“A true Warrior, does not fight because he wishes to, but because he has to.”
- Christopher Paolini, Brisingr
On 27 June 2013, the new Big Three era officially came to a close. Following Ray Allen’s departure to Miami the prior season, a trade proposal was agreed on between the Boston Celtics and the Brooklyn Nets. One that would send Celtics captain Paul Pierce (The Truth) and the team’s defensive bedrock Kevin Garnett (The Big Ticket) to Brooklyn. A cold, hard transaction centered around a bundle of first round picks, and a collection of players who were moved, simply to match salaries and not much else.
How do you quantify heart? How do you measure loyalty? How indeed, do you weigh the intangibles that make a player great?
In the end, the curtains closed with an ending that had more to do with numbers than anything else. It wasn’t about giving a career Celtic his due, or about honouring a future Hall of Famer who bled green, talked green, breathed green every moment, every day. It was about age, production, salaries and draft picks.
It was simply, time up.
“A Warrior does not give up what he loves, he finds the love in what he does”
- Dan Millman, Way of the Peaceful Warrior
What has The Truth meant to Celtic fans all over, in his years of playing in Beantown? How do you remember him now, and how will he be remembered in the annals of Celtic history?
He came to us, young and brash. He was a scorer, and proved it every night. The stabbing, and the comeback. The big game winners, alongside the embarrassing moments of youth. The ugly seasons, the disappointing years. The team that was never quite a contender. Banner #17 seemed remote, a distant dream.
Despite it all, he was always there. Mature, seasoned, experienced, call it what you would. Pierce was ready to do whatever it took to win, after a long road of learning and self-discovery. The question was – were the Celtics ready to win with him?
The seemingly ill-fated NBA draft of 2007 set things in motion. After the Celtics failed to draft Kevin Durant (despite having a 38.7% chance of getting a top 2 pick, and a 55.8% chance of getting a top 3 pick), the new Big Three plan came into existence – Paul Pierce finally got his first real shot at the trophy. He swore to shape up, and did. Like everyone else, he was part of Ubuntu. He was the man, he was relentless. He traded punches with rising star LeBron James, and triumphed. The Lakers had no answer for The Truth in the Finals.
Banner 17, arrived.
Paul Pierce, NBA 2007/08 Finals MVP, emerged.
In the years after, Pierce never faltered from his role as the leader. Whatever the game needed, he delivered. He scored, he rebounded, he passed. When we needed a big shot, he was there. Close your eyes, and remember that familiar stocky figure on the court, sizing his defender up in the final seconds. Cue that awkward looking release, the one that contrasted so much with Ray’s silky shot. That shot would nonetheless make its way through the hoop, and send the crowd into a roaring frenzy.
“Take this down”, said O’Neal. ”My name is Shaquille O’Neal and Paul Pierce is the [expletive] truth. Quote me on that and don’t take nothing out. I knew he could play, but I didn’t know he could play like this. Paul Pierce is the truth.”
No one could handle The Truth, and no one did. Pierce got outdone by the eternal enemy, the one unceasing constant – time. Slowed by age, his athleticism slowly bled away. The separation he used to get. The lift, the mobility, the energy. Everything was slowly and painfully vanishing before our eyes.
As we say goodbye, take a moment to dwell on your fondest Pierce memory. Keep it close to your heart, remember The Truth for what he has done. Never forget.
“The key to being a Warrior is not to be afraid of who you are.”
- Tom Spanauer, In the City of Shy Hunters
Kevin Garnett. The Kid. The Big Ticket. The defensive cog. The man who would run through a wall (likely many walls even) for his coach. The knuckle pushup. The head pounding. The chest thumps. The barfighter. The Craig Sager critic.
His arrival revitalised the team culture, and gave the franchise fresh hope. He returned the championship swagger to a walk, that had become a mediocre shuffle. He was intense, he was passionate, he bordered on maniacal. Above all, no one could ever fault his selflessness, his commitment to the team, his willingness to lead by example.
Not only was he part of Ubuntu – he was Ubuntu.
How will you remember Kevin Garnett?
Rallying the crowd, beating his chest, telling everyone it was all heart?
Taking a step, swishing that long two countless times off a Rondo pass?
Yelling “EVERYTHING IS POSSIBLE!” as the confetti shower began?
Hold on to your favourite KG moment, as we bid farewell to the man who bled green since that fateful day in July 2007.
“Pain was their body’s way of telling them that they’d pushed themselves to their limits – which was exactly where they were supposed to be.”
- Richard Marcinko, Rogue Warrior
Despite the passage of time, the weakening of sinews, mental fortitude carried our two veterans through tough times. The toughness to endure, despite persistent untold injuries. To fight, despite the bone-weary fatigue of playing heavy minutes. To not surrender without a bloody fight, despite younger and more talented opposition.
Remember the journey of past seasons. The tragic end against the Lakers in the 2010 Finals (I say again, 6 for 24.) The fight that took Miami to a seventh game in the Eastern Conference Finals two seasons ago. The miraculous Game 6 run in this season’s series against New York, despite a shorthanded Celtics crew.
Age would not weary the warriors, who fought on no matter what.
Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett, two names that will forever resound within our hearts and minds, for what they have given to us in the years past. Timeless memories, joyful moments and above all, pride to have known these great men as part of the Celtics franchise. Remember them with love and respect, and let us mark the end with a solemn moment of gratitude.
To #34 and #5: Thank you.
They might no longer don Celtic green in the days ahead, but who knows what the future truly holds? To you, I say: stay strong, stay hopeful for the day we see these two familiar numbers up on the rafters.
“The return, makes one love the farewell.”
- Alfred de Musset
(A collaborative work between Justin and Kein. Share this piece if you enjoyed reading it.)