Nearly 48 hours later and I’m still not sure I can effectively put into words what Tuesday night meant to me.
I keep thinking about the night Paul Pierce was drafted. I’d been a fan at that time for about 10 years. I caught the tail end of the original Big Three, but missed all of their championships.
I was a naïve Celtic fan. For the first six or seven years, I just assumed they’d win every season. But Larry Bird, Kevin McHale, and Robert Parish got older and the championships that I expected never came.
As the Big Three got older, Reggie Lewis just kept getting better. He became the heir apparent to Larry Bird. With his budding greatness came hope that a new generation of Celtics were just a few years away from championship No. 17.
Reggie Lewis was a great player—an underrated Celtic. Had he had a long career, I’m convinced he would have been one of the greats.
But the new championship hope died with Reggie Lewis one fateful night on a Brandeis University basketball court.
It was a cruel thing to put any fanbase through. Len Bias and Reggie Lewis were drafted one year apart, Bias in 1986 and Lewis in 1987. In 1994, they should have been in their prime. They should have been leading the Celtics to their next championship.
Instead, they were both dead.
Somewhere between watching Dino Radja insult Kevin McHale’s memory and Todd Day morph into the greatest garbage time player of my generation, I simply lost hope.
I still watched, religiously, but I never expected them to win a championship.
Hope returned for a brief moment when Rick Pitino was hired (at the expense, by the way, of Larry Bird…who desperately wanted to coach his former team). I remember watching his entire press conference.
Say what you want about Pitino, but he was a damn good car salesmen. He sold himself as the savior, and for a while, we all bought it.
But then the ping-pong balls didn’t fall right, Tim Duncan ended up in San Antonio, and we ended up with a team that consisted of a young Antoine Walker, Ron Mercer, Bruce Bowen before he learned how to play defense, Dee Brown after he lost the ability to jump, and our big free agent acquisition, Travis Knight.
Travis freaking Knight.
Which brings me back to the 1998 NBA draft. In all honesty, I didn’t bother watching. All of the good players would be gone by the time the Celtics picked at No. 10 anyway.
But by some stroke of luck, Paul Pierce fell all the way to the Boston Celtics. I’m not entirely sure why. It was the first good thing to happen to the Boston Celtics since Larry retired. The best thing to happen to them since I had become a fan.
Pierce was an instant success. He played second-banana to Antoine Walker (imagine that), becoming the team's best offensive threat and biggest fan-favorite.
He told us he was going to hang the 17th championship banner in the Boston Garden. He told us his No. 34 was going to be up in the rafters someday.
And I believed him.
I just didn’t think it would take 10 long, sometimes painful years to happen.
I feel like I’ve grown up as a basketball fan as Paul Pierce has grown as a player.
I was glued to the TV hoping that he wouldn't become the next Len Bias or Reggie Lewis the night I heard he was stabbed outside a Boston Nightclub.
I watched him lead an undermanned team to the Eastern Conference Finals, only to completely run out of gas against the New Jersey Nets.
I watched him take over as Captain before he was ready when Walker was traded.
I watched him as he was the only player on the court in the 2002 FIBA World Championships who seemed to care, only to be thrown completely under the bus by George Karl.
I watched the lowest moment of his Celtic career, when he was ejected from a playoff game against the Pacers and followed it up with that ill-advised press conference where he wore a fake bandage around his head.
I watched as he struggled through two straight non-playoff seasons, bottoming out with the 2006-07 season, which he spent mostly fighting injuries while the Celtics struggled to the worst record in the NBA.
I feel like Pierce and I went through the whole thing together. Only someone who’s been a Celtic fan over the last 10 years will understand this.
I think we all gave up hope and just assumed his talent was going to be wasted in Boston. I spent the days leading up to last year’s draft wondering if I’d seen the last of Paul Pierce in a Celtic uniform. I wondered if I’d watch him come back, à la Ray Bourque, and celebrate some other team’s championship in Boston (which would have driven me completely over the edge, by the way).
Then the Celtics traded for Ray Allen. Then they traded for Kevin Garnett. All of the sudden, Paul Pierce went from being the Captain of the worst team in the Eastern Conference to being the Captain of one of the best teams in the NBA.
Pierce was the Captain, but Kevin Garnett was the leader throughout the entire regular season. Then came the playoffs, and Game Seven of the Cleveland series. Paul Pierce’s legacy game. Pierce channeled his inner Larry Bird and finally started writing his own Celtic legacy.
When the Celtics needed someone to lead on the floor, they went to Pierce. When they needed someone to score, they went to Pierce. When Rondo struggled and they needed someone to run the offense, they went to Pierce. When they needed someone to stop the best offensive player on the other team, they went to Pierce.
And each time, Pierce came through.
He became a legend in Game One of the NBA Finals, when he overcame a knee injury to lead his team to victory. His legend grew in Game Five, when he might have had the greatest playoff game in Celtics history. His legend was cemented in Game Six, when he finally kept his promise and brought home the Celtics’ 17th championship.
I don’t want to dismiss what Garnett, Allen, Rondo, Perkins, Powe, Posey, etc. meant to this team. The Celtics don’t win a championship without those guys. Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen made this whole thing possible, and will someday have their numbers up in the rafters next to Paul Pierce.
But Paul Pierce IS the Boston Celtics. He’s the one who suffered through the last 10 years with me. He’s the one reason people like me kept watching. There was always hope, because we knew Pierce was that good.
Now everyone else knows what we knew all along. George Karl is a moron—Paul Pierce is a champion.
I’ve been walking around with a smile on my face for a solid forty-eight hours. I guess I still can’t sum up exactly what this championship means to me.
I can’t wait to try for another one next season. Maybe by that time I’ll figure out exactly how to put the last two weeks into words.
Sean Crowe is a Senior Writer at Bleacher Report. You can email him at email@example.com. His archive can be found here. You can find everything he writes, including articles for other publications, here.
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