They were both born in the Bay Area in 1977 (a mere 10 weeks apart), and raised entirely in the Golden State. In 1995, they both graduated high school and took their talents to middle America; to universities synonymous with greatness in their respective sports. When college was over, they were both ready for the next level, but were overlooked in the draft, a slight that lit a fire that still burns to this day.
In any event, fate brought them both to Boston, where they’ve remained ever since — two legends in the same East Coast city, more than 2,000 miles from where it all began.
We don’t hear too much about the similarities between Tom Brady and Paul Pierce, because most of the comparisons fall short beneath the surface. Sure, they were both born and raised in California, but it was in two very different Californias. Brady grew up in San Mateo — in the heart of Silicon Valley, in the midst of the technology boom. He lived with his mother, father, and three sisters; an almost Brady Bunch-like upbringing, regardless of the name. Brady spent weekends with his dad, watching the 49ers play at Candlestick or hitting the links at Pebble Beach and other surrounding courses.
Pierce never knew his dad. He grew up in Inglewood, which even Dr. Dre will tell you is always up to no good. He spent his childhood surrounded by gangs and used basketball to stay out of trouble. His mother worked two jobs to help support Pierce and his two half-brothers.
They both played at a big-time college, but Pierce was a superstar at Kansas. The definition of a blue chipper who took the Big 12 by storm and declared for the draft his after his junior season. Meanwhile, even as a senior, Brady struggled to establish and maintain his job as Michigan’s starting QB.
They were both overlooked in the draft, but Pierce only fell to No. 10, and still arrived in Boston with lofty expectations — at the very least, as the foundation of a new era of Celtics basketball. Brady fell to No. 199, and arrived in New England as an afterthought, as the back-up to Michael Bishop who was the back-up to John Friesz who was the back up to Drew Bledsoe.
Considering their drastically different pro prospects, it’s no surprise that the pair took alternate paths to greatness. The surprising part is who took which path.
Brady got his chance and ran with it. He immediately shot to the top, and hasn’t moved in 12 years. Over that time, he’s won three rings, been featured on more magazine covers and fancy ad campaigns than you can count. He married the world’s most famous supermodel and will be remembered as the greatest QB of all-time. Not that it came easy, but Brady‘s lived a fairy tale.
Pierce’s path was far more arduous. It featured a near death experience, numerous losing seasons, spans of deep and relentless criticism, and occasions when he had one foot out the door — on his own volition, but also without anyone begging him to stay. In the 15 years since he was drafted, Pierce has certainly made some money in the sponsorship game, but nothing that sticks out. Most Boston fans would be hard-pressed to pick his wife out of a line-up and can’t rattle off the names of his two daughters with the ease that they can recall Jack, Benjamin and Vivian. And even since reaching the promised land — seven years and three rings after Brady — Pierce has had to withstand criticism, impatience and demands that he be traded.
In all honesty, it probably isn’t fair to compare Pierce and Brady; it’s like comparing Pierce and Michael Jordan. Still, it’s a strange dichotomy between the two superstars. They have everything in common and nothing in common. When we look back on this era of Boston sports history, they will be the two names on top, but in the present day, it’s rare that they’re ever discussed in the breath.
But yesterday, their greatness intersected. At least enough to inspire this column.
In the afternoon, Brady signed an extension with the Pats that will keep him in New England through the 2017 season. In doing so, he opened up a ton of cap space for the organization and all but ensured that — as long as he stays healthy — the Pats will continue to compete and that fourth ring will remain within reach for another five years.
Later that night in Utah, Pierce put the Celtics on his back for the umpteenth time in the last 15 years; hell, for the umpteenth time in the last month. He scored seven straight points in the extra frame to lead Boston to what Doc Rivers called “the biggest win of the year.” The difference between returning home off a disappointing 1-4 road trip and an inspiring, hard-fought and gritty victory.
In Pierce’s case, the expectations have changed some. At this point, we certainly don’t see Banner 18 in the same light we do Lombardi No. 4; the latter looks and feels far more realistic. But that doesn’t change the truth behind what the Truth is still accomplishing out there for the Celtics, or Boston fans' desire to see him continue to do so for the extent of his contract — which runs out in the summer of 2014.
And it certainly doesn’t change two more things that these two West Coast boys turned East Coast legends will inevitably have in common.
A spot in the Hall of Fame, and an eternity Boston’s good graces.