Paul Pierce’s run with the Boston Celtics could have ended sooner.
He didn’t have to play 15 years for the team that drafted him in 1998. He wasn’t forced to stick out an 18-game losing streak and playoff-less seasons. Pierce could have demanded a trade, forced his way out of the city and sought a championship elsewhere. But he didn’t.
Four years after the Celtics made blockbuster moves to acquire Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen to help Pierce win a title, the team captain reflected in 2011 on why he stuck it out in Boston. As a trade to the Brooklyn Nets marked his run with the Celtics on July 12, 2013, take a look back at why Pierce kept fighting for the green and white.
Loyalty Began in High School
The Inglewood, California native had the opportunity to leave his hometown high school during his sophomore year to attend Crenshaw, a repeat state champion, only minutes away. A conversation with his brother helped shape his decision and emphasized the value of loyalty.
“I actually left for about a week, but then my brother was like, ‘Why would you do that?’ Why would you go somewhere else where you don’t really know if the grass is really greener on the other side? The team isn’t good right now, why don’t you just stick with Inglewood and make them better? You started there, you grew up there, why don’t you see what happens?’ … I just knew (Crenshaw) wasn’t the place I wanted to be. I really thought about it and I wound up transferring after a week, going back to Inglewood, and the rest is history. … I think even since back then, the loyalty that I was able to show just by staying at that school and not giving up on them even though we weren’t that good at the time is something that’s just been instilled in me ever since I was a young kid.”
It Wasn’t Always Easy
The 2006-07 was challenging for Pierce. Gone were the days of playoff contention – the Celtics were top runners for the first pick in the lottery rather than a championship. Pierce, 29 at the time and fighting injuries, questioned the future of the team as they struggled to find a way to win without him on the court.
“It was definitely the most turmoil time for me. I just remember going up in the office with (team owners) Wyc (Grousbeck) and Steve Pagliuca and (President of Basketball Operations) Danny (Ainge), trying to figure out what the direction of the team was. My biggest thing was, how close are we really? We were a 33-win team at the time and without me, I was like are we that far away when you miss just one player, you go on an 18-game losing streak? That really doesn’t happen to teams if they lose their one star player. Who goes on an 18-game losing streak after that? So that made me think we’re pretty much far away from where I want to be in this process.”
Trade Crossed His Mind in the Past
Pierce thought his career with the Celtics could come to an end on Draft Night. This speculation crossed his mind, though, six years before it actually happened. The C’s were top runners for the first overall pick in the 2007 NBA Draft, one that was headlined by Greg Oden and Kevin Durant. Pierce thought he could be dealt if the Celtics selected Durant. (The Celtics landed the fifth pick and drafted Jeff Green.)
“To be honest, I think a lot of things hinged on that draft. My loyalty or no loyalty, if Kevin Durant gets picked, I probably wouldn’t be here. Even though as much as Danny said he wanted to see that combination – because we talked about it, we even talked about the scenarios and he was like, ‘I want to see you guys play together’ – I thought that would have been a perfect chip for them to move forward without me because then you’d have Al Jefferson, (Kendrick) Perkins, and then you would’ve had Kevin Durant. And so things kind of just fell into place when that didn’t happen, when we didn’t get that pick. I knew when we didn’t get that pick I probably would be here for the long run because the people that we got, I knew we would trade it for something better.”
Believing in the Vision
The Celtics changed direction and traded Green to the Seattle SuperSonics to acquire Ray Allen. That summer they also completed a blockbuster trade to land Kevin Garnett, establishing “The New Big Three Era.” Just one season after winning 24 games, the overhauled Celtics captured the 2008 NBA Championship.
“They were able to convince me. They were new ownership. They showed just as much passion in wanting to turn this thing around as I did, and I felt that. That was the reason for me not really coming out trying to demand a trade or force my way into another franchise. I thought the ownership really showed loyalty, so that was just kind of my way of just showing loyalty back.”
Not Everyone Stays and Wins
After winning it all, Pierce understood why other players around the league would want to be placed in the best situation to contend for a title, especially as their careers roll on. He was glad he was able to do so in Boston.
“At the end of the day, the great players want to be part of great teams, and when management and ownership isn’t putting out the product to help the great players, then they feel like their legacy is on the line. When you go through your prime years playing great basketball and you have no help, who knows what kind of player you could have been. That was one of the issues that I had. I was playing into my prime and it’s like you kind of feel like you’re wasting years away. If you got with other players, who knows if there’s a championship on the horizon. Obviously when we got the great players here, we were able to win a championship. So not all of my prime went to waste (laughs).”
Wanting to Retire a Celtic
Pierce valued the significance of playing for the Celtics. Retiring in green and white would have meant even more. When Pierce conducted this interview in December of 2011, he had no way of knowing what transactions would happen in the future. In that moment, he was only focused on playing out the rest of his career in Boston.
“It would mean everything probably to my legacy as a Boston Celtic because it’s a rarity that you see that. It doesn’t happen in this day and age any more. I’d probably be looked at like one of the last of the Mohicans I guess (laughs), of the players who played ten-plus years with one franchise. Right now there’s only like four or five of us I think who’s done that, so it’ s a rarity this day and age. … To be here, it’s like how can you leave this? All this history, all the great players, all the great teams, it would have been tough for me to even leave this knowing that I’m a part of Celtic lure. If you can win anywhere in the NBA, why wouldn’t you want to stay here and win?”
Paul Pierce’s run with the Boston Celtics could have ended sooner.