The Celtics' captain, who was born in Oakland and raised in Inglewood, Calif., is returning to his hometown on Tuesday night for a ceremony to retire the No. 34 jersey he wore at Inglewood High.
Three months ago, Pierce was in L.A. looking to torch the Lakers and win the Celtics their 18th NBA championship banner; now, he's back home being introduced to the fans who booed the life out of him in June.
"We just thought the timing was right," said Inglewood coach Pat Roy in an interview with the Daily Breeze, the local paper. "It's been awesome watching him in his career, watching him grow up and become the pro he is today."
Roy's been coaching the Inglewood boys for 18 years now, and it's hard not to value his insights on the Southern California hoops scene. But to call the timing "right," with the NBA season just weeks away and Pierce being thrust into the war zone of the storied Lakers-Celtics rivalry, seems a little sadistic. Pierce had better be mighty thick-skinned if he wants to withstand the barrage of anti-Celtic epithets thrown his way Tuesday night.
Then again, considering Pierce's background and the journey he's taken to becoming the leader of today's Celtics, how could he not take it?
If there's one guy who can handle this struggle, being vilified by the fans who once accepted him as one of their own, it's Pierce. It's the story of his life.
Pierce grew up idolizing the Lakers of the 1980s. Magic Johnson, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and James Worthy were his childhood heroes, and he waited every spring for the chance to cheer them on against the hated Celtics. Two decades later, he's on the other side of that battlefield.
It's been a tough turnaround for him, but it's even tougher for the native Californians who grew up with him.
"Is it a little weird? Yeah, definitely," Pierce said back in June, before his second Finals tipped off. "But I think it's more weird for my friends, who are not playing for the Boston Celtics, and they grew up L.A. fans, and all of a sudden, they're Celtic fans because of me. But for me, I've accepted Celtic tradition. I'm a part of it. I'm here now and I'm a full-blown Celtic."
Pierce's journey reflects the idea that life and basketball are both all about rolling with the punches.
He never chose to be a Celtic — he thrust himself headfirst into the NBA draft in the summer of 1998, after three years at Kansas. It just happened to be Rick Pitino's C's selecting him in the first round, at No. 10 overall.
He never chose to wear No. 34 — it just happened to be the one available jersey in the Inglewood High locker room that fit him, so he wore it and never looked back.
Sometimes you can make your own breaks in life, but often, those breaks choose you.
Paul Pierce will be introduced on Tuesday night in Inglewood as a Southern California legend, but he'll probably be booed as a backstabber clad in Celtic green.
He's man enough to handle it. And in a couple of weeks, he'll be back in Boston ready to lead his treasonous charge toward another NBA championship.
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