From this day forward no member of the Boston Celtics will ever again wear No. 34.
That number will forever be associated with the name Paul Pierce and hang in the rafters above the Celtics’ signature parquet floor, with the likes of Bill Russell, Larry Bird, Robert Parrish and Kevin McHale.
The best NBA player from Kansas since Wilt Chamberlain, Pierce officially became a legend Sunday in Boston, when the franchise with 17 championships retired his jersey.
“Words can’t even describe it right now,” Pierce told reporters on the eve of the ceremony.
“When I got to this day, I was like, ‘It came so fast.’ I remember like yesterday the day Wyc (Grousbeck, co-owner of the Celtics) called me and was like, ‘We want to retire your jersey.’ And I’m like, ‘Really? It happened already?’” recalled Pierce, currently in his first year of retirement. “Just to see and be with all the people who helped me on this journey, to get to this point to where I finally put a close on my career and leave a legacy here in Boston, it’s just good to bring all those people in one room. Because it wasn’t just me by myself to get to this point.”
Pierce figured the festivities, which followed Boston’s game against Cleveland, would toy with his emotions, and he was right. The 40-year-old who grew up in Inglewod, Calif., played three years at KU under then-coach Roy Williams and became the face of the Celtics for the bulk of his NBA career fought back tears at one point, while addressing cheering fans inside TD Garden.
“If I never make the Hall of Fame,” Pierce said during his speech, “to go up as a Celtic with my number here, that’s probably all I can ever ask for. That’ll be enough. That would be enough for me.”
A 10-time all-star and MVP of the 2008 NBA Finals, Pierce’s statistics rank him among the very best to ever wear the iconic green and white of the Celtics.
The 6-foot-7 forward nicknamed “The Truth” by an NBA legend, Shaquille O’Neal, Pierce is Boston’s all-time leader in 3-pointers made (1,823), free throws made (6,434) and steals (1,583).
Only John Havlicek (26,395 points) scored more for the Celtics than Paul Pierce did (24,021) during his 15 seasons with the renowned franchise.
Pierce also ranks in the top 10 in Celtics lore in games played (third, 1,102), minutes played (third, 40,360), field goals made (third, 7,882), offensive rebounds (eighth, 1,008), defensive rebounds (third, 5,643), total rebounds (seventh, 6,651), assists (fifth, 4,305), blocks (fourth, 668), points per game (third, 21.8) and steals per game (eighth, 1.4).
It’s those kinds of numbers that earned Pierce the respect of his peers and former Celtics giants alike.
“One of the greatest things that can happen to an athlete is to retire as a Celtic,” 11-time champion Russell said in a video message to Pierce. “I’m very proud of you, and I’m proud that you were a Celtic.”
Kevin Garnett, who teamed with Pierce and Ray Allen to lead Boston to the franchise’s most recent title, in 2008, remembered Pierce for his swagger and scoring ability.
“Part of trash-talking is backing it up. And I would say his level of trash-talking is about the doing, and him telling you he’s about to do it,” Garnett said in a video tribute. “You hear these tales about Larry Bird — ‘Hey, I’m comin’ down here fixin’ to shoot the 3 right in your face.’ Well, our generation that was Paul Pierce.”
Here are a few of the countless videos and photos dedicated to Pierce’s career and achievement that popped up on his memorable day:Your browser does not support iframes.
Debating where basketball players rank in the annals of history is a time-honored tradition in the NBA — like Marv Albert yelling “Yes” on a broadcast or the Los Angeles Clippers failing to advance past the second round of the playoffs.
So you can imagine the arguments ignited by The Washington Post’s newly published list of The Top 40 players since the ABA/NBA merger, 40 years ago, as constructed by Tim Bontemps. The Michael Jordan-LeBron James disputes, of course, are inevitable. But so, too, are the “Why isn’t Player X on this list?” and “Who put THAT guy on here?” dissensions.
Although others might debate his inclusion, University of Kansas basketball fans will be glad to know the Jayhawks are represented among The Post’s top 40 of the past 40 seasons, with Paul Pierce coming in at No. 36 — even ahead of a pair of hall of famers, Kevin McHale and Reggie Miller.
A recent retiree and future hall of famer himself, Pierce averaged 19.7 points, 5.6 rebounds, 3.5 assists and 1.3 steals over the course of 19 seasons, after Boston made him the No. 10 pick in the 1998 draft. “The Truth” was a 10-time all-star, four-time member of one of the three tiers of all-NBA teams and the 2008 NBA Finals MVP.
