The NBA Playoffs start in seven days (!!!!!!!!) so each day until then we’ll be taking a look at some of the most important storylines leading up to the best two months of the year.
I wasn’t watching the Hawks-Nets matchup last night because, well, it was Hawks-Nets in late April. Sure it had implications for the eighth and final playoff spot out East, but that doesn’t get anyone fired up. The eighth spot in the East isn’t really something you even want to win. I’m not even sure you can say someone “wins” the East’s eighth seed. It’s more just that out of a bunch of horrible teams, you were the least horrible, so here you can have this last playoff spot. Plus, your “reward” for getting that final seed is a likely sweep at the hands of Indiana or Miami. Woooooo, the Eastern Conference, it’s FANtastic.
Anyways, the Hawks ended up winning, keeping hold of their two game lead on the Knicks and all but securing a ticket on a one-way trip to a first round sweep. But enough about who won the game and the final playoff spot in the East. That’s cool or relevant if you’re a Knicks or Hawks fan, but hopefully for your sanity, you are neither. Instead, let’s talk about something else that happened last night: a legend reaching an impressive milestone. Paul Pierce, The Truth, reached 25,000 points, an achievement only 17 other players have reached.
I wasn’t watching live, but hearing about it and seeing the highlights were as bittersweet as anything I could have ever imagined. Pierce being in a Nets uniform this year has been strange and confusing and ultimately frustrating and sad. When I was growing up, Paul Pierce was basketball. Ever since I began understanding anything about the game, he’s been my favorite player. I’ve never known a basketball world without Paul Pierce, and I’m not sure I want to. Of course I realized one day he’d be gone. One day he’d be too old to get off that patented step back from the elbow. But I never imagined seeing him play anywhere but Boston.
I wrote about the end of the Big Three era after the Celtics’ lost to the Knicks in last year’s playoffs, but I never wrote anything about the trade that sent KG and Pauly to Brooklyn, because I just couldn’t handle it. None of it seemed real at the time. Not until the Celtics opened up their season and there was no KG scream and no Pierce introduction did it seem real. Losing KG hurt, but nothing like losing Pierce did.
I remember my dad telling me at the time that it wouldn’t be the same after this. Just like it wasn’t quite the same for him after Cowens and Havlicek left, it wouldn’t be the same for me without Pierce.
Of course I still love the Celtics more than most things in this world, but there’s a certain joy and excitement you get while watching your favorite players as a child that doesn’t translate to adulthood. When you’re younger you idolize the players and aspire to be them. Playing in your driveway after school you imagine yourself as your favorite player. You mimic their moves and celebrations. It’s a reverence that just can’t be replicated after a certain age. At some point, most all of us realize we’ll never be the next Paul Pierce, and when that happens, the way we love and enjoy the game changes. It isn’t bad and it doesn’t mean we’re no longer fans; it’s just different. As hard as it is for me to realize sometimes, there are players in the league that I’m older than. At this point, it’s no longer watching in awe and hoping one day I can be like Anthony Davis or Andrew Wiggins. Rather, it’s an appreciation for what they can do and the beauty of watching them play the game I love. Paul Pierce was that player I grew up idolizing and wanting to emulate. And when he left the Celtics, it was symbolically the end of my childhood.
When I heard last night that Pierce had scored his 25,000th point, I was of course happy, but also sad at the same time because I hadn’t even known he was close to the milestone. I realized last night how out of touch I’ve become with The Truth now that he’s on the Nets. Now and again I’ll catch one of Brooklyn’s games, but it’s only every few weeks or so, whereas the last fifteen years I’ve watched Pierce play every night. It’s tough not having Pierce on the Celtics, but having him play for another team is even worse. Of course that’s a selfish point of view, but sometimes it’s okay to be selfish.
So congratulations, Pauly. It’s an amazing achievement for an amazing career. I just wish it could have been done in Boston.