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ESPN firing Paul Pierce should not come as a surprise

Matthew J. Lee
Paul Pierce remains beloved by Celtics fans.

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The scene on Paul Pierce’s Instagram Live video Friday was hazy with smoke. But the truth about why the Celtics great is no longer an ESPN employee could not be any clearer.

Pierce, 43, lost the NBA analyst gig he had held since 2017, three days after he went live on the social media platform Friday night smoking and drinking, with a racy backdrop of occasionally twerking scantily clad women.

Though he was flouting COVID-19 protocols, Pierce broke no laws. He was in California, where smoking marijuana — which he appeared to be doing — is legal.

ESPN has no plans to comment on Pierce’s firing. But the decision to cut ties with him should not come as a surprise.

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Frankly, it’s a wonder it took three days. It was a mild upset that he was still employed at the company by the time he posted “Good Morning” on his Twitter feed at 8 p.m. Saturday. Yes, 8 p.m.

ESPN is owned by Disney, a brand that doesn’t exactly endorse the lifestyle Pierce’s video indicated he was living at the moment. Disney characters, as far as we know, do not twerk. This should not be spun by anyone as an instance of “cancel” culture. It’s the consequences that come due when an employee does something to put the employer in a bad light.

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The network’s hiring of Pierce immediately upon retiring from his 19-season NBA career was greeted with much fanfare. But his star at the network has dimmed in recent years.

While he still appeared on cornerstone NBA shows “NBA Countdown” and “The Jump,’’ his role was reduced in the summer of 2019, when a talent shakeup led to Michelle Beadle and Chauncey Billups being removed from “Countdown” while Pierce’s role was reduced.

While he was plugged in to the high-profile teams such as the Celtics, for whom he played his first 15 seasons, and his hometown Lakers, his preparation sometimes came into question.

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He also gained notoriety for being wildly wrong on some predictions, including saying, “I think it’s over,’’ after the Celtics won Game 1 of their Eastern Conference semifinal series with the Bucks in 2019. The Bucks won the next four games.

Perhaps a personality with a higher profile at ESPN would have been suspended rather than fired. But Pierce was expendable, and his cause was not helped by the fact that he posted the video himself (he might have been given some leeway had someone else posted it).

It also was a terrible look that a female colleague, respected “The Jump” host Rachel Nichols, was mentioned by an IG Live viewer in the comments, even though Pierce himself did not acknowledge or respond to the comment.

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Pierce has not responded to multiple requests for comment on his dismissal. But his social media actions suggest he is not especially bothered by the situation. After news broke of his firing Monday night, Pierce posted a video on his @paulpierce34 Twitter handle, where he has 4.1 million followers, showing him laughing for a few seconds, with the caption, “Big Things coming soon stay tuned make sure u smile #Truthshallsetufree.” Three hours later, he added another tweet: “I can’t lose even when I lose I’m winning,’’ followed by five emojis.

Pierce played 19 seasons in the NBA, in which he made 10 All-Star teams and was named the 2008 NBA Finals Most Valuable Player. Pro-basketball-reference.com pegs his career earnings at more than $198 million, so he probably doesn’t have to continue to work or further pursue a media career.

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But he could have options. Barstool Sports founder Dave Portnoy tweeted Tuesday that he is “gonna make a run” at hiring Pierce. Barstool has hired some high-profile ex-athletes recently, including Pro Football Hall of Famer Deion Sanders.

It would not be out of the question for NBC Sports Boston, the regional sports network that carries the Celtics, to involve him in some capacity down the road. Pierce, a finalist for the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame, remains beloved by Celtics fans.

NBC Sports Boston uses Kendrick Perkins as an analyst via video hookup, while Brian Scalabrine does double duty as a color analyst on the game broadcasts along with studio work. They could use some help.

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When asked if NBC Sports Boston might consider bringing Pierce aboard, a network spokesperson said it had no comment at this time.

Perhaps, if Pierce keeps his Instagram PG-rated going forward and hooks on with Barstool first, the network will give it some consideration — after the smoke clears.

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