If you read my profile, you would have seen the type of athletes and players that I respect, admire, and am a fan of these days. Players who play hard, who play hurt, who don't opt out of their contracts, who don't demand trades and players who will die with their team logo. Those things describe Paul Pierce to a tee.
I've had the pleasure of watching Paul Pierce play his whole career. From his time at Kansas, to him getting drafted, all the way to him winning a ring with the Boston Celtics, I am sure I will be watching when they raise his No. 34 next to Larry Bird, Bill Russell, and the countless other Celtic greats. He will be remembered as the best offensive player in Celtics history.
Note that I didn't say the "best" player, but the best "offensive" player. Between his jump shooting, post moves, his ability to drive and get to the line, he is the total offensive package. He is a threat at both ends of the floor. If he has a bad game shooting, he would make up for it at the line, through defense and rebounding.
Rarely, does Pierce just fit in, blends in or falls into the woodwork over the course of the game. He always has an impact on the game one way or another.
He had a great rookie year, and after a brutal stabbing in a nightclub, he came back like the warrior he is in no time to become a perennial All-Star. He came to a rebuilding team and turned them into Eastern Conference contenders. He and Antoine Walker almost returned the Celtics to the prominence and success they had in the 80's.
They almost were there, but it all ended. Who could forget Pierce's four straight crucial free throw misses in the Eastern Conference Finals? Who could forget the monumental 20-plus point comeback against the Nets?
Things fell apart for Boston then. He went through the Rick Pitino disaster and several disgraceful seasons. Never did he publicly pout or demand a trade. Sure, he might have wanted to get away, but he remained a professional and kept his beef in house, instead of bitching to the media. He played hard and hurt.
He played the game the same way during losing seasons as the winning ones. He endured the hard times instead of running to greener pastures.
I used to collect basketball jerseys when I was younger and I stopped buying them since because so many players were demanding trades and running away. I only bought jerseys after players signed their contract and extensions. Pierce's No. 34 will surely be in my collection when all is said and done.
After a horrendous 15-67 season, Pierce stuck around and was awarded for his loyalty and perseverance when they acquired Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen. A year later, he wins a well deserved ring. Now he's back on a perennial contender, probably to the end of his career.
Pierce embodies everything what I love about the modern athlete. He battled the hottest player in the league, LeBron James, in a classic shootout in Game Four of the conference finals two years ago, proving that he still is an elite player. He's still able to compete at the highest level against the best competition. Sure, LeBron is more talented, but Pierce was smarter and competed.
He went through hard times, losing teams, and rode on ships that sailed smoothly, and then sank. He stuck with the Celtics through thick and thin, and never left the team that drafted him. That's admirable in these times, and he was rewarded for his loyalty.
He didn't take the easy way out and ask for a trade. So many players want to leave the teams they started with, to go to a team that's already there, or needs that one piece. They don't go through the whole maturation process where they see an organization go from a laughingstock to a contender.
Where they see players mature and develop over a course of time. Paul Pierce was the cornerstone, and saw the franchise build from the ground up. He was there through good times and bad.
He cried when he got his ring from David Stern, probably because he remembered the bad times, the bad seasons and he never ran away. Now he's on a perennial contender. He's been at both ends of the extreme, from best to worst. He appreciates it more than most. He didn't sign as a free agent; he was drafted by them. He stayed with them and he'll have Celtic green on his casket.
Paul Pierce: the kind of athlete that's rare; the kind of athlete I respect.