Bontemps explains his place in NBA history:
“Pierce’s quiet end to his career with the Los Angeles Clippers shouldn’t diminish what was a remarkable run, largely with the Boston Celtics, where he partnered with (Kevin) Garnett and (Ray) Allen to usher in a new era in the sport. He also had the most duels with James, and came out on the winning end more times than just about anyone else, too.”
As referenced by Bontemps, Pierce and LeBron put up some classic battles before the former KU star hit the declining years of his career arc. Pierce and the Celtics knocked James and the Cavaliers (the pre-Miami, pre-Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love incarnation) out of the playoffs in both 2008 and 2010. And although LeBron’s Heat teams would later defeat Pierce and company in three other postseasons (once after Boston traded him to Brooklyn), giving “King James” a 3-2 advantage over Pierce in terms of playoff series won (17-13 in postseason games), this generation’s greatest talent, who has since won three titles, learned much from his early battles with “The Truth.”
"Obviously he gets a Cliff note or a couple notes in my book as far as guys that helped me get over the hump or kept me where I was at the time," James said in 2015 of Pierce. "I knew I had to become much better individually. He's one of those guys."
That praise, along with Pierce’s many accomplishments, some may — you know — argue, should be enough to rank Pierce higher than 36th on this compilation of all-time greats.
Check out The Post’s interactive top-40 graphic and decide for yourself.
Among the 40 players highlighted, Pierce ranks 26th in points, 27th in rebounding, 25th in assists, 24th in steals and 25th in blocks.
The career of the best NBA player from Kansas since Wilt Chamberlain officially has come to a close.
After 19 seasons, 1,343 regular-season games, 14 playoff appearances, 10 All-Star games, four All-NBA selections, a championship ring and a Finals MVP trophy, Paul Pierce walked away from the game on Sunday, with the Los Angeles Clippers’ season-ending playoff-loss sending him into retirement.
For the 39-year-old forward, the finale — 6 points, 2-for-4 shooting, 3 rebounds, 1 assist and 1 steal in 22 minutes versus Utah — was not reflective of what is bound to become a hall of fame career. “The Truth” as the high-scoring Inglewood, Calif., native came to be known in the NBA during his peak years with the Boston Celtics, averaged 19.7 points, 5.6 rebounds, 3.5 assists and 1.3 steals for his career. He shot 44.5% from the floor and made 2,143 of his 5,816 3-point attempts (36.8%).
Through an incredible 15-year run with the Celtics, who drafted him 10th overall in 1998, Pierce played in 136 playoff games, producing 20.9 points, 6.4 boards and 4.0 assists a game.
His revered veteran presence took him to Brooklyn, Washington and L.A., too, for the twilight years in the league, before it all finally ended in the first round of the 2017 playoffs, with a Game 7 defeat.
“You know, it’s tough to come up short in your goals. Each and every year you set a goal to be champions,” Pierce said in a post-game interview with reporters posted at CBSSports.com. “And it’s a tough pill to swallow each and every year. I’ve been in the league 19 years, so I’ve had to swallow 18 tough pills. But at the end of the day, I was happy to be a part of this, compete with these guys and see the work everybody put in every day, and I appreciate the guys around me,” he said, before shaking his head in apparent disbelief. “It’s been a fun ride.”
The season obviously ended sooner than Pierce and his Clippers teammates hoped, but the new retiree was able to put it all in perspective.
“I’m happy at the end of the day with what I’ve been able to accomplish, what I’ve been able to do throughout my career,” Pierce said, “and I gave every ounce I could. Each and every day. I have no regrets. Even to the last day I’m in here a couple hours before the game, you know, giving my blood, sweat and tears to this game.”
After Pierce’s final NBA appearance, a number of former teammates and competitors showed their appreciation for his career with messages on social media.
Likewise, in a video produced by The Players’ Tribune, many of those same stars and contemporaries shared their thoughts on what made Pierce special over the course of his many highlight-filled, shot-making years in The Association. And his college days weren’t overlooked, either, thanks to the help of his coach at Kansas, Roy Williams.
“He was a wonderful player to coach,” Williams said. “He’s a complete player, and I think that competitiveness made him become a compete player.”
His longtime friend and Celtics running mate Kevin Garnett described Pierce both as a “beast” and a “classic” player.
