Pierce and Garnett: Two stars, two legacies

Pierce and Garnett: Two stars, two legacies
July 2, 2013, 2:30 pm
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The speed and magnitude of last week’s Celtics reset left Boston in a state of blubbering shock, and for the most part, that shock still lingers five days later. It’s not so much that Doc Rivers now coaches the Clippers or that Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce now play for the Nets, or that Rajon Rondo might be the next player on the move . . . it’s everything. It’s that after six years of wondering how it would end, Winter came all at once and flipped the franchise upside down. Heroes are gone. Expectations are out the window. Gino just checked into rehab.
At this point, Boston’s future basically lies in the fate of nine first-round picks (whether they’re ultimately used or traded) over the next five years, which is both exciting and terrifying. And it’s all up to Danny Ainge to make it work, which is both exciting and terrifying. But before we get too wrapped up in making guesses about the future, let’s take one more second to reflect on the past, and the end of Pierce and Garnett’s legendary Celtic careers.
First, a borderline inappropriate story:
About six weeks ago, I was in Las Vegas for a bachelor party, and one night, as sometimes happens at these things, the party found its way to a strip club. (I’m sorry, Mom. I thought you should read it here first.)
If you’ve never been to one of these establishments, then . . . you’re probably lying. But just in case, here’s a quick PG rundown of how things play out. 1) Group of guys pay $20 each to enter. 2) Group of guys sit down at a table or a couch and order a bottle of booze or a round of $10 beers. 3) An assembly line of girls sit down and try to convince each guy that he’s the most interesting and attractive man she’s ever met in her life. 4) ???
So, I’m sitting there with a $10 beer, when a girl sits down next to me and we have the following conversation:
“Hey there.”
“What’s your name?”
“Where are you from, Chris?”
She goes in for a high five and I don’t leave her hanging, but I also assume she’s full of it.
“Really? OK, who’s your favorite player then?”

My gut says she doesn’t know anyone on the team and will just say yes to whatever name I throw out. I consider going with something like “David Ortiz.” But whatever, I figure, at the very least, she only recently jumped on the bandwagon, so I guessed the most obvious name:
“Hmmm . . . Kevin Garnett?”
“It’s the Truth, baby! Paul Pierce!!”
She then proudly and shockingly revealed a significant shamrock tattoo on the back of her leg, and explained how it all came to be. Basically, her grandparents had moved to the U.S. from the Philippines in the late 1950s, and Boston was the only place they could find work. So, they settled down in the Hub and her grandfather absolutely fell in love with the Celtics.
A few years later, work moved the family to Los Angeles (where they live to this day), but her grandfather never stopped loving the C’s. In the heart of Lakers country, he raised his kids to be die-hard Celtics fans. And they raised their kids to be die-hard Celtics fans.
“It doesn’t matter where we live,” she said. “We’ll always be a Celtics family. And that’s Paul Pierce. I love KG, but Paul’s the only real Celtic!”
Then I asked her to marry me.
Kidding. In real life, one of the other guys in my party was asked to leave so it was time to go home. But I left Vegas with that conversation stamped on my memory. Not only because it came so completely out of nowhere but because it made so much sense. And ultimately, because of how it relates to the legacies of Pierce and Garnett.
In some ways, it’s a shame that they weren’t traded in separate deals at different points in the offseason. It would have been much easier to break down what each guy meant to this franchise, independently of the other. But you know what? There will be plenty of time for that. There will be their first press conference as Nets, their first game back at the Garden and every visit after that. There will be the moment when each one stands at center court and watches his number raised to the rafters. We’ll be reminiscing about Pierce and Garnett for the rest of our lives.
But as much as they deserve to be discussed as individuals, let’s be honest, these guys are forever linked. You can no longer tell the story of Pierce without talking about Garnett; you can’t talk about Garnett without mentioning Pierce. Without their collaboration, nothing would be the same. If there’s no Pierce in Boston, Garnett probably ends up in Phoenix, and who knows how that plays out. If Garnett never comes to Boston, Pierce probably leaves after 10 years instead of 15, and his place in Celtics history, which we hold in such high esteem at this moment, wouldn’t mean nearly as much. Paul Pierce would be to the Celtics what Kevin Garnett is to the Wolves.
Not to mention, they’re not done yet. The Pierce/KG collaboration is still building and unfolding. They’ll play together this year in Brooklyn. Would you be shocked if they both eventually end up with Doc in LA? There may be two chapters left to write. But here in Boston, their intertwined legacy is clear.
The dynamic truly was a fascinating one. Of course, Pierce held on to the title of captain, but during the most successful stretch of his Celtics career, the team belonged to KG. He set the tone. Every step away, he was running the show. He decided where people sat on the team plane, which players took which bus to any given game. Garnett was the Celtics, or more, the Celtics were Garnett.
“You could be in Waltham and Pierce might be there working out, but you’d never know,”, someone close to the team told me. “However, you knew Kevin was there the moment he walked in the door, because everything changed. The music. The intensity. He took over.”
And Pierce let him. Honestly, Paul doesn’t get enough credit for that. He basically gave the Celtics to Kevin Garnett, for the benefit of the Celtics, and at the expense of his own ego. This would have never worked had Pierce been anything less. Their relationship could have easily hurt the team like Kobe and Dwight last year in LA. Or LeBron and Wade at the beginning in Miami. It took a year (almost two) for Wade to completely hand the reins to LeBron, and lucky for them, they had that long. But Pierce stepped aside immediately; he got it from the jump. He knew he had to let Kevin be Kevin. And Kevin was Kevin for six years. All the while, Paul Pierce was a Celtic.
And in the end, this is how it all breaks down.
Paul Pierce is the greatest Celtic since Larry Bird; Kevin Garnett is the most important. Paul Pierce gave more to the Celtics during his time in Boston; Kevin Garnett did more. When the confetti fell in 2008, there was no better sight than Pierce standing on stage with his trophy raised high in the air. It felt good because Pierce was feeling what the entire city was feeling. He’d been there every step of the way; his title was Boston’s title. Meanwhile, KG’s title was KG’s title. But there was no question that Garnett was most responsible for there being a title to begin with.
For that, we’ll never forget Garnett’s time here in Boston. The magnitude of what he did and the countless memories and inspiration he provided. He’ll be remembered as a hero. He’ll have his number retired. But as time goes, the difference between his and Pierce’s legacy will be continue to reveal itself.
Why? Because as a wise Filipino-American stripper once said, no matter where Paul Pierce lives, he’ll always be in the Celtics family. He’ll always be a true Celtic.
Can’t you already see Pierce in his first game back at the Garden? Can’t you see the smirk on his face? The way he’s soaking in the environment? Playing to the fans? How it looks and feels like he’s at home?
And now can’t you see Kevin Garnett . . . being Kevin Garnett?
You’ll love him for it. But it won’t be the same.