BOSTON — The night before his No. 34 heads to the rafters at TD Garden, Boston Celtics legend Paul Pierce detailed how the retired jerseys numbers and banners he’ll soon mingle with inspired him during his 15 seasons in Boston.
The Celtics toasted Pierce on Saturday night at the Four Seasons hotel in Boston’s Back Bay. And on a night Robert Parish declared Pierce the “greatest offensive Celtic ever,” Pierce tried to wrap his head around simply joining legends like Bill Russell, Larry Bird, and John Havlicek whose numbers hang above the Garden floor.
“Every day I walk into the practice facility and see those numbers. Everyday in the arena you see these numbers. That was inspirational,” said Pierce. “Those numbers hanging up there, those banners, it was like, ‘One day I want to be up there.’ I want to be with this franchise long enough because when you look at the numbers and see the accomplishments they made, that was an example for me to try to follow.
“That was the burning desire. Everyday. It’s like the pressure. It’s like raining everyday on you. You come up here, well how do you live up these guys? How do you live up to [Kevin] McHale, Bird, Parish? … It’s great just to have that hanging over your head, something you’re trying to strive for. Just some legendary names in there and for me to be mentioned and sitting on the side of those guys is just a tremendous honor.”
While Pierce will eventually have a banner roommate in fellow 2008 title member Kevin Garnett, he wondered out loud if, in a modern NBA where players change teams often, it might be a while before they have additional company. Pierce hopes the next generation of Celtics are inspired looking at his number up there.
“I just want the younger players to understand that you wear this uniform, not for the name on the back, but it’s all about Celtics pride,” said Pierce. “You hear that so much in this city and lot of people don’t know what that is. It’s more than just how you are just a player. It’s how you carry yourself, it’s the things you do off the court. It’s how you represent the Celtic family, and these guys up there before you. I’m thankful that I was able to do that. It goes further than basketball and I want the young generation to understand that.”
“I just think that Paul was more creative. He was a better scorer than Larry [Bird] and John Havlicek. I think that Larry and John Havlicek and Paul were the best offensive players that the Celtics ever had. I think Paul tops that list in my opinion.”
Robert Parish on calling Paul Pierce the ‘greatest offensive Celtic ever’
Pierce ranks No. 2 all-time among Boston’s scoring leaders, finishing with 24,021 points over 15 seasons with the Celtics. He’s sandwiched between Havlicek (26,395) and Bird (21,791). Parish, who played alongside Bird, boldly dubbed Pierce the best offensive player in team history. it will come as sacrilege to some.
“I think [Pierce] was the greatest offensive Celtic ever, in my opinion,” said Parish. “I just think that Paul was more creative. He was a better scorer than Larry and John Havlicek. I think that Larry and John Havlicek and Paul were the best offensive players that the Celtics ever had. I think Paul tops that list in my opinion.”
Brian Scalabrine, a teammate of Pierce on Boston’s 2008 title team, offered high praise for Pierce as well.
“I believe that he is the most underrated player to ever play the game,” said Scalabrine. “I just feel that, outside of Boston, he didn’t get the credit that he deserved as a great player. You watch him win MVP of the Finals. It’s always the big games that he steps up.”
Pierce, dabbing sweat from his brow while joking he was already overwhelmed as he met with reporters before the night’s festivities, admitted he’d likely be overcome by emotions on Sunday. He said he hadn’t penned a speech but had a list of people he wanted to thank during the ceremony after Boston hosts Cleveland on Sunday afternoon.
Pierce noted how just raising the 2008 title banner reduced him to tears during his playing days. He’s expecting even more emotions while surrounded by those that meant most to him during his playing career.
In fact, Pierce got particularly deep while reflecting on that 2008 title and how it cemented his NBA legacy.
“It’s very important because you sacrifice so much of your time in this game,” said Pierce. “I go home every summer and you have people who [you] lose to death. You have people who age. You miss birthdays. You miss so much because of this dedication that I put into this sport — all for me, myself, to be a winner. And it’s like you miss out on so many things.
“And I think that’s the reason I cried so much [raising the 2008 banner] because of the sacrifices I was able to make and give to the game of basketball. But people don’t understand you lose out on so many other aspects of life. You know, missing my kids first-time ever walking, first time saying their first word. You miss so much of just life in general. But that’s what I put into the game, that’s what I was able to sacrifice. And it’s tough, man. It’s tough.”
Pierce added: “People don’t know that you miss out on life, man, just for one thing. It’s incredible. Just for one thing. Just to be one of the best. You don’t realize it until right now I look back on it. And it’s like, man, you did all this for one thing because you cared so much. And that’s just who I was. I cared so much about wanting to be a winner and wanting to raise a banner and wanting to be a champion. I don’t know if it’s all worth it in the end, but it surely feels like it is worth it.”