Pierce's one-day in Boston spent reflecting, retiring and trolling Danny Ainge

ByJackie MacMullan ESPN logo
Wednesday, July 19, 2017

He showed up at his old haunt, the Boston Celticspractice facility in Waltham, Massachusetts, wearing a throwback Inglewood T-shirt and a pair of Brooklyn Nets basketball shorts.

"Hey Danny, see this?'' said Paul Pierce, tugging at the silver and black of the Nets. "This is where you sent me!"

Suffice to say, all is forgiven. Pierce followed Boston president of basketball operations Danny Ainge into his office, pulled on a Celtics green T-shirt and signed a one-day contract with the team that drafted him 19 seasons earlier. Then, once the paperwork was completed, Pierce officially retired.

"Like I said from the beginning,'' Pierce told ESPN on Monday night, "I always wanted to retire as a Celtic. We did it quietly. No need to make a spectacle out of it.''

So why the urgency to sign the one-day contract? Pierce said his East Coast jaunt will continue Tuesday morning as he drives to Bristol, Connecticut, to sign a deal with ESPN to begin his "second" career as a basketball analyst -- and, he hopes, a broadcaster.

"I'd like to do both,'' Pierce said. "That's why I signed the contract with Boston today. The minute I sign with ESPN, I'm officially retired.''

Pierce was greeted at the Celtics facility by some old familiar faces, including equipment manager John Connor, who rustled up an old pair of his signature Nike shoes and offered them to Pierce. He laced them up and hoisted a few 3-pointers for old time's sake. Pierce retires as Boston's all-time leader in 3-point field goals (1,823), free throws (6,434) and steals (1,583).

The 2008 NBA championship cemented his legacy in Boston and endeared him forever to a decidedly persnickety fan base.

"I felt like Paul grew a lot here," Ainge said. "He faced that stabbing incident [in 2000], which I think was an awakening to him, and he married a spectacular woman in his wife Julie, who was a really positive influence on him. I watched Paul mature quite a bit through the years.''

Pierce slipped all the way to the 10th spot in the 1998 draft, a slight that he would not forget. For much of his rookie season, whenever he knocked down a jump shot, he'd shout out the names Olowokandi, Bibby, LaFrentz, Jamison ... all players who were selected ahead of him.

His early years in Boston were tainted by frustration and losing. Pierce grew up on the job in a city where the spotlight remains white hot on its young sports stars.

"A lot of young players have their ups and downs,'' Pierce said. "Some figure it out and some don't. I'm glad I had the chance to grow as a person here in Boston.''

In September 2000, Pierce was attending a private event at the Buzz Nightclub in Boston's theater district when he was stabbed 11 times in the neck, face and back. Pierce later said the heavy leather jacket he was wearing prevented the knife from puncturing his heart and likely saved his life.

"There's no doubt about it -- that [incident] changed me,'' Pierce said. "When you go through something so traumatic like that, you've got to step back and look at it and make some decisions.

"What do you value most? When you are young and on top of the world, you don't realize it's not just about you. I realized that I needed better balance in my life. I had to ask myself, 'What's more important: going out to the clubs and having fun, or concentrating on basketball and family?''

Prior to the 2007-08 season, Ainge acquired veterans Ray Allen and Kevin Garnett. The New Big Three won a league-leading 66 games and led the Celtics to a title over Kobe Bryant and the Los Angeles Lakers. Pierce was named Finals MVP. The following season, Garnett suffered a knee injury, thwarting the team's attempt at a repeat.

KG never fully returned to form, and when it was time to rebuild, Ainge made a seismic deal that shipped Pierce, Garnett, Jason Terry and D.J. White to the Nets for a host of role players and a treasure trove of draft picks that have netted Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum. Boston also owns Brooklyn's pick in next year's draft.

Pierce, who hoped to play his entire career with the Celtics, was crushed upon learning of the trade. He spent just one season in Brooklyn, then moved on to Washington and finally the LA Clippers.

"This was the place that was always with me,'' Pierce said. "I spent 15 years of my life here. I had all three of my kids here. I had a chance to make a difference in the community. One of the best parts about [being in Boston Monday] was having people come up and said, 'Hey, thanks for all the things you did for our city.'"

Pierce said he invited Julie and his children to accompany him to his official retirement, but they opted to wait for the more formal ceremony that will raise his number 34 to the Garden rafters in the coming months. Pierce grew up an ardent Lakers fan in the shadows of the Forum (hence, the Inglewood T-shirt), but returning to Boston on Monday felt a little like coming home.

"This is where I started,'' Pierce said, "and now I get to finish here too.''

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