It has been 13 years since professional basketball first said hello to Paul Pierce, and luckily, the face of the game’s most decorated franchise hasn’t changed. Living for this moment, Pierce goes to work every night and succeeds in the shadow of irony: an underappreciated star who doubles as the greatest scorer in Celtics’ history. For the world, that should be enough.
From Dime #62:
“I only bowl when there are chandeliers in the building,” the evening’s suit-clad emcee notes. “It’s just a rule that I set for myself a long time ago.”
Luckily, there are chandeliers in this building, so bright that it’s a wonder these lanes aren’t producing more ugly gutter balls from vision loss. There are God-knows-how-large projector screens resting just above the bowling pins in case anyone gets bored. Foxwoods Resort Casino’s High Rollers Luxury Lanes & Lounge in Mashantucket, Conn., is a candy land of ridiculous indulgences. Plush? It’s more than that; it reeks of success, a mix of perfume, budding flowers and new sofas.
“I don’t need no warm-ups,” snaps a grinning Kevin Garnett to no one in particular, but loud enough to not be drowned out by “Gonna Make You Sweat (Everybody Dance Now)” blasting in the background.
The emcee comes right back, joking that Garnett’s Celtic teammate – and some of the evening’s bowling competition – Paul Pierce, was out at three that afternoon rolling practicing rounds.
“Don’t sell me out now!” cracks the sultan of the night, the reason why everyone is here on a Friday night in the first place: to promote The Truth Fund, Pierce’s charity to help stop child obesity. Frantically, Pierce stabs down at the nearest rack – forgetting the ceremonial first ball deserves a proper introduction – sets his fingers and sends one down the alley, past a line of nine reporters and towards the pins.
It’s a strike.
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“He is the greatest individual scoring machine in Celtic history.”
One night in April of 2003, legendary Celtics writer Bob Ryan first claimed that about a then 26-year-old Pierce after watching him decimate the Indiana Pacers with 40 points in a playoff game, watched him meander to the rim or stop short for jumpers, watched the Truth work over the defense the same way he always has. It’s an art for Pierce, albeit an underappreciated one for an eight-time All-Star who proclaimed a few years ago, “I think I’m the best player in the world.” But in fact, in the years since Ryan first made the proclamation – which was repeated recently again by Ryan and by Hall of Famer John Havlicek – the now 33-year-old Pierce’s continued machine-like excellence only enhanced the argument.
“In terms stylistically, the guy could get the ball in the basket more efficiently and in more different ways than any Celtic has ever done,” says Ryan of Pierce. “John Havlicek ran without the ball. He wasn’t a one-on-one player. Larry [Bird] had guys that could guard him and make him take shots that he didn’t want to take and at times, keep him from getting the ball. That was a fact. Pierce, you don’t have any recollections of that. If he wants the ball, he gets the ball. He gets it. You can clear out with him very confidently. He can get at the very least a reasonable shot, at the best, a great shot for him. If he doesn’t, he has a chance to get to the free throw line because that’s his other option, which he is great at. What more do you want?”
Two nights before his Truth Fund charity event, Paul Pierce wasn’t bowling at Foxwoods. He was in Madison Square Garden. Still, he was doing what he’s always doing: Winning.
The Celtics’ captain disassembled Broadway’s newfound hype and reaffirmed himself as one of the game’s ultimate closers, hitting a step-back jump shot over Amar’e Stoudemire just before the buzzer to beat the New York Knicks. “I was nervous. I’m always nervous,” Pierce admitted later to reporters about his game-closing duties. Yet once the shot fell, he bounded around on a victory lap, sucking in the boos careening down at him. After the game was over, he gave a few bows to the still-shocked fans.
Should we be surprised?