“Only Greatness equals Greatness.” – Jordan Brand
We live in a day and age of Vines, and Twitter, and PTI. A day and age where “the greatest dunk/shot/pass/player EVER!!” is the greatest until tomorrow, when the next one arises.
Truth be told, that’s always been the nature of sports. Today’s day and age has brought technology and media coverage to a place where everyone can share with everyone else, and the transmission of highlights, or stats, or ideas can be shared instantly on a global level, and then argued, on the global level. But today’s Twitter, and Facebook, and PTI, are simply our modern day barbershop where we get together and say, “Holy Sh^%!, did ya’ll see what that kid Michael Jordan on the Bulls did last night?” and then argue about whether he’d just had the greatest dunk ever, and whether he could really be better one day than Magic Johnson, or Larry Bird, or Jerry West, or Sam Jones.
The arguments and debates are no longer confined to our friends, neighbors, and communities, but they’re the same fun arguments nonetheless. The medium has changed, but the game is the same.
But how many times did we play that game with Paul Pierce? How often, outside of Boston, was every barbershop and bar buzzing about “what that boy Paul Pierce did last night?” Among all the ridiculous athleticism littering the NBA, Paul Pierce was often easy to forget. And playing over half of his career with a roster full of forgetful players, the Truth was easy to ignore. Which makes the next sentence sound kind of crazy.
If you’re 30 years old or younger, Paul Pierce is one of the ten to fifteen best basketball players you’ve EVER watched.
Michael. The Dream. Duncan. Kobe. Shaq. LeBron. Malone. Barkley. Wade. Dirk.
But we forget about the Truth, because the Truth, though always constant, was never “the greatest” in the moment, or “the next great thing” we were looking for.
We forget about Paul Pierce.
We forget about Paul Pierce because of Allen Iverson, because how does a guy THAT size score like THAT! And because of that crossover….
…and because we remember “The Question.”
We forget about Paul Pierce because of Vince Carter, one of the most talented, athletically gifted homosapiens in human history. The man could literally fly, AND he could shoot and handle.
We forget about Paul Pierce because of Tracy McGrady, one the easiest scorers in NBA history, He could drop 60 on you in three quarters and look like he was high or still half asleep. And of course, he could put thirteen on you in thirty-five seconds.
Most of all, we forget about Paul Pierce because of Kobe, and because of Duncan. Throughout their entire generation, Kobe and Duncan were part of any barbershop debate involving the words “top five,” “best,” and “ever.” For Kobe it was about guards, for Duncan it was about big men. Often times it was about where both ranked in the “best players ever” debate. Other times it was about which one was the best of their generation. That one still rages on today (as it should).
Raise your hand if you remember these arguments:
- Kobe vs. Vince? (if you’re a younger reader, yes, this actually happened)
- Kobe vs. McGrady? (And so did this. Not as a joke)
- Kobe vs. Shaq?
- Duncan vs. Shaq?
- Duncan vs. Garnett?
- Kobe vs. LeBron?
- Kobe vs. Jordan?
- Duncan vs. Kobe?
The thing about greatness is, greatness takes time. Longevity matters. Durability matters. Sustainability matters. Anyone can be great for a night, or a season, or a few seasons. But greatness lasts. From season to season, from debate to debate. Mo Williams scored 52 points this season. Steve Nash has more MVPs than both Kobe and Shaq. Some people will even tell you T-Mac had the upper hand on Kobe for a while. For a while.
But we forget about Paul Pierce. Because as Kobe and Duncan took on and defeated every short lived number one contender, Paul Pierce simply kept ballin like only Paul Pierce can. His crafty footwork, his spin move, his ability to create space, to score from everywhere, against everyone, despite always being at an athletic disadvantage. He was never the best player in the league at any point in his career, but he was the best player on the court about seventy-five games a season. He never led the league in scoring, or won MVP. It was never Kobe vs. the Truth (except in Colorado). But he was always there, just below the surface. Vince came and went. T-Mac came and went. LeBron came along. Durant came along. When Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen joined Pierce for the 2007-2008 season, and he finally had some legitimate teammates, he won a title, and won the 2008 NBA Finals MVP. Still, all anyone seems to remember is this…
We forget how Pierce strapped up Kobe in critical moments (who else remembers his block on Kobe’s baseline fadeaway?), how he hit a ton of huge shots, and how he was a Kendrick Perkins injury away from a second title (maybe). We forget that Paul Pierce wasn’t just great, he is greatness.
Let me remind you:
Paul Pierce was the 10th pick in the 1998 draft, a draft that included Vince Carter, Dirk Nowitski, Antawn Jamison, Rashard Lewis, and Mike Bibby. That’s just a year after Duncan and McGrady (1997, and McGrady was much younger as he was drafted out of High School), two years after Kobe (1996, and drafted out of high school like McGrady), and three years after KG (1995, and out of high school like Kobe). He was drafted before Baron Davis (1999), Joe Johnson (2001), and Gilbert Arenas (2001).
Paul Pierce is in his 17th NBA season. During 15 seasons in Boston, he averaged twenty two points, six rebounds, and four assists. 22-6-4 over fifteen solid years (Including a pre-KG-and-Ray stretch from 2001 to 2007 when he averaged 25-7-4 over seven straight seasons).
Pierce is a ten time All-Star, without any of the bonus years based on fanfare, highlights, and dunk contests.
He is 19th All-Time in scoring, ahead of Hall of Famers like Larry Bird, Charles Barkley, Jerry West, Clyde Drexler, Patrick Ewing, David Robinson, Reggie Miller, and future Hall of Famers like Allen Iverson and Ray Allen. He is less than 100 points behind both Duncan and KG.
And talking about the playoffs only solidifies his place in history. He ranks 22rd (and rising) in All-Time playoff scoring, ahead of Garnett, Iverson, Barkley, Isaiah Thomas, Reggie Miller, James Worthy, and Gary Payton. If Pierce can help get the Wizards to the second round, he’ll have a good chance to pass Dennis Johnson and Kevin McHale and move into 20th.
He’s fifth among active players in scoring (less than 100 points from 3rd), behind Kobe, Dirk, Duncan, and KG. He’s seventh among active players in rebounds, and 10th among active players in assists, despite not being known as a great rebounder or passer. That’s what long-term greatness does.
Most importantly, Paul Pierce is clutch, and always has been. Even with his garbage Antoine Walker teams, he was clutch. And with KG and Ray, he was clutch. Proof? How about some of these lines in playoff games, from throughout Paul’s playoff career:
- 25 points, 17 rebounds, 6 assists vs. Detroit in 2002.
- 46 points, 6 assists vs. Detroit in 2002.
- 40 points, 11 rebounds, 6 assists vs. Indiana in 2003.
- 32 points, 10 rebounds, 11 assists vs. New Jersey in 2003.
- 38 points, 6 rebounds, 8 assists vs. LA Lakers in 2008.
- 28 points, 8 assists vs. LA Lakers in 2008.
- 31 points, 13 rebounds, 5 assists vs. Orlando in 2010.
- 36 points, 14 rebounds vs. Atlanta in 2012.
There’s plenty more. But there’s only one you need to remember, to remember Paul Pierce:
Game 7. 2008 Eastern Conference Semi-Finals. LeBron James vs. Paul Pierce. The King vs. The Truth.
LeBron, the best player in the world, finished with 45 points, 5 rebounds, and 6 assists.
Pierce finished with 41 points, 4 rebounds, 5 assists, and the victory. And he finished the season with a ring.
THAT is why they brought him here.