Paul Pierce said all the right things, but it sounded forced, like he was trying to convince himself that the words coming out of his mouth were true.
After 15 years and countless memories, Pierce is no longer a member of the Boston Celtics. If it will feel weird for fans to see Pierce play in a Brooklyn Nets uniform, they can take solace in knowing Pierce will feel just as weird playing in one. In being introduced with his new team at a news conference Thursday, Pierce did not even try to hide his disappointment at not being a lifelong Celtic anymore.
Or, if he did try, he did a very bad job of it.
“It hasn’t really sunk in yet,” Pierce told the assembled media at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn. “It’s started to sink in, just now, as we speak.”
A little later, he sounded in disbelief when he said, almost regretfully, “I’m no longer a Boston Celtic.”
Perhaps it should have been obvious in the effort Pierce expended on the court for the past decade and a half, but Thursday’s bizarre news conference performance underscored just how much being a Celtic — and only a Celtic — meant to Pierce. He spoke many times over the years of wanting to be one of the few modern stars to spend his entire career in one jersey. The club of Kobe Bryant, Tim Duncan, Dirk Nowitzki and Dwyane Wade just saw its membership decrease by one.
Pierce desperately wanted to be a part of that club. That was clear when he began his statement to New York reporters not by saying how happy he was to be in Brooklyn or how excited he was to pursue an NBA championship with the Nets, but by lamenting the “tough situation” that led to his departure from Boston. He cracked a smile when Kevin Garnett, his good friend who accompanied him in the trade from the Celtics, hollered, “Sup, Brooklyn!” But Pierce wasn’t about to shout anything from the rooftops. Quiet reflection seemed more likely.
It took a long time for Pierce to be fully appreciated in Boston — more than a decade, for some. By the end of his time with the Celtics, it was obvious he wanted to play here and nowhere else. Anyone who doubted his sincerity or somehow believed Pierce’s loyalty was merely lip service had to abandon all doubt while Pierce mumbled through his first awkward appearance as a non-Celtic.
Pierce has always read the situation better than most players, both on and off the court, however. Early in Thursday’s proceedings, it appeared to dawn on him that he did not sound sufficiently enthusiastic, so he changed the subject and altered his tone. He listed all the redeeming qualities of the Nets organization, from its solid core of Deron Williams, Brook Lopez and Joe Johnson to a front office that spares no expense under owner Mikhail Prokhorov. Yet, again, he sounded like a man who was lying to himself and knew it.
“I would have loved to end my career in Boston,” he admitted, “but that day and age is over for a lot of players.”
For so long, though, Pierce prided himself on being one of the exceptions. Playing his entire career with one team came to mean something to him, possibly as much as winning another championship or prolonging his still-great career means to him now. But he will play on because he still can, and he still should. So Pierce hoisted his new jersey, forced a smile for the cameras and prepared to move on with his life as something other than a Celtic, even if it is a life he never wanted.