By Sarah DeWolfe | Staff Writer

Exactly one year ago, I got the once in a lifetime chance to be at the TD Garden for a Celtics-Clippers game, where a Boston legend would step foot onto the parquet floor for one last time, surrounded by the fans and the city he loved. Before the game began, we were treated to an emotional yet electrifying tribute on the jumbotron highlighting his most memorable moments, which of course included the 2008 NBA Championship. On Sunday February 11th at 3:30pm, we get to witness this type of history again as number 34 is raised into the rafters of Celtic’s history.

Paul Pierce was drafted 10th over all by the Celtics in 1998 out of the University of Kansas.

If you didn’t already know, Boston legend Paul Pierce will have his number retired by the Celtics in a ceremony before the Celtics play the Cavaliers this coming Sunday. At 39 years old, Pierce will be the 22nd player to see his number hung in the Garden. Pierce spent the first 15 of his 19 seasons in the NBA with the Celtics before he was traded to the Nets, Wizards, and Clippers. Although he announced his retirement as an LA Clipper, he was able to sign a symbolic one-day contract with the Celtics so he could officially retire in green (where he belongs). I can already hear the arguments that he’s nowhere near a Kobe-caliber-career, but I’m not here to sell you on that. What I want to do is explain why Paul Pierce, a seemingly underrated NBA legend, matters more than you might think.

Paul Pierce grew up in Oakland, California, but everyone knows his heart is in Inglewood. He went to Inglewood High School where he was ironically cut from the basketball team his freshmen and sophomore years. Pierce pretty much lived in the gym and dedicated all of his time and effort into the sport until he became their star player. He even earned the honor of being a McDonald’s All-American athlete; along with future teammate, Kevin Garnett. His career in high school earned him even more success and accolades in his college career at the University of Kansas, where he was named Big 12 Conference Tournament MVP twice, and led them to a championship. In his junior year, he scored 777 points – the fifth most points in a season in school history. But his third college year would be his last, as he entered the 1998 NBA Draft.

Growing up in California, Pierce was always a Lakers fan. So who better to draft him as the 10th overall pick than his sworn enemy, the Boston Celtics. He was an instant starter, even recording 19 or more points in 10 of his first 11 games. Not bad for a rookie. He truly became an elite in the 2001-02 season when he not only led the Celtics to their first playoffs in seven years, but to the Eastern Conference Finals. It was in this series against the New Jersey Nets where Paul Pierce would help the Celtics complete the greatest fourth-quarter comeback in NBA playoff history by scoring 19 points in the final 12 minutes to win the game by 4. Although they went on to lose the series, Pierce sent a message to the league that he was not to be overlooked.

His true legacy was etched into basketball greatness when the 2007-08 season rolled around. The Celtics were fresh off of one of their worst seasons yet with just 24 wins and Pierce playing in only 47 games due to injury. As my dad put it plain and simple: “They sucked.” With their star player limited, yet still carrying the weight of an increasingly younger and less-supportive team, it was clear to distraught fans that Danny Ainge needed to bring someone else to Boston. Just when Pierce’s budding career was thought to be lost in a series of poorly executed deals, Ainge waved his magic wand, and just like that Boston had their very own Big Three. The Celtics acquired All-Stars Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen to take the pressure off of Pierce on the offensive front. In the ’07-’08 season, this new Big Three was able to complete the largest single-season turnaround in NBA history, improving their record to 66 wins-42 games more than the previous season.

Pierce led the 2007-08 Celtics to the franchise’s 17th championship.

The team at that time sailed through the season, but got down to business once the playoffs arrived. The first series saw the Atlanta Hawks take them to seven games before admitting defeat, followed by the semifinals with the Cleveland Cavaliers also going to the full seven. Their championship dreams were on the line when it all came down to game 7 against the Cavs, but Boston had their Big Three led by Paul Pierce to keep them alive. Pierce scored the second most game seven points in franchise history, netting 41 to put them over LeBron James and the Cavs in a 97-92 victory. Once they made it to the finals, it was a classic Celtics-Lakers matchup that basketball fans craved. It was in game 1 of the NBA Finals that Pierce would exiting the game in serious pain during the third quarter, leaving fans to wonder if he would return. Just minutes later, fans were treated to the sight of Pierce walking out of the tunnel back to the game – he had unfinished business. He finished out the third quarter with 15 points to boost the Celtics to a 10-point victory. They went on to win the series and a 17th championship for the Celtics franchise. Pierce was rightfully named NBA Finals MVP for his historic performance. The rest, as they say, is history.

To understand how sweet banner 17 was for Celtics fans, you have to understand what they’d been through. The long-awaited championship was the first title for Boston since 1986, an era that bled green to its core with 3 championships in 5 years. Pierce embodied a spark of hope that Boston had long been waiting for ever since the Bird era ended, and he never gave up on his dream of bringing them a championship. Pierce stands 2nd on the Celtics all-time scoring list-passing Larry Bird and only behind John Havlicek-with 24,021 points in 1,102 games. He has played the 3rd most games with the Celtics, and is also 3rd in points per game, averaging 21.8. He has the most three-pointers with the Celtics, the most free throws made, and the most steals in franchise history. He is 15th on the NBA all-time scoring list. He was the first Celtic to win the 3-point contest since Larry Bird. He appeared in 10 all-star games in his 15 years with the Celtics.

These are just some of Paul Pierce’s impressive stats that will carry his legacy long after #34 is retired on Sunday. You might not agree that he belongs on the Mount Olympus of the NBA especially with only one ring to show for it, but there’s no denying that his career brought Boston back into contention, and brought our city much needed hope and excitement after 22 years of championship drought. It goes without saying that whatever moment is being had this Sunday entirely and rightfully belongs to him.

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