Paul Pierce may have left TD Garden for good.
He's been a part of the city's core for longer than Tom Brady or Bill Belichick. Pierce has been wearing a green jersey for more years than David Ortiz has been stepping up to the plate at Fenway Park or Patrice Bergeron and Zdeno Chara have been lacing up skates across the hall at TD Garden.
It isn't just that Pierce has been a Celtic his entire career. There is more to it than that, and all those New England area heroes put this into some perspective. While they have all won titles for the city and countless individual awards, so has Pierce.
They are ingrained with Pierce in the same way.
It is tough to imagine the Boston Bruins without Bergeron and Chara, who have been in black and gold since the mid-2000s. It is even tougher to think of the Boston Red Sox without Big Papí swatting homers. It is pretty much impossible to think of the New England Patriots without Belichick and Brady at the head.
Yet, here we are on the verge of witnessing a Celtics team without a guy who's been in Boston longer than any of them.
The Celtics were coming off a 36-46 season in Rick Pitino's first year at the helm in the 1997-98 season. Right up until they were on the clock in the first round of the 1998 NBA draft, the plan was to take Dirk Nowitzki, but at the last second, the Dallas Mavericks traded with the Milwaukee Bucks to swoop in and nab the German star at No. 9.
Should the Boston Celtics buy out Paul Pierce's contract?
That left Pierce to the Celtics at No. 10. Fifteen seasons later, both players are still where they were that night and both have contracts with their respective teams for next year, but Pierce's deal is not guaranteed.
The Celtics have a choice with their captain's deal. They can simply pay him the $15 million he is owed and have him play out his final year or they can buy him out for $5 million, allowing him to enter the free-agent market.
After 15 years, 10 playoff appearances, 10 All-Star selections and the 2008 NBA title, it is still hard to believe it has come to this. By the end of June, the Celtics may have bought out the contract of the second-leading scorer in franchise history. It almost seems like there would be an asterisk on his No. 34 when it is hoisted to the TD Garden rafters.
This is a guy who hasn't averaged less than 18.3 points per game since his rookie season, when he averaged 16.5 points. Pierce played in 93 percent of the Celtics' regular-season games for his career, averaging 21.8 points, six rebounds, 3.9 assists and 1.4 steals.
He survived some of the hardest times basketball has seen in Boston's history. Pierce made it through while the likes of Pitino, Jim O'Brien, Chris Wallace, Antoine Walker and Ricky Davis all made brief stops. He survived seasons with Vin Baker as his best teammate.
Pierce has been far more to the city than just a star basketball player. He has been a huge example that people can change for the better. He transformed over his career from a stand-offish, punk kid to a seasoned veteran and charitable family man.
Pierce has replaced those memories with measured reactions and a gravelly voice that can completely melt you with its weathered sound. I talked to Pierce over the holidays this past year and he spoke at length about what he and his family do for Christmas around Boston every year. Being in Boston for Christmas is the only place that Pierce's kids have ever spent the holiday season.
Over his career, Pierce has become more and more relatable to his fans. He has grasped the social media era with great ease, utilizing it not only as an avenue to those fans, but for charitable endeavors as well.
About to watch The Borgias best tv series out— Paul Pierce (@paulpierce34) May 2, 2013
While @PaulPierce34 boasts more than 2.6 million followers on Twitter, @TruthonHealth has nearly 18,000 followers. Pierce started the Truth on Health campaign to get today's youth to live a healthier lifestyle.
He partnered with The Boston Globe to become one of the most legible and insightful professional athlete bloggers there is in Boston. This was part of the responsibility he wanted as captain. The outlet was used to keep fans up to date on what he and his teammates were up to throughout the year.
However, his efforts off the court aren't only what have made him more relatable to Boston fans. Pierce's game has reached a point of veteran savvy in which his moves don't seem all that complicated or difficult to emulate.
The average hoop-playing fan can pretty much mimic what he does on the floor—without the requisite strength or shooting ability that Pierce has in spades.
Perhaps what has always made Pierce such a reachable player is that in the grand scheme of the NBA, he has never been a superstar. Pierce has never been in discussion for league MVP and makes very rare, and relatively weak, appearances on all-NBA teams.
No average fan is watching Dwight Howard or LeBron James and thinking, "Hey, I can do that." Average fans aren't seven-feet tall and sheer muscle. However, some may look like a slightly shorter version of Pierce.
Through Pierce's 15 years in Boston, generations of New England youths have honed their pick-up game with up-fakes and drawing contact, a signature Pierce move. The slow-but-sure spin moves from the wing and, of course, the hero-ball, fadeaway at the buzzer from the elbow, are all moves that can be in your repertoire just as much as they are in Pierce's.
From a kid who used to wear his hat like Tom Gordon and step to the plate with the theatrics of Nomar Garciaparra, there is a lot of Pierce in my central Massachusetts men's league games.
Home run trots will look a lot like those of Ortiz and Manny Ramirez. Kids will fight over No. 12 during their Pop Warner football tryouts with their dads on the sidelines wearing crummy Patriots hoodies with the sleeves cut off. These are all neat side effects of sports in New England.
There are thousands of No. 34 jerseys you've seen nightly at the TD Garden throughout the winter and will continue to see after he's gone. Maybe that is what he will most noticeably leave behind when he eventually departs Boston.
Almost the entirety of New England's Generation Y will have a piece of Pierce in them, and that has to be more important than any awards or recognition thrown his way.