With a complete understanding that he wasn't 'from here', Paul Pierce is eerily Bostonian.
And that's perfect. Because while the Celtics history is long, and rich, for anyone under 35, he is the face of the franchise. A generation who has read about Russell, been told stories about Havlicheck, scrambled to youtube Bird, but lived through Pierce. Entering our lives when basketball wasn't just something we played at the Y every Sunday, but something we loved.
As an athlete, Paul Pierce personified what New England prides itself in. His attitude seemed to come from the pages of a Ben Affleck script: Funny, charming and smart, but with a strong 'don't fuck with this guy' kind of feel to him. Both masculine, and emotional. He embraced the importance of Celtic history, and understood what putting on the green and white jersey meant. While 'popping a jersey' can come off as self-serving, there was something that just seemed right when he did it: He got it. Those letters meant something to him.
His journey? Perfect. If only because it was just so ungodly imperfect.
For starters, he shouldn't have been on the team. Somehow slipping to 10th in the 1998 draft, 9 picks after Michael Olawakandi, 4 after Robert 'Tractor' Traylor. Whether Robert would've embraced Celtic Pride and evolved into the next great big man is a debate for another time.
In the Murphy's Law spirit of the 90's and 00's for the Celtics, he was nearly taken from us. 14 years after Bias, 7 years after Lewis, Paul Pierce was brutally stabbed at a night club. Another potential savior potentially gone. But of course, he didn't leave. He didn't even miss a game that season. Boston Strong? How about putting up 28 points, 6 rebounds, 5 assists, and 2 steals six weeks after being stabbed 11 times in the head back, neck, and face.
It's not like it was smooth sailing from there either. Sure there were a few highs, including the dawning of his nickname and the amazing comeback game against the Nets, but for the most part it was a lot of lows. The Celtics struggled for years after. There was the embarrassing 'broken jaw' moment in Indiana in 2005. The rumblings of the trade request in 2006. And really, just an overall feeling of hopelessness.
Those weren't fun times. But as any great writer will tell you, the highs aren't the highs without those kind of lows. And I emphasize the lows, only because I think it's so important to the narrative of Paul Pierce's legacy.
To see him hoist the Larry O'Brien trophy high wouldn't have meant as much if the road to get there wasn't so tough. The tears might not have come down his face as he saw the banner go up the year after if he didn't have to overcome so much. The chills might not have come with every passing milestone. And maybe every elbow jumper game winner might have lost just a little something.
Make no bones about it, he accomplished all of this himself. But, and this'll sound hokey to an outsider but probably ring true to the rest, it sure felt like we did too. From a distance, on our couches, local pubs, or if we were lucky, Garden seat - we went through it all too. Screaming at or with him in a way you could only do with a family member. And that's so amazingly special. As a Boston Sports fan I love David Ortiz, cherish being able to root for Tom Brady. But Paul Pierce is just different: It's one thing to enjoy a player's career, it's another to feel so emotionally connected to it.
We've fist pumped with him, shed tears with him, maybe even airplaned around our living rooms with him. This Sunday, we welcome him home.
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MattDotRich 1/24/2014 11:44:00 AM Tweet Edit