BOSTON — The Celtics got drubbed by the Cleveland Cavaliers on Sunday, but no one will remember that years from now.
The game will be a mere afterthought, and instead, Celtics fans will remember the day as the culmination of Paul Pierce’s storied career in Boston. His No. 34 was raised to the rafters in a postgame ceremony, allowing Pierce to take his rightful place alongside the greatest players in franchise history.
Pierce, decked out in a green plaid blazer, spoke from the heart while thanking those who helped him get to this point. Unsurprisingly, Pierce approached his speech a lot like he played the game: He just went out there and did what he thought was best.
“It was tough when I was sitting here in the back, my hands were shaking. Originally, I had a speech. … At the last minute, I was going to go out there, and say what I feel,” Pierce said after the ceremony. “Hopefully, I don’t forget important names who were part of this journey. This is just a special journey. Like I said out there, if I never make the Hall of Fame, to be up in the rafters as a retired number for the Celtics, that’s just enough. That’s enough. Everything else is icing on the cake.”
There was no shortage of star power on hand to celebrate The Truth. Three of Pierce’s “banner-mates” — Robert Parish, Cedric Maxwell and Tom “Satch” Sanders — were there. A handful of Pierce’s former teammates were in attendance. Antoine Walker made it back, as did Rajon Rondo and Kevin Garnett. Former Celtics coach Jim O’Brien congratulated Pierce in a video message, and another former Celtics coach, Doc Rivers, made the trip and spoke to the sellout Garden crowd during the ceremony.
“Paul and I talk a lot, stay in contact a lot and so do all of us,” Rivers said before the game. ‘This is a day that we actually talked about before we won the title. This is literally a day we talked about, as far as a whole team, that was going to happen and we all said we’d be there.”
Throughout the game, Pierce’s career highlights were played on the video board, as were special messages from former teammates and rivals. Pierce’s childhood idol, Magic Johnson, offered kind words, as did Lakers legend and Pierce’s two-time NBA Finals rival Kobe Bryant.
“I didn’t expect that all, especially coming from rivals,” Pierce said. “It just helps me realize the impact I was able to have and the respect that I think I was given throughout the course of my career. Maybe not a lot of the national media looked at me a certain way, but players around the league, they know. They know when they have to play against Paul Pierce what type of night it’s going to be. They know it wasn’t going to be easy, and I was going to compete and it was going to be tough.
“You hear that from the greats. You heard Kobe say it, you’ve heard LeBron (James) say it. I wasn’t a flashy player or had the commercials and top-selling shoes, but I was a player who was well-respected. But people know when I came into the gym, they had to be ready. For them to give the praise they gave, it meant a lot because Magic was my idol and Kobe Bryant was my rival. It means a lot.”
Thumbnail photo via Winslow Townson/USA TODAY Sports Images
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