“One of the more clutch, if not calmer, beasts that I’ve met in my life,” Garnett said.
Between the regular season and playoffs since his professional debut in 1999, Pierce logged 47,873 minutes and scored 29,571 points. He retired as the 18th-leading scorer in NBA history (26,397 points).
“This game has meant everything for me,” Pierce said shortly after playing for the last time on Sunday. “And I’m happy from start to finish.”
Paul Pierce proved in the 2015 NBA Playoffs he’s still relevant in the league, even with 17 seasons of mileage on his veteran frame.
The 37-year-old small forward from Kansas scored 14.6 points per game and drilled 33 of his 63 3-pointers (52.4%) for Washington in the postseason before Atlanta eliminated the Wizards in the second round, leading Pierce to say his offseason plans would include contemplating retirement.
It turns out those within NBA circles, though, anticipate “The Truth” returning for Year No. 18 — and playing for a different organization.
David Aldridge reported on NBA.com “many around the league” think Pierce will finish his career in Los Angeles, with the Clippers. Though the former Boston star, who also spent one season with Brooklyn, signed a two-year deal with Washington this past summer, he can opt out of the contract and become a free agent again in July if he so chooses.
The Clippers make perfect sense as a potential destination for Pierce. He grew up in nearby Inglewood, California, and won the 2008 NBA championship with current L.A. coach Doc Rivers. Plus, with younger stars Chris Paul and Blake Griffin carrying the Clippers, Rivers easily could use Pierce in a reduced role during the regular season — Washington used a similar approach — to save his legs for when they need them the most.
Then again, if Pierce indeed becomes a free agent, who’s to say he wouldn’t join another franchise? Celtics guard Avery Bradley told 98.5 Sports Hub he would love to see his former Boston teammate back in Celtics green.
“To me, Paul is always going to be a Boston Celtic,” Bradley said. “The things that he’s been able to accomplish in his time here, it was just amazing. And I’m pretty sure all the Boston fans would love that, too.”
Boston, coached by Brad Stevens, surprised the league this past season by reaching the playoffs, despite trading away veterans Jeff Green and Rajon Rondo. The Celtics became one of the more competitive teams in the NBA the final three months of the season and won eight of their final 10 games to grab the No. 7 seed in the Eastern Conference.
Pierce’s former franchise is trending upward, but the current roster wouldn’t contend for a title, even with the addition of No. 34. Boston would need to make a few more moves and bring in an all-star or two before Pierce could return knowing he had a chance to get back to the NBA Finals.
No road to the championship is easy, but for Pierce, returning to Washington or joining the Clippers would provide paths with fewer obstacles.
The Wizards came close to reaching the East finals this season, and his young teammates John Wall, Bradley Beal and Otto Porter all showed serious improvement. It’s easy to envision D.C. taking another step forward in 2016. But if Pierce stays in the East, he’ll have to go through his old rival, LeBron James, to reach The Finals.
The Clippers had Houston on the ropes and blew a huge lead in Game 6 of the second round before their season ended on the road, in Game 7, against the Rockets. Even though the West is loaded, L.A. has the star power of Paul and Griffin, who could propel the franchise to an unprecedented Finals appearance in 2016 — especially if the Clippers re-sign DeAndre Jordan and add some more complimentary pieces.
Ultimately, the lack of a supporting cast led to L.A.’s demise. Griffin and Paul had to carry the load so much, the fatigue caught up with them late in the Houston series. Pierce isn’t the same defender he was earlier in his career, so he wouldn’t be the perfect “3-and-D” wing for the Clippers. But he could lessen the offensive burden placed on the shoulders of Griffin and Paul, particularly late in games.
After so many seasons in Boston green, Pierce has become a bit of a hired gun late in his career. Why not make one last run at a championship with your old coach in your home town?
Truthfully, Pierce would look good in a Clippers uniform. With him camping out behind the 3-point line on one side of the court, and J.J. Redick doing the same on the opposite side, imagine the extra room Paul and Griffin (and Jordan?) would have to operate.
And if defenses decide to focus on L.A.’s stars, Pierce will be there licking his lips, waiting to deliver a crunch-time dagger.
Years from now, when basketball fans who have yet to be born learn of LeBron James or Paul Pierce by watching hologram highlight clips of their Hall-of-Fame careers, one small forward will inevitably be linked with the other.
