Allen and Garnett were coming to a bad team not a championship team. The three of them built the Celtics, along with Rajon Randon and Doc Rivers. They rescued a shiny penny from the ashes and turned it into a diamond.
The eras are different. The players and their motivations and their friendships have changed. Draymond and PIerce are both right. Draymond wants everyone to stop hating on KD. KD did nothing wrong. Pierce is nostalgic about the era in which he became a star, the Kobe-Iverson-Duncan league that didn’t make friends. You were enemies of the state.
Had Dirk Nowitzki said what Pierce said, I think Draymond would have shrugged it off. But it was old man Paul Pierce and it was the hated Clippers and it was one more piece of ammunition to use in the war of insults and slurs between the two teams.
Draymond didn’t end the KD hate. He didn’t win anyone over to his side of the war. Unlike Apple and Google, in the NBA you are either lover or hated. So, it’s just getting started.
photo via llananba