Mike Gorman, the longtime voice of the Boston Celtics, tells one of our favorite Paul Pierce stories. And since they’re both taking their spots in Springfield this weekend, it feels appropriate to retell it now.
In the immediate aftermath of Pierce being named captain for the Celtics, Gorman spotted Pierce boarding a team flight clutching two Barnes & Noble bags. And, well, we’ll let Gorman tell the rest.
"Now you don’t see a lot of Barnes & Noble bags on the charter. So I’m thinking, what’s going on here? … So I’m wandering around the aisle and I look in the compartment and Paul is sitting there and he’s got eight books on leadership spread out on the table. He’s kind of staring at them.
"I went up to him after and I said, ‘I didn’t know you had to read them, I thought you just had to buy them.’ And I think that’s what Paul was hoping, that maybe if he stared at them long enough, some of the leadership thing would come back to him.
"The mere fact that, once he got named captain, he went and bought a bunch of books on leadership tells you just who he is.”
That tiny snapshot sums up Pierce’s career. He wasn’t the most skilled player but he found a way to be a dominant force. He wasn’t always ready to be the captain — the Jamaal Tinsley incident and the bandaged jaw aftermath during the 2005 playoffs certainly proved that. But Pierce eventually figured it all out.
And the Celtics don’t put all the pieces together to obtain Banner 17 without Pierce’s drive and his maturation.
In hindsight, that’s what endeared Pierce to Boston. Oh sure, he was one of the best scorers in franchise history. But it was the fact that putting on the Celtics jersey mattered to him. It was the fact that all the mid-2000s losing bothered Pierce so much, and that he was still willing to stick it out in hope of restoring the team’s championship past.
On the eve of his induction into the Basketball Hall of Fame, Pierce was asked about the vindication that came when the Celtics defeated his hometown Lakers in the 2008 Finals.
"It was so special to me because -- I just remember I grabbed the trophy and I yelled as loud as I could,” said Pierce. "That was for all the pain and all the hard work and dedication I put in the sport, just for that one moment. Man, people don’t understand the sacrifices we make to be able to celebrate that one moment."
One of our favorite photos of Pierce is him hunched over in Boston’s weight room at the team’s old training facility in Waltham. Above him, a motivational quote was etched on the wall next to a shamrock and read, “What hurts more, the pain of hard work or the pain of regret?”
Pierce has often referenced how close he was to being dealt to Portland in the summer of 2005. He could have easily requested to be sent out of town as the team labored through what felt like a perpetual rebuilding process in the aftermath.
But Pierce stuck it out. Even more remarkable, he matured and figured out everything those Barnes & Noble books were supposed to teach him. He gave Celtics fans a reason to turn on games and hope for a brighter future.
Because it mattered to him. It always has and it always will.
On Friday night, while Gorman was receiving his 2021 Curt Gowdy Award, Pierce and his Hall-bound brethren appeared on stage to receive their orange Hall of Fame jackets and rings. Pierce, phone in hand and recording the entire experience, bounced around with the energy of a kid on Christmas morning. He couldn’t stop smiling and joking with Chris Webber next to him. And he beamed when he finally slipped on that jacket.
Pierce had to earn everything during his NBA career. But now his legacy is undeniable.
The Truth. The captain. The Hall of Famer.