On Sunday, March 17, almost everyone you know will be wearing green. Paul Pierce has been wearing that color for 15 years. Over the course of his career, he has put on a green jersey 1,219 times.
In both the regular season and playoffs, that's 1,219 times, with another 25 or so to come this season. Seeing Pierce in Boston Celtics green has become as visually common as a leprechaun's coat or a pint of green beer at a dive bar on St. Patrick's Day weekend.
Pierce was given the day off against Charlotte, and the Celtics looked predictably lost. Against the NBA's 28th-ranked defense, Boston put up only 74 points. The Celtics dropped that game because something was off.
Pierce wasn't wearing green.
The following night, Boston's captain was back in his familiar duds, and everything was smooth sailing for the Celtics. They dismantled the Raptors, 112-88, and there were Pierce and BFF Kevin Garnett standing outside the timeout huddle, watching some old "Saturday Night Fever" fans dance to a Bee Gees record.
A hard-fought victory earned the Celtics' aging stars some "Gino Time."
The difference between the games seemed obvious. Pierce went to the line 11 times and scored 15 points, using his veteran wiles to get the better of Rudy Gay and the Raptors defense. He played only 24 minutes, but that was all that was needed.
Without Pierce, the knock is that the Celtics don't have anyone who can get his own shot. Against Charlotte, the Celtics got off just 66 field-goal attempts, 14 less than their per-game average. This is why things had been so reliant on Rajon Rondo early this season.
Pierce remains the Celtics' best chance at getting off a high-percentage shot, whenever one is needed.
Jeff Green has progressed nicely in the second half of the season, but his moves are few and unrefined. He's good for a vicious dunk every night but also for an ill-advised rim attack or two.
Jordan Crawford can and will get his own shot—just give him the ball. However, Crawford rarely offers a good-looking attempt.
Other than these two players, the Celtics feature a slew of spot-shooters. Granted, they are some of the best spot-shooters the league has to offer.
In the midst of the win over the Raptors, Pierce surpassed Charles Barkley for No. 20 on the NBA's all-time scoring list. The PA voice sent the crowd into a frenzy with the announcement. The jumbotron camera focused on the vacant spot beneath Robert Parish's retired No. 00, a spot were Pierce's green No. 34 will one day reside.
The question is, are Boston fans ready for that day to come sooner or later?
Things appear to be lining up for this to be Pierce's final season in Boston. His contract is not fully guaranteed for 2013-14, making it fairly easy for Danny Ainge to move him this summer.
Teams were more than interested before the trade deadline, and Boston had a deal in place that could have landed Josh Smith from the Atlanta Hawks while sending Pierce to the Dallas Mavericks. However, that one fell apart at the request of a first-round pick from Boston's side. Come the offseason, those hangups may not be as glaring.
The Celtics have been avoiding a new era or rebuilding period like the plague for the past couple of seasons. They've kept their distance by showing up big in the postseason, consistently making deep runs in the Eastern Conference. Even now, with Ray Allen moving on to the Miami Heat and Rajon Rondo out with an ACL injury, the Celtics are resiliently climbing the standings.
But as Bob Dylan says, change has to come sometime. This run will be celebrated and remembered for years to come. Whether it ends this summer or next, nothing will change how Boston feels about Paul Pierce and everything he has accomplished as a professional.
This is no eulogy, however. There is a postseason to be played, where anything can happen. Whether the Celtics are the last team standing or are knocked out along the way, only then will Ainge, Pierce and everyone else involved weigh options and make decisions.
There is a lot to consider beyond a legacy of attributions like "Celtic for life." Facts remain like the one that shows Pierce is still the team's leading scorer. He is Boston's most skilled and potent offensive weapon. There is the concern that maybe Rondo's offense doesn't work without the multi-skilled threat of Pierce on the wing.
When things break down offensively and Rondo is stuck pounding the ball at the top of the key, Pierce is the only player trustworthy enough to get off a good shot. That decision making comes with experience, and that role would likely be thrust on Jeff Green.
Green signed a four-year contract prior to the 2012-13 season. He has made great strides over the past few months after returning from heart surgery a year ago. Because of that missed year, it doesn't seem like Green will be turning 27 in August and finishing his fifth NBA season. It is getting increasingly difficult to bring him off the bench now, let alone in 2013-14.
What is up for contention is whether a move for Pierce means a retirement. It became clear at the trade deadline that Pierce and Garnett are now a package deal. Garnett has a no-trade clause in his contract and will remain in Boston as long as Pierce does.
Things have gotten to the point where it is nearly impossible to see Pierce in another color. Green suits him, and seeing him in green has suited the people of Boston for 15 years. The 35-year-old is a big family man, and his two young daughters supply plenty of reasons to hang up the No. 34 should a move be made during the offseason.
Pierce has a ring and a Finals MVP award, a slew of All-NBA team and All-Star appearances and a legion of fans who have idolized him for years. All of this has come while wearing that familiar shade of green. The green you'll see everywhere you look on March 17, but also the green you'll see every time you set foot in TD Garden.
Early Saturday afternoon, I sat in a Boston restaurant, catching up with an old friend. She happened to be a casual basketball fan, who in her youth had gone to Celtics games with her father.
At the prompt of this story, which I would be writing later, she recalled those father-daughter memories.
She has recently gotten back into watching the team after the lengthy hiatus that hits a lot of adolescent girls. What did she find most interesting while easing back into the NBA world?
Paul Pierce and the green No. 34 jersey were still on the floor.
How cool is that?
Pierce's presence as a basketball player in Boston has reached a generation of fans who watched him in their youth and now watch him later in life.
That isn't something anyone wants to end, but at the same time, change is inevitable.
Given enough time, even colors as strong as green can fade away.