Celtics

5 takeaways from Paul Pierce’s Hall of Fame induction speech

"Let me just start off by thanking ... the committee that voted for me. Appreciate that. You guys got it right."

Paul Pierce
Paul Pierce, presented by Kevin Garnett speaks during the 2021 Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame ceremony. Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

Former Celtics great Paul Pierce opened his Hall of Fame enshrinement speech perfectly on Saturday — with humor and bravado.

“Let me just start off by thanking the Hall of Fame and the committee that voted for me,” Pierce said. “Appreciate that. You guys got it right.”

They did indeed. Pierce’s heavily decorated career stretched from 1998 to 2017 and included 15 years with the Celtics. He won a championship and a Finals MVP. He made 10 All-Star teams and four All-NBA teams. He averaged more than 20 points per game eight times and more than 18 points per game for 14 consecutive seasons.

As Pierce noted, he never dreamed of being a Hall of Famer as a child.

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“The initial dream as a kid is to make it to the league,” Pierce said. “You don’t really dream too far — ‘I want to be a Hall of Famer’ — you don’t really say that as a kid.”

Pierce’s speech was alternately funny, heartfelt, and defiant. Sometimes the audience laughed, sometimes they didn’t. Neither reaction seemed to phase him in the slightest.

“I wrote this on my phone, so bear with me,” he said at one point, scrolling comfortably through his phone onstage in front of a room full of well-dressed NBA royalty.

Throughout his 15-minute delivery, Pierce was unhurried, unflustered, and completely at ease with himself. He talked trash. He entertained, but he didn’t come across as an entertainer. His speech was, in other words, a perfect metaphor for the way he played basketball.

Here are the takeaways.

Pierce accidentally burned down his family home as a child.

Pierce thanked a lengthy list of family and friends from back home. He shouted out his brothers who inspired him, and his best friend who played professionally overseas (“We maxed out, man”). He thanked his high-school coach for being the first person to believe he could make the NBA and an Inglewood police officer who was a mentor for children in his rough neighborhood.

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Most profusely, Pierce thanked his mother for her dedication through “sleepless nights dealing with me” as well as for the “stubbornness that made me the man I am today.”

He also apologized for something he said he doesn’t remember ever apologizing for: Burning down the family house at the age of seven while playing with matches.

“I guess God knew I had to repay you somehow,” Pierce said, with a big smile. “I’m grateful to have made it to the league and bought you a new one.” 

Pierce never forgave the teams that passed on him.

Twice, Pierce started to thank the Celtics, and both times he got sidetracked wondering how in the world he — a consensus All-American and two-time Big 12 tournament MVP at Kansas, believed by most to be a no-brainer top-five pick — slipped to No. 10.

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“I’d like to thank the Clippers, Vancouver Grizzlies, the Denver Nuggets, Toronto Raptors, Golden State Warriors, Dallas Mavericks, Sacramento Kings, Philadelphia 76ers, and Milwaukee Bucks,” Pierce said, as Celtics fans in attendance started whooping. “The nine teams that passed on me. Thank you. I appreciate that. Thank you for passing on me and adding fuel to my fire. I appreciate that.”

Pierce then started to thank former Celtics coach/GM Rick Pitino for going out on a limb to draft him, but again Pierce pulled up sounding flabbergasted about that draft.

“To this day, I don’t understand how I slipped to No. 10,” he said. “I was in shape, my shot was falling, I was running the line drills. I was like, ‘How did I slip to 10?’

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“Everything happened for a reason. Going to the Celtics, I’m grateful.”

Pierce did finally get around to thanking the Celtics organization.

“Y’all stuck with me,” Pierce said. “We went through some tough times. I appreciate you.”

Doc Rivers was … understanding with Pierce.

Maybe the funniest story Pierce told came after he told Doc Rivers — who was in attendance — how much he appreciated Rivers’ direction in his career.

Apparently, Pierce showed up to one pre-game shootaround hungover. NBA shootarounds take place in the morning, hours before players show up for warmups, and are generally an opportunity for the team to walk through plays and actions they might need later that evening.

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Pierce, who was suffering, was supposed to cut on one play and instead went down to one knee. Rivers noticed and called him over.

Knowing his breath reeked of alcohol — “it was banging” — Pierce tried to cover his mouth.

“Paul,” Rivers said, according to Pierce, “go home and be ready for tonight. Get some rest.”

“I had 30 that night. We won. I was like, ‘Player’s coach,'” Pierce chuckled, pointing at Rivers.

The relationship between Pierce and Rivers started on rocky ground but solidified and grew over the years.

“I know you wanted to trade me too,” Pierce said, smiling at Rivers. “I know you did. I was accustomed to doing things my way, didn’t like someone coming and telling me what to do. I remember when I started to listen to you and understand your criticism as coaching, that’s when I became great. So thank you.”

Kevin Garnett presented Pierce. Ray Allen was in attendance.

Garnett and Allen reportedly still have a fractured relationship after Allen’s departure from Boston in 2012, but Pierce and Allen have since made up. Allen was in attendance, and Pierce even joked that Allen once offered him one of his sons since Pierce had so many daughters.

“I was like, ‘Whatever, Ray, whatever,'” Pierce said. “You ever need a girl, holler at me.”

Garnett sat on stage with Pierce, and Pierce noted that of all his teammates over the years, Garnett was his most influential. He told a funny story about jumping out of a taxi without paying when the duo were just kids — “I’m sorry for being a bad influence to a country guy that young” — and said that the biggest question was always whether he would join Garnett in Minnesota or whether Garnett would join him in Boston.

The veracity of that final statement is impossible to prove, but given the myriad trade rumors that swirled around Pierce prior to the Big Three era, he may have stretched the truth to breaking point. Still, Saturday was Pierce’s night, and Garnett certainly made no move to correct him.

Pierce’s final message was to his kids.

As Pierce wrapped up his comments, he addressed his three daughters and his son.

“Never doubt that you are valuable and powerful, and deserving of every chance and opportunity in the world to pursue and achieve your dreams,” Pierce said. “Remember you only fail when you stop trying. Never forget that whatever you go through, no matter what, I’ll always love you. Thank you.”

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