The rivalry between Pierce and James took off in the 2008 NBA Playoffs. Ever since, their one-on-one battles have been a prominent storyline each time their two teams meet.
When Pierce, a 17-year veteran from Kansas, hinted at retiring upon Washington’s elimination from the playoffs this past week, Northeast Ohio Media Group’s Chris Haynes asked James about his old antagonist and their showdowns through the years.
Still in the hunt for this season’s championship with the Cavaliers, James told Cleveland.com Pierce actually helped shape his career.
"Obviously he gets a Cliff note or a couple notes in my book as far as guys that helped me get over the hump or kept me where I was at the time," James said. "I knew I had to become much better individually. He's one of those guys."
Playing with the Celtics and Nets, Pierce has faced James’ Cavaliers and Heat in five postseason series. “The Truth” prevailed in both 2008 and 2010, before James went to Miami and won titles in 2012 and 2013.
Now a four-time NBA MVP, James went toe-to-toe with Pierce in a second-round series in 2008 that featured a remarkable Game 7. James put up 45 points, but Pierce scored 41 and the Celtics won in Boston, on their way to an eventual championship.
In 2010, James played what many assumed would be his last game in a Cleveland uniform against Pierce’s Celtics. Cleveland lost in the second round to Boston before James headed south to join forces with Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh in Miami.
Once the Heat formed its own “Big Three” to counter Boston’s combination of Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen, the playoff showdowns started going James’ way. LeBron and company ended Pierce’s season in 2011, 2012 and 2014 (when Pierce and Garnett played in Brooklyn).
The adversaries could have met again in the Eastern Conference Finals beginning this week, but Pierce’s Wizards couldn’t extend their postseason lives past Game 6 vs. Atlanta — a series that ended with an overtime-forcing 3-pointer from Pierce getting waved off upon further review.
"[When] I first saw it and when he got the ball, I knew it was going in," James told Cleveland.com. "I just know how clutch Double-P is. I knew it was going in, but I didn't know if he got it off in time just because he had to make that extra move to get back behind the three-point line after [Kyle] Korver kind of stepped in front of him."
James, who has a 17-20 record vs. his rival in the regular season and a 17-13 record in the playoffs, knows first-hand what Pierce can do with the game on the line. In the 2012 East Finals, Pierce buried a clutch 3 to put Miami in a 3-2 series hole.
No one knows at this point whether the two adversaries will get another playoff showdown in 2016 to cap the old rivalry.
"I've been competing against him my whole career and our battles that we've had, our differences that we've had,” James told Cleveland.com. “But you know one thing about it, when you face him; you're going to always compete. I wish him the best in whatever he decides to do."
Visit basketball-reference.com for a detailed look at each head-to-head meeting between Pierce and James.
— Keep up with the production of all the 'Hawks in the NBA daily at KUsports.com.
Boston loves Paul Pierce. And for the former Celtic, the feeling is mutual.
Even though Pierce agreed to be traded to Brooklyn in the summer of 2013, and has since moved on to play for Washington, he spent 15 years in Celtics green. Beantown and its beloved basketball team mean so much to him, in early December Pierce made a video about his most recent return before facing Boston as a member of the Wizards in TD Garden.
So it probably shouldn’t come as a surprise Pierce told the Boston Herald he could return to the organization once he calls it quits (the 37-year-old has a player-option on his contract at the end of this season, and could opt out to earn more money in 2015-16).
According to the former Kansas standout, sometime in the coming offseason, he plans to visit Boston and will seek out Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge and co-owner Wyc Grousbeck to talk about opportunities that might be available for him when he retires.
The Herald’s Steve Bulpett reported though the 2008 NBA Finals MVP long had thought about front-office positions for his post-playing days, Pierce might even be interested in a spot on the bench.
“I’m not sure, man. I like to keep my options open,” Pierce said. “Coaching could be in my future. I think I still have a lot left to give this game. I always find myself talking to the guys. When we’re going through scouting, I’m giving out pointers. A lot of the assistants say, ‘Man, you’ve got a lot to give this game after you’re done.’ So whether it’s coaching or being a general manager, it’s something I think about. I think it’s something that Kevin (Garnett, his former C’s and Nets teammate) has even thought about. Me and him talked about it. I think he would enjoy coaching. You know, Kevin likes to teach.”
Pierce, who has career averages of 21.1 points, 5.9 rebounds, 3.8 assists and 1.4 steals has seen his production decline over the past two seasons, as the wear and tear of hundreds of NBA games — 1207 and counting — catches up with him.
