At one point during last night’s broadcast of the NBA Draft, ESPN’s Bill Simmons said that watching Kentucky center (and Everett, MA’s own) Nerlens Noel drop out of the Top 5 was one of the most stunning things he had ever witnessed in the NBA Draft. For me, however, the most stunning drop both at the time it occurred and still today was seeing someone else currently making headlines, Paul Pierce, drop all the way to Rick Pitino and the Celtics in the 1998 draft. Marginal players like Michael Olowokandi, Raef LaFrentz (Pierce’s Kansas teammate), Robert Traylor, Jason Williams and Larry Hughes all came off the board while someone who at the time was widely considered the best player in the class waited to hear his name called. But thankfully for the Celtics’ faithful, nearly a third of the league blundered that night, giving Boston a player for the ages at selection no. 10.
Word broke yesterday that on or about July 10, Pierce will traded to the Brooklyn Nets along with Kevin Garnett and Jason Terry for draft picks and a cacophony of Brooklyn's extras. Garnett’s passion and attitude will surely be missed in these parts, but for all of his contributions, he’ll always be remembered first as a Timberwolf. In this deal, the loss of historic proportions for Boston is Pierce. He’s not the first Celtics legend to be traded as Dave Cowens, Jo Jo White and even the 41-year old and coming-out-of-retirement Bob Cousy all were peddled away off before him, but Pierce’s pending departure marks the first time the current face of the franchise is being dealt.
Take a look at the Celtics record book and you’ll see Paul Pierce everywhere, standing shoulder to shoulder with (and in some instances, ahead of) Celtic Green giants. Here's where he ranks in most of the major statistical categories in Boston's storied history:
- Games: John Havlicek (1,270), Robert Parish (1,106), Paul Pierce (1,102)
- Points: Havlicek (26,395), Pierce (24,021)
- Career Scoring Average: Larry Bird (24.3), Pierce (21.8)
- True Shooting Percentage (min 10K points): McHale (.605), Parish (.587), Pierce (.561)
- 3 Pointers: Pierce (1,823)
- Free Throws: Pierce (6,434)
- Assists: Cousy (6,945), Havlicek (6,114), Bird (5,695), Pierce (4,305)
- Blocks (since 1973): Parish (1,703), Kevin McHale (1,690), Bird (755), Pierce (668)
- Steals: Pierce (1,583)
Pierce also owns three of the top 10 scoring seasons in franchise history, six of the top 8 in made free throws, and six of the top 7 in usage percentage which takes into account the percentage of a team’s plays that a player was on the court, and calculated just for the players from the Larry Bird era on. Only Bird (11) averaged 20 or more points in more seasons than Pierce (8, tied with Havlicek) and Pierce is the only Celtic to score 50 points in a game since Bird in 1989.
Looking back on his the league-wide impact, Pierce wasn’t purely a Celtics phenomenon, he's a 10-time All Star, Finals MVP, and four-time member of an All NBA team. With hindsight being 20-20 he’s clearly one of the top two players taken in that 1998 draft, along with the eighth pick, Dirk Nowitzki. In fact, since the day Pierce was drafted only Nowitzki and Kobe Bryant have scored more regular season NBA points, a testament to his tenure of excellence as Celtic and an NBA superstar.
On more piece of truth about The Truth: Once his playing days are done, Pierce's 34 will be proudly displayed with numbers of Russell, Cousy, Bird and the rest of Boston's basketball legends in the Garden's rafters. He certainly earned his spot.
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He has also authored or made contributions to many books, including the Sports Illustrateds 100 Fenway: A Fascinating First Century.
Now living in Marblehead, hes focusing his attention on the Boston sports scene, specifically delving into the numbers affecting the Red Sox, Patriots, Celtics and Bruins, with the goal of informing and entertaining real fans. You can follow him on Twitter at @SabinoSports.