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There was a familiar face in those Paul Pierce highlight tributes over the past few days, a constant presence during Pierce’s early years in Boston, his cohort in the reclaiming of respectability for a franchise considered an also-ran after the original Big Three era.
Antoine Walker was present for the first five seasons of Pierce’s 15-year reign in Boston, his frontcourt partner. And for his seven full seasons as a Celtic, Walker earned the same type of adulation Pierce received Sunday night at TD Garden.
Pierce’s No. 34 is sure to be retired by the Celtics. He is the franchise’s second all-time scorer behind John Havlicek and will never have to buy another cold beer in Boston.
Walker, on the other hand, is trying to find work in the NBA at age 37, having run into financial hardship. He averaged at least 20 points in five of his seven seasons in Boston and reached three All-Star Games. He watched Sunday’s Celtics-Nets game, in which Pierce and Kevin Garnett were saluted in their return, from his home in Chicago, without a tinge of bitterness but definitely with some what-ifs.