This season with Washington (22-9, No. 3 in the Eastern Conference), he is shooting 44.6% from the floor, right at his career mark of 44.7%, and has made 36.3% of his 3-pointers, not too far off from the 37% he has made in his 16-plus seasons. Like last year with the Nets, he is playing below 30 minutes a game (27.0), but is contributing 13.0 points, 4.5 rebounds, 2.2 assists and 0.8 steals in a Wizards uniform.
Even though he is a productive member of a successful team, the veteran knows retirement comes closer every day.
“I’m just going to listen to my body,” Pierce told the Herald. “Some days are better than others, definitely. But it’s going to be a personal and family decision — even going into this summer.”
In the meantime, he’ll keep doing what he did all those years in Boston — just maybe on a reduced scale. Gotta save those legs for coaching.
— Keep up with the production of all the 'Hawks in the NBA daily at KUsports.com.
After a 15-season run with the storied Boston Celtics that included a 2008 NBA championship and an NBA Finals MVP award, Paul Pierce returned to Boston and ran out onto the famed parquet floor as a visitor for the very first time Sunday night at TD Garden.
At this stage of his career, the future hall of famer can't light it up or take over a game quite like he used to, so no one really expected a vintage performance of 25 or 30 points, like he so often delivered when the jersey he wore read "Celtics" across the chest, instead of "Brooklyn."
Pierce, the No. 2 scorer in Celtics history — with 24,021, behind only John Havlicek's 26,395 — went scoreless in the first half and only put up six points on 2-for-10 shooting against his former team in an 85-79 Nets victory.
But this game wasn't about Brooklyn winning for the 10th time in 11 tries, nor how Pierce, who averages 12.9 points, 3.1 assists and 4.8 rebounds this season, played in his return. It was about a rabid fan base honoring one of its all-time favorites.
Sometimes teams, players and/or media try to give a game or moment in sports more meaning or weight than it deserves. Pierce's return to Boston lacked any whiff of being contrived. The mutual love and respect between "The Truth" and Boston's fans gave what was an otherwise mostly uneventful game for the first three quarters a hint of something special.
A Beantown legend, Pierce couldn't resist bringing up his special trip on Twitter — @paulpierce34 — before and after the game:
To give you a more complete sense of what Pierce experienced in his anticipated Boston debut as a Net (the Celtics lost at Brooklyn in December), here is a timeline of what went on at TD Garden:
Once game time finally arrived, the Boston faithful got up on their feet for pre-game introductions.
To cheer for the Nets.
Watch and listen as the crowd welcomes back Kevin Garnett and Pierce — both traded this past offseason as the Celtics blew up their roster in order to build for the future.
As difficult as the whole experience must have been for Pierce, imagine watching an emotional tribute video that documents 15 years worth of highlights in the midst of all the hoopla and, you know, trying to win an NBA game.
That's exactly what happened during the break between the first and second quarters.
Check out the video — complete with a perfectly placed clip from "A Few Good Men" — accompanied with Pierce's reaction.
Pretty awesome stuff, and truly a homecoming worthy of a franchise hero. Standing ovation. Prolonged cheers. People welcoming you back instead of booing and hoisting signs that read things such as "traitor" because you stopped wearing the uniform of their favorite team.
Pierce missed all three of his shots in the first half, but finally got one to fall in the third quarter, on one of the moves that made him a feared scorer for so long with the Celtics.
After the game, Pierce spoke about the draining night, how unique it was and what challenges it provided.
Here is a clip from the post-game press conference with Pierce and fellow former Celtic Garnett:
The full Q&A session is available at the Celtics' website.
And you'll want to take the time to read Adrian Wojnarowski's piece for Yahoo Sports about the relationship Pierce and Garnett had with the city, the Celtics and the franchise's employees. The following is just a taste from Wojnarowski:
Within the organization, Pierce's generosity was legendary. He fought for the lowest of assistants and basketball staff to get playoff bonuses, and he used to give the team's traveling party $1,000 each to spend on the annual trip to the Nike employee store outside of Portland. Inside and outside the organization, Pierce was generous with commitments of time and resources, relentlessly championing children's causes and charities.
To wrap up Pierce's memorable return, here are a few of the better photos that popped up on Twitter:
— Keep up with the production of all the 'Hawks in the NBA daily at KUsports.com.