BOSTON – If the Paul Pierce jersey retirement ceremony on Sunday is anything like Saturday’s press conference in his honor, those in attendance should prepare to bring some tissue because tears of joy are sure to be in order for many – Pierce included.
“To see all the people, 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 … it’s good to bring all those people in one room because it wasn’t me myself to get to this point," Pierce said. "It’s going to be great for me to acknowledge those people … it’s going to be emotional."
And full of stories recounting Pierce’s illustrious 15 years with the Boston Celtics, culminating with bringing home Banner 17 in 2008 which was the final piece to a stellar playing career.
Paul Pierce: “This day ... it came so fast.” pic.twitter.com/YGYOK20e3s— A. Sherrod Blakely (@ASherrodblakely) February 11, 2018
Pierce remembers many days looking upwards at the practice facility and see the retired numbers of Celtics legends, hoping that he would be around the franchise long enough to where he too could be immortalized as one of the franchise’s all-time greats.
“That was inspiration,” Pierce said. “Those numbers, those banners. One day, I want to be up there.”
And he will on Sunday, becoming the first Celtic to have his number retired since Cedric Maxwell’s number 31 prior to the 2003-2004 season.
The fact that Maxwell’s number was retired and Pierce’s wasn’t, has been a running joke among the two for years.
“I’ve always been able to tell Paul, ‘you’re a pretty good player but your number’s not retired,’” Maxwell recalled. “So now I’m going to have to say something different, and it’s going to be a pleasure.”
Maxwell added, “There’s Springfield (the site of the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame) … but you look up at the rafters and that is the real Hall of Fame.”
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Pierce’s career numbers rank among the best ever by a Celtics player, but it was the team’s 2008 title that elevated him from being a good player in Boston to an iconic legend.
But his impact extended far beyond the court.
Celtics assistant coach Jamie Young shared a story about one of his early interactions with Pierce.
“One story about Paul that a lot of people don’t know, is when we traded for Kevin (Garnett), my dad passed away that same day,” said Young who was then an assistant video coordinator. “And Paul actually begged me to pay for the funeral. And I was against it at first, but he ended up doing that.”
It was one of the many examples of how the Boston Celtics were more than just the city he resided in and the team he played for.
They were his family.
NBC Sports Boston’s Mike Gorman recounted one of his early encounters with Pierce.
“Paul and I had this little secret,” Gorman said. “He said, ‘before every game, could you tell me the names of the officials so I can communicate with them?’ I said, ‘sure.’ So before every game he would give me a hug and I would say something like Joe … and Sam, and Sam’s the white guy.’ And I watch and he’d go, ‘Sam, how you doing? Good to see you tonight. Joe, how you doing? So that was my link with Paul in getting him set for the officials for every game.”
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And there were more stories from others like ex-teammate Antoine Walker, or Celtics legend Robert Parish who believes Pierce is the greatest offensive Celtic to ever play – better than Larry Bird and John Havlicek.
“I just feel that Paul was more creative, he was a better scorer than Bird or John Havlicek,” Parish said. “I think Havlicek and Larry and Paul were probably the best offensive players the Celtics ever had. I think Paul tops that list.”
Where Pierce ranks among the best scorers in Celtics history is a debate for another day.
One thing that isn’t up for discussion is the fact that Pierce has earned a place among the greatest Celtics to ever play the game.
And while asking Pierce about being among the all-time greats like Bill Russell, Havlicek, Bob Cousy …
“I know wow! That’s crazy,” Pierce said.
Maybe once upon a time.
But more than anything else, it’s real.
You wouldn’t expect any less from the Truth, right?