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Pierce has time to add to his legacy

By Amalie Benjamin
Globe Staff / December 23, 2011
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Paul Pierce can see a room filled with the old Celtics, the immortals. He can see himself walking in, mingling with them, taking a long look at what they have, what he doesn’t. He can feel the jealousy, see his reactions already. He knows himself well enough to understand.

“I want to win another championship,’’ Pierce said. “All the great Celtics that have come in here have won multiple championships. And so one day when I come back and all the great Celtics are gathered in a ballroom and they have their suits on and their rings on, I don’t want to sit there with my lonely old one.’’

He will if he has to, of course. He will sit in that ballroom, wearing his suit, his one championship ring displayed on his finger. But he knows that Bill Russell will walk in with 11, that Larry Bird will walk in with three, that fingers will be covered with rings. He wants his hands, like his legacy, to match theirs.

He has had time to contemplate that legacy of late, sitting at home during the lockout, discovering just what retirement might be like. He has reflected on the things he’s done at age 34, and the things he has yet to do. And Pierce knows what he wants.

He wants another title. He wants his number in the rafters. He wants to be remembered.

“I feel like I do belong there,’’ Pierce said, considering the all-time Celtics. “With the body of work I think I’ve put in, on top of winning a championship, I think I do definitely belong there.

“But to me it’s not about just belonging there. I want to be up there, up there. When you talk about great Celtics I don’t want to just be a number. I want them to say [John] Havlicek, Bird, Pierce, the names that come with having your number up there. I want them to know not my number but my name.’’

Where will he rank?

Pierce started thinking about his legacy years ago. It was 2003, and Cedric Maxwell’s No. 31 had gone up to the rafters.

“So I knew I had a chance,’’ Pierce said. He seems to be kidding.

“That’s serious,’’ he adds, smiling.

At this point, it’s hardly a question. Pierce’s number will be retired. What is not known is just how high he’ll end up, where he’ll fit within the pantheon of Celtic greats, a group with intimidating résumés and high standards for admission.

“Larry’s No. 1, Larry and Bill,’’ coach Doc Rivers said. “After that you can throw them all in a hat, but Paul would be right in that group, early. If you’re taking numbers out, he’s got to be early - 3, 4, 5, in that area.’’

Pierce takes in the compliment. He knows what that means, appreciates it. As he said, “Without them, there would be no me.

“That’s an honor to just be put in the same sentence as these guys, knowing that they’re not only great Celtics, but also all-time greats. That’s another one of my goals, to be mentioned as not only a great Celtic but one of the all-time greats.’’

To get there, to achieve what he wants, there is work to do.

“Obviously he’s one of the great Celtics of all time, but that legacy is still being built,’’ said Danny Ainge, president of basketball operations. “It depends on what sort of legacy he wants to leave. I know that Paul has a lot of basketball left in him. I think it’s way too early to start talking about his legacy.’’

Pierce, for his part, has reached no conclusions. Though he spent time reflecting on his legacy and what the game means to him as he sat at home with his family over the past few months, there is still an element of the unknown. There’s time left. But only so much.

There are plenty of legacy moments so far. Rivers points to Game 7 of the 2008 Eastern Conference semifinals, in which Pierce scored 41 points to take down the Cavaliers and LeBron James, who scored 45.

There is, too, the sheer fact of his making it through the franchise’s difficult times, of his keeping faith with the organization, of his presence, all of which allowed the Celtics to acquire Ray Allen and Kevin Garnett, which enabled them to win the 2008 title.

“He decided that he was a Celtic and that’s what he wanted to be for life,’’ Rivers said. “I don’t think he gets enough credit for that, personally, because he wanted to make his team better, not go somewhere else and try to.

“He’s done everything. Paul doesn’t really play for Paul anymore. He pretty much plays for the team.’’

But it’s not just what he’s done on the court. It’s what he’s brought to the team off the court as well.

As Garnett said, “I’ve known P for a long time, and I’ve known him to be a nurturer more than anything and I think he’s doing that and he’s every bit of the word ‘leader’. I think he exemplifies that to the utmost.’’

Plenty of work to do

Pierce is in a good mood as the Celtics shoot around before their first practice of the season at TD Bank Garden. He jokes about having 10 more years to play, years he can use to match Russell’s ring count.

He’d have to play until he reached 44 years old. Will that happen?

“Probably not,’’ he said, laughing.

But while there aren’t 10 years to go, there are at least three, until Pierce’s contract is up, including the current season. There should be individual milestones in that time - such as passing Larry Bird (21,791) for second on the all-time Celtics points list. Pierce has 21,410.

For now, Pierce is focused on offensive efficiency, knowing as he ages he’ll be on the floor less.

That, though, doesn’t really matter. Pierce wants what the other greats have. He wants recognition. He wants titles.

“I don’t have individual goals, but the ultimate goal I want to have is being the best,’’ Pierce said. “I’ve sort of swallowed my pride and my ego and right now at this point in my career, a lot of my goals are team-oriented. And I’m fine with that.’’

He has a place in Celtics history. That’s not up for debate. The question is where he’ll end up, how much more he can do in the time he has left.

So what does he need to do to solidify his legacy?

“He needs to win another one,’’ Rivers said.

“I still have a lot more work to do, I feel,’’ Pierce said of his comparisons with Celtic legends. “I don’t know if I’m ever going to best those guys and be mentioned above those guys, but I’m sure going to go for it.’’

Amalie Benjamin can be reached at abenjamin@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @amaliebenjamin.

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