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Irrationality, Melancholy and Paul Pierce: Journeyman

Jan 30, 2013; Boston, MA, USA; Boston Celtics small forward Paul Pierce (34) reacts after a play against the Sacramento Kings during the second quarter at the TD Garden. Mandatory Credit: David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

Jan 30, 2013; Boston, MA, USA; Boston Celtics small forward Paul Pierce (34) reacts after a play against the Sacramento Kings during the second quarter at the TD Garden. Mandatory Credit: David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

Paul Pierce is officially going to finish his career as journeyman. After spending his first 15 seasons in Boston before being dealt to Brooklyn in the Celtics’ rebuilding purge, he’s going to be playing on his third team in three years, signing a two-year deal with Washington. The move makes sense in basketball terms. Washington needs a small forward to replace Trevor Ariza, though Pierce and Ariza provide different production. Pierce is probably best served on a team where he can slide into a more secondary role. With Wall and Beal in place, the Wizards certainly fit that bill.

As a lifelong Celtics fan, I get all that. I do. But “getting it” doesn’t stop me from feeling more than a little mournful. There’s something inimitable about a great player coming into the league with one franchise, staying there through ups and downs, winning a title or two and retiring as a “lifelong.” This isn’t to denigrate players who choose to leave teams which can’t match their ambitions. No Boston sports fan worthy of the name begrudges Ray Bourque finally requesting a trade and winning a Stanley Cup in Colorado. In fact the city celebrated right along with him. (Those were the pre-Patriots dark days of Boston sports, but still, everyone was happy for one of the all-tie class-acts in Bourque.) Pierce’s late career itinerance isn’t that. Pierce won a ring by staying in Boston. He doesn’t need to chase after another or further playoff glory in another city to cement his Hall of Fame legacy.

We don’t want to see him become a “keep gettin’ dem checks” guy, someone you have to cut the jersey off his back to get him to leave. Somehow the move to Washington seems more of a betrayal of that memory than the bizarre year in Brooklyn. At least the Nets sojourn could be justified as his death as a Celtic giving life to the next generation of greats in green, what with the bundle of loot extracted from the too-desperate Nets.

I think ruefully of Jerry Stackhouse. Stack was still in the league a long time after he stopped being in the league for all practical purposes. His B-Ref jersey bar fits most of the width of the page:

Screenshot taken from Basketball-reference.com, 7/13/14

Screenshot taken from Basketball-reference.com, 7/13/14

I’ve always alternated between disdain and great admiration for those last few stops in Stack’s journey. You were an NBA All-Star, why would you stoop to becoming a coach in uniform? On the other hand, stay young as long as you can; once that ride is over, it’s over.

As I get older myself, I lean more towards the latter view. If I still could, why would I not?

So, I don’t think Pierce should really care about becoming another pack of Uniform Skittles. If he wants to keep playing and people keep paying, so be it. Nor do I think he should care that I care because it’s his life and career and I’m just a voyeur. I should know better than to care anyway. I DO care though. Deeply.

I don’t want anything to disturb the memory of Pierce at his apex; arms slightly akimbo, chest puffed out, chin tilted upwards as he exhorted the TD Garden crowd to make more noise or joyfully drank in the boos from the haters in Staples, American Airlines or most of all Madison Square. I’m not sure why the thought of him in a Wizards jersey should threaten this snapshot of my minds eye, but it does, and just occasionally I wish the march of “progress” would leave my fondest memories alone.

Seth Partnow

Seth Partnow lives in Anchorage, Alaska. He writes about basketball at places like Washington Post's #FancyStats Blog, TrueHoop Network's ClipperBlog. Follow him @SethPartnow and sethpartnow.tumblr.com