A Special Career Ends In Springfield

Drive the 15 miles from Inglewood High School to Staples Center downtown and you will inevitably pass the disparate worlds that nurture the very same thing in different forms. The rough and tumble town of Inglewood, filled with dreamers and tough love, blooms the extraordinary. The same can be said of the high rise towers of Grand Avenue with their glass atriums and marble hallways. Extraordinary doesn’t necessarily mean perfect, particularly when something as dramatic and pivotal as a 19-year career is breathing its last dose of oxygen. Sometimes extraordinary, especially when it alludes to an ending, is sad, like the last page of the last chapter of a beloved book. It is sad that Paul Pierce could not leave the way he came in, youthful, excited, determined. He looked bewildered that this was it, this last day of April, this last game, this last moment. It had not yet taken shape that his NBA life is now a part of the past, left to history to judge, but he said all the right things about the moment. It won’t hit him, this door closing, until September and October when training camps start without him and Paul Pierce is taking his kids to school.

He was that dirtiest of all words in this part of the country despite where he went to high school and what he accomplished and the 170 playoff games and the Finals MVP and the 40 point mega fests and the backing down into the post and the turnaround step back. The moment he became a Celtic was the moment he would be jeered around town, stripped of civic adoration with the exception of Clippers fans whose numbers are smaller than those of city favorites: Lakers, Dodgers, Trojans.

For reference about Paul Pierce and time. Bill Clinton was in his second term of office and was being defiled for having sex with an intern when Paul Pierce walked onto the basketball court as a professional for the very first time, the banners of the Garden heroes overhead. He walked off the basketball court for the last time as a legendary man in an arena with no banners for the tortured team that paid him, no history, not much of anything but failure and perhaps a long standing curse.

Pierce was the author of a dramatic career that took him to the top of the mountain and the bottom of the valley and everything in between. The width of what he accomplished over time was neutralized by another Clippers falling on their sword moment. Unable to mount any offensive energy for a game 7 without their second best player Blake Griffin, the Clippers meekly gave in.

The Pierce end was brushed under the rug until the game was truly over and then so was Pierce’s hallmark career. Over.

Skilled, exasperating, competitive, injured, frustrating, arrogant, lacking humility, joyous, championship, ecstatic, hyperbolic, despairing, more ecstasy, nearly traded, then traded, celebratory, barely sums Paul Pierce up.

Pierce was part of that iconic talent surge that filled the NBA with stunning talent from 1995-1999, Pierce being on the backend, drafted in 1998. There was Kevin Garnett and Allen Iverson and Kobe Bryant and Ray Allen and Tim Duncan and Tracy McGrady and Dirk Nowitzki and Vince Carter. And Paul Pierce.

Paul Pierce was nicknamed The Truth by Shaquille O’Neal after he came into Staples Center and hit a game winning shot against the Lakers. O’Neal said “he’s the motherf____ truth”. And that was that. Nickname forever etched into Pierce’s flesh.

Constantly compared to Kobe Bryant because they were shot makers with the ego and flair for drama and the will to carry the offensive load for their teams without apologies, Pierce never met a challenge he didn’t try to get the best of and he had epic battles with the top scorers of his generation, of which he was one.

45,880 minutes played. 44.5%. 36.8% from three. 7,527 rebounds. 4,708 steals. 26,397 points. He had seven seasons (2000-07) scoring 20+ points per game. Only four years of his career did he have a defensive rating over 105. He had seven seasons (2004-11) with an offensive rating over 110.

10 All-Star Games. 4th in 3-Pointers All Time. 5th in 3-Point Attempts All-Time. 8th in Free Throws All-Time. 15th in Points Scored All-Time. 19th in Steals All-Time. MVP of 2008 Finals.

The 2006-07 season was misery for Pierce. The Celtics won 24 games. They had a losing streak of 18 in a row. The Celtics were horrible at just about everything but breathing. They were 29th in field goal percentage, dead last in two-point percentage, 25th in assists, 22nd in scoring, 24th in field goal percentage defense. They were 28th in offensive rating. Pierce wasn’t happy and expected to be traded and then luck fell into his lap by way of the lottery.

The Celtics had the second-worst record in the league and were hoping for a chance to draft Kevin Durant or Greg Oden, either one would have been an opportunity to ship Pierce out and go young. But the Celtics dropped down to five, drafted Jeff Green, acknowledged he didn’t have the talent to rescue them and used him as bait to get Ray Allen and eventually Kevin Garnett. That lottery punishment solidified Pierce in Boston as a champion as the Celtics had a brilliant year in 2007-08, and were cultural icons as well. They began the basketball movement towards a “Big Three”, the dream that every organization now is pining for, three special players.  It was in that year that Pierce had a dramatic moment often referred to as the wheelchair game.

Against the Lakers in the Finals. Pierce left the floor incapacitated and groaning (Lakers fans say faking) in a wheelchair, returned heroic and mysteriously cured without said wheelchair, and decimated the Lakers with his shot-making on way to a six-game NBA Finals win and series MVP.

In Toronto, in the playoffs, Pierce drained a last-second shot in game 7 that won the series while Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan watched dumbfounded.

In Washington D.C. in the playoffs, Paul Pierce hit a game-winner against the Hawks to take a 2-1 series lead and shouted “GAME!”.  John Wall credits Paul Pierce for teaching the young Wizards how to compete, win, be arrogant and professional.

When the Celtics were up 3-2 in the 2010 NBA Finals and on their way to L.A. to play the Lakers, Pierce said “we have two games to win one.” The Lakers killed the Celtics in Game 6 and in Game 7 it was Paul Pierce who was guarding Metta World Peace with one minute left in a three-point game. Metta swished a three in front of Pierce and the Lakers never relinquished the lead. The agony of that defeat haunts every single Celtic.

18 years, 10 months, and 23 days after Paul Pierce was drafted 10th by the Boston Celtics, it is the end of an era in which to much is given, much is expected, was proven to be true. Paul Pierce of Inglewood High, the small forward from Kansas, exceeded everyone’s expectations. He wasn’t explosive nor hyper-athletic. He wasn’t a pure shooter. He didn’t have star potential. He couldn’t _______, you fill in the blank. But he had maturity, footwork, a high I.Q., a love for winning and clutch moments, and an inner drive to compete.

As endings go, it was not as jaw-dropping dramatic as the Kobe exit last year, though Pierce and Kobe played their last game against the same team in the same building, one with a win and one with a loss.

In a Paul Pierce world, it makes perfect sense that the Hall of Fame is where it truly ends for him, only 91 miles from the city of Boston and the Garden where he hoisted his MVP trophy, proud and victorious in 2008, all those banners looking down on his achievement. He surpassed what was expected from him, the Inglewood kid.

Socrates was famous for saying there are two tragedies in a man’s life: getting everything you want. Or getting nothing. Paul Pierce aka The Truth got everything the NBA could offer and it wasn’t a tragedy and it was not perfect, everything falling in place at the right time. But it was great and fulfilling and legendary and if you missed it, you missed something special.