Originally written July 04, 2013 on Celtics Spot:
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When you think of the Boston Celtics you think winning, loyalty, and tradition. You think of the 17 championship banners that the franchise has raised to the rafters throughout it's storied 67 year history. You think of the 21 numbers that have been retired, forever immortalizing the legends that have donned the green and white. You think of guys like Bill Russell, Bob Cousy, John Havlicek, and Larry Bird, all of which knew exactly what it meant to be a Boston Celtic. And you think of a once troubled young man, who overcame adversity and matured into the man we all knew he could be. You think of Paul Pierce. As a kid growing up just a few miles outside of Boston, I learned to love the Celtics at a very young age. I remember watching games with my grandfather as he told me stories about Bill Russell's playing days. He would say things like "there wasn't a single player out there that wanted it more than Bill." My father also told me stories about the "Big Three," a trio headlined by Larry Bird. Whenever I would talk to him about one of the better players in the league today, he would always make sure to say, "if you think these guys are good, you should have seen Bird. Wow could he play."  The stories were fascinating and with each one my love for the Celtics grew stronger. I realized players that special only come around every so often and I wondered if I would ever be lucky enough to see one first hand.  I'll be honest, for about the first half of Paul Pierce's career I wasn't convinced that he was one of those "once in a generation " players. To me, Pierce was a guy with a bad attitude who was only in Boston because he had no other choice, and Game 6 of the 2005 Eastern Conference Semifinals is a prime example of why I thought that.  In the final seconds of regulation the Celtics found themselves up by one point and the Pacers had no other choice but to foul, hoping for a couple of missed free throws. With 12.6 seconds left on the clock, Pierce received the inbounds pass and was immediately fouled by Jamal Tinsley. But what was considered to be a routine play in playoff basketball soon escalated to much more than that. Following the foul Pierce hit Tinsley with his forearm, sending the Pacers' guard to the ground. As a result, the referees assessed Pierce with his second technical foul of the game and, as you know, that calls for an automatic ejection.  Furious, Pierce removed his jersey and stormed off the court, waving his jersey above his head in a helicopter motion. The situation got worse when Pierce greeted the media after the game with bandages on his face, claiming that he had suffered a broken jaw during the night's action (which he didn't). So that was it. This is how Paul Pierce was going to be remembered in Boston. A punk kid who nearly cost the Celtics their season.  Boston went on to win the game in overtime but, had they lost, that very well could have been Pierce's last game as a Boston Celtic.  For the next two seasons Pierce weathered the storm. The Celtics were going nowhere fast and the veteran's title hopes were slipping away right in front of his eyes. But then something special happened. Danny Ainge acquired Ray Allen and Kevin Garnett from the Sonics and Timberwolves, respectively and suddenly Pierce's dreams of being a world champion weren't unrealistic anymore. Of course, Pierce, with the help of Allen and Garnett, lead the Celtics to the 2008 NBA Finals and it was during the very first game of that series when my opinion of Pierce "The Truth" changed forever.  The Celtics were in control late in the third quarter and it seemed like Boston would be taking a 1-0 series lead. But while trying to block a Kobe Bryant jumpshot, Kendrick Perkins slammed into Pierce and sent the Captain flailing to the ground. An injury to Pierce was the last thing the Celtics needed and at first glance it didn't look like Pierce was going to be able to return to the game. At least that's what the thousands of Celtics fans holding their breath were thinking. But shortly thereafter I saw a side of Paul Pierce that I hadn't really seen before. He emerged from the tunnel in a wheelchair, rolling his way back towards the bench. He was ready to play. Pierce checked into the game and hit two quick threes, including an improbable bank shot from the right corner. In my opinion, it was that shot that fueled the Celtics for the rest of the series. That night I saw something in Pierce that I had always hoped to see. I saw a guy who wanted it, a guy who wasn't fooling around. But most importantly, I saw a guy that had heart.  That's what being a Celtic is all about, having the heart to put your arms around your teammates and carry them along with you, no matter what the circumstances are. Now you could argue that Pierce wasn't really hurt at all but it doesn't matter. It's the message that meant the most. Paul Pierce wasn't going to let his team win or lose without him.  As we all know, the Celtics went on to win that series against the Lakers, winning the franchise's 17th NBA championship. The MVP of the series? Who else but Paul Pierce? Fast forward to the home opener in 2008-09 when the Celtics received their rings and were once again presented with the Larry O'Brien trophy. One by one the members of the championship team collected their rings, smiling from ear to ear as they did so. However, unlike his teammates, Pierce was handed his and he bursted into tears. These weren't tears of sorrow. Heck, they weren't even tears of joy. Instead, they were tears that screamed the word, "FINALLY." It was that very moment when I realized I had been lucky enough to witness one of those special "once in a generation players" my family had always been talking about. And it was at that moment when I knew Paul Pierce had truly realized what it meant to be a Celtic. Pierce had plenty of chances to quit on this team but he didn't, he persevered. He bit the bullet and toughed out the multiple seasons he spent in Boston that never amounted to anything.  What Paul Pierce did throughout his career in Boston defines loyalty. The bond he felt between his teammates and fellow Big Three members was an example of Celtics' tradition. And raising the franchise's NBA record 17th banner, well, that's winning. Paul Pierce will undoubtedly go down as one of the greatest Celtics of all time. His number is sure to be retired, joining the likes of the 21 Celtics legends that came before him.  Me? Well I get to carry on my own family tradition. One day I see myself watching a Celtics game with my son. He'll say, "Dad, this guy is unbelievable!" I'll smile, proudly shake my head and say to him, "If you think that guy's good, you should've seen Paul Pierce play." Thank you Paul, for everything. Follow @TimMacLean_
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