BOSTON -- What do Paul Pierce's 21,797 career points and his Tuesday shuffle to the No. 2 spot on the Boston Celtics' all-time scoring list mean to coach Doc Rivers?
Oh sure, Rivers took the opportunity to playfully rib the 34-year-old Pierce about his age, noting that "you've got to be old as hell" to accomplish a feat like leapfrogging Larry Bird. But turning more serious, Rivers quickly shifted the focus to spotlighting a player who has spent 14 seasons with the same franchise.
"Paul had a chance to leave us when we were bad," Rivers said. "And instead of moaning that he wanted to go to a championship team, he stayed. And he said, 'I simply want to be a Celtic and I trust that we’re going to win a title someday.' He had no reason to believe that at that time. I mean, we were pretty awful.
"To me, I wish people talked about his loyalty more because I think that’s special, especially in this day and time when everybody’s jumping from team to team. And that’s their right too; I don’t begrudge that with anybody. But I do think it’s special that Paul Pierce decided that he wanted to be a Celtic for his life. And I think that’s pretty cool. In this day and time, in any sport, I think that’s special.”
Pierce watched the team endure a franchise-worst 18-game losing streak during the 2006-07 campaign, just months before the Big Three was united the following offseason and set into motion the team capturing its 17th world title. But he said he always had faith he could help restore the glory days in Boston.
"Just having confidence in the ownership and [president of basketball operations Danny Ainge], just knowing how great this franchise can be, knowing the history, knowing that once this franchise gets back to where it needs to be and, if I’m a part of it, there’s no other franchise like this in all of basketball," Pierce said. "You knew eventually it would turn around. I’ve just always been the optimist, just knowing eventually the 'next year, next year.’ That’s what I always kept saying to myself, that it would eventually turn around, and it took one summer for us to turn this thing around. I’m just thankful that my patience was able to pay off.”
Pierce joked that no kid from Inglewood, Calif., would ever imagine growing up to be a Celtics legend, but now it's practically impossible to separate him and Boston. When the Celtics struggled early in the season, some were incredulous at the notion of Boston trading away Pierce with eyes toward starting a looming roster overhaul.
Winners of a season-high five straight and surging to 14-10 on the season after Tuesday's win, that idea has been shelved. Yes, in just a couple of weeks, Pierce has turned the speculation from whether he would be shipped out of town to whether he can catch John Havlicek atop the Celtics' career scoring list (something that likely would take three more seasons beyond this one for Pierce to accomplish).
For Kevin Garnett, who spent the first 12 seasons of his career with Minnesota but left in search of an elusive world title, Pierce's ability to stay with one team is remarkable, particularly in a modern NBA in which player movement is almost encouraged by shorter contracts.
"Paul’s been able to endure ... to be with one franchise, which says a lot," Garnett said. "Because, in this day and age, you have options. And it motivates [players] to use those options. Loyalty is rare these days on both sides. Players, I think, get beat up a little bit when we move and go into different areas, trying to better ourselves and better our families, versus the organization. But it’s a business. That’s what we all know. I'm not [whining] and complaining about it -- never have -- but I’m very conscious of it, and it is reality.
"So it says a lot when you see a guy like this be able to come in here, be with one franchise, good and bad, hard times -- stay with it, stay with it, stay with it -- it shows loyalty. And Paul, it’s funny, I don’t know if he shows it to you guys, but he wears his emotions on his sleeve. I told y’all I’ve been knowing him for a while, so to see him here, with the fans -- from seeing him beat up on the bottom to be able to grow to become the player he’s become, then to this -- man, it says a lot. I mean, the record is one thing. It sends such a bigger message than just the surface.
"I’m just happy. It couldn’t happen to a better character person. A person who’s hard-working. And that’s what you want from a franchise player -- someone that’s willing to take those punches, then come out of the corner swinging. Still swinging even when he’s on one knee, continue to give everything he has. That’s going to be a rarity."