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Book on Pierce: He's growing as a person

WALTHAM -- The brown leather gym bag belonging to Paul Pierce now contains more books than DVDs, cellphones, and two-way pagers combined. The titles, "Attitude 101," "Guide to What Great Bosses Do," "The 21 Indispensable Qualities of a Leader," among other collected volumes of wit and wisdom, are usually found in the self-help section of local bookstores. But for Pierce, the books amount to required work reading. The Celtics captain has created his own syllabus for a course that should be called "The Habits of Highly Successful NBA Players."

The course work started well before the Celtics sent Antoine Walker to Dallas one week ago, before Pierce became the team's sole captain. Throughout the summer, the two-time All-Star worked to make himself a more well-rounded person and player. A better leader and a better passer. A better friend and a better-percentage shooter. A better-educated businessman and a better defender. In light of the recent, dramatic changes to the Boston roster, Pierce could not have picked a more worthwhile direction for his studies.

The extra reading and writing (he now keeps a daily journal) are designed to give Pierce perspective beyond basketball. The swingman does not want the game to consume his life the way it once did, when a bad practice or even a bad play left him down for the rest of the day. Making the transition to the primary leader of the Celtics, Pierce has put his broader perspective to good use. He said being more well-rounded helped him stay focused as he adjusted to his new role and alleviated any of the added pressure he might have felt.

"At one point, I felt like I sold my soul just to basketball, where there was just nothing else I was doing," said Pierce. "But then, I just looked at it as that's not what life is all about. It's definitely what's gotten me to this point where I am today. But it's also helped me realize what other things there are in life. I still go out. I still put the time in. This is definitely one of the top three most important things in my life, along with my family and God.

"But I guess over the summer, I realized it's not the only thing, especially with what's going on with the Kobe Bryant case, different NBA players getting into different trouble. I looked at myself and said, `I don't want to be in that same boat.' People just look at me as a basketball player and I'm trying to make my life more well-rounded. And see that there's other things out there that I can do to take the pressure off myself from just basketball.

"If I didn't open myself up, I really would have put a lot of pressure on myself when I found out about the trade. But since I'm more open-minded, more well-rounded, it's something I don't really think about. I just have to keep going out there and be myself this year."

Pierce also plans to take a real estate course and work toward earning his criminology degree from Kansas. He figures all the reading he does on plane rides ought to be directed, at least in part, toward the college degree he promised his mother.

Without any Team USA commitments to honor or trial dates related to his September 2000 stabbing to worry about as in past offseasons, Pierce spent much of last summer with his family in California. He also bought a home in the Boston suburbs and said, "I'm just starting to settle into my life."

"I've slowed down a lot," said Pierce. "I've lessened my load. And so, by doing that, I've been able to see what's in front of me as far as life, basketball, family. I think it's just a maturation process, that there's another stage that I'm going through in my life. I'm getting old now."

But that does not mean Pierce, who turned 26 Oct. 13, approaches basketball with any less intensity. He still tries to arrive first for practice and usually leaves last. He still obsessively reviews tapes of the team's performances. He still works to improve his weaknesses, whether that means spending extra time with the strength and conditioning coaches or taking up karate to improve flexibility and coordination. He still leads by example, showing his teammates what it takes to become an All-Star.

For Pierce, those are the "little things" that make him a better player. With a more well-rounded life, Pierce finds himself more focused in all his endeavors.

"I definitely believe it's making me a better basketball player because my concentration on the game is going to another level," said Pierce. "I'm doing all the little things from the way I eat to the way I get my rest to how I prepare myself. I think it's definitely something that's helping me on the basketball court, especially in the long run. If I plan on playing this game for the next 10 years, it's the little things that are going to help me.

"I still get to the gym early. I'm still a workaholic. On my days off, I'm still going to the gym. I feel like any day I'm not out on the court working on my game, there's someone out there getting better than me. I still feel that. So, I'll always feel like I've got to work. But I just can't let it affect the other things in my life."

Pierce's perspective on the balance between life and basketball shifted as his profile in Boston and the NBA continued to expand. Even with their newly acquired depth, the Celtics' success this season will depend largely upon Pierce. He was correct when he said, "As I go, the team goes." So, Pierce still will play the most minutes and take the most shots.

Coach Jim O'Brien has his captain penciled in for 36 to 38 minutes per contest. And in the new passing-game offense, Pierce might even lead Boston in assists, especially since the captain is committed to finding his teammates for easy baskets.

The league promotes Pierce as one of its bright new stars. An ESPN commercial features Pierce with childhood friend and New Orleans guard Baron Davis. They engage in a comical game of one-upmanship, each player trying to draw a flock of pigeons to his side of a park path with bread crumbs and other enticements. Finally, a mischievous grin crosses Pierce's face as he pulls out a three-tiered wedding cake. Game over.

The serious side of Pierce always has been coupled with a fun-loving side. As the Celtics' primary player/leader, he has tried to keep practices focused and fun. Against the Timberwolves last Wednesday in the first game after the trade, the Celtics appeared a happier group. There were more smiles than usual. Part of that came from finally getting on the court and putting the drama of the deal behind them. Part of that could be attributed to Pierce and his leadership style.

"I say my piece and that's it," said Pierce. "I don't think my job is to get on a lot of the guys. I like to pull guys to the side and be there with encouragement, especially for the rookies. At this point, the veterans know what's going on. I try to bring [my teammates] up because they're going to get a lot of the criticism from the coaches. I tell them to keep working hard."

Pierce clearly listens to his own advice. After twisting his right ankle in the final exhibition game, Pierce was back yesterday for a three-hour workout. (Tony Battie remained sidelined with a sprained right ankle and O'Brien called his status day-to-day. According to O'Brien, there is "a good chance" Mark Blount will be the Celtics' starting center for the beginning of the season.)

As part of his lead-by-example program, Pierce knows he must be on the practice floor as much as possible, for his teammates. Following the workout, he would not speculate on any individual statistics, especially what his scoring average might be this season. The only offensive statistics that concern him are assists and field goal percentage. Two, out of many, areas he wants to improve.

"I spend two or three hours a day at basketball, then what else do you have, what else is there that you have going on?" said Pierce. "Even though it's a major part of your life, you really have to concentrate on other things. I know God blessed me with a talent for basketball, but I guess I'm trying to find out if there are . . . any other gifts I have that are out there also, that I haven't discovered within myself."

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