#34 Doesn't Not Equal Greatness
Ryan L. Fox
It one of the greatest honors bestowed upon a professional athlete in any sport to have their jersey number retired. It signifies that out of all the players that came and went, you stuck out and were special to the organization you played for. That you were the best player not just when it came to the statistics but as a leader. An organization that is quite well known for retiring jersey numbers are the Boston Celtics of the NBA and rightfully so. They had a history of great players from all different eras of basketballs such as Bill Russell, Larry Bird, John Havelicek, Bob Cousy, K.C. and Sam Jones, JoJo White, David Cowan, Robert Parish, and many more.
This past Monday, another former Celtic player’s jersey number joined their ranks as Paul Pierce had his #34 jersey retired. Now don’t get me wrong, Paul Pierce was pretty good player for the Celtics, especially during the mid-2000s. But does he deserve to have his jersey retired up in the rafters with the other Celtics greats? The answer is an emphatic no.
From a statistically stand point, there is some merit for the 'pro-retirement' camp. Paul Pierce lists in the top 10 in a number of categories such as minutes played, games played, points scored, field goals made, and defensive rebounds to name a few as well as being the franchise leader in steals, free throws made, free throw attempts, and 3-point field goals.
But if you realize a good portion of his career, he was the best Celtic player on some average to below average Celtics teams especially pre-‘Big 3 Era’. Outside of the likes of Antoine Walker, Pierce was really the only ‘go-to’ scorer on those teams. So of course his stats would be skewed, especially the three-point shooting, since they would continue to feed Pierce the ball in hopes of winning the game.
Many Green Teamers would then point out that Pierce had 10 All-Star appearances during his career with the Celtics. However All-Star voting at that was just one big shame. It was pretty much ballot stuffing as well as a majority of the fans voted for ‘their guy’ while snubbing more deserving players (see Allen Iverson/Tracy McGrady 2010 All-Star Voting). So Pierce can’t really hang his hat on that.
Another thing about Paul Pierce’s legacy is the fact was the man was a whiner. Half the time in the game, you would see Pierce complain to the referees about ‘not getting calls’ when he was fouled. Then on the other side of the ball, when he got called for a foul, Pierce whined and complained that it wasn’t his fault. You wouldn’t see Larry Bird, JoJo White, or Bill Russell constantly whine to the referees if things didn’t go their way.
And don’t get me started on the whole ‘Wheel Chair’ fiasco either during the 2007-08 NBA Championship finals against the LA Lakers. That was the biggest farce in Boston sports lore, definitely beating out Curt Schilling’s ‘Bloody Sock’ during the 2004 ALCS for the Boston Red Sox. You thought that the man broke something or had his knees shattered with the way that he was attended to and then whisked away in a wheel chair. But not enough a quarter later, Pierce comes jogging back in the arena as if nothing had happened. It was a paltry attempt to mimic the ‘wounded warrior’ moment like Willis Reed back during the 1970-71 NBA Finals and the Michael Jordan flu game.
Speaking of NBA Finals, if there is one thing that Celtics fans know is that the number of championships and postseason success really define a Celtics player. In the case of Paul Pierce, there is more failure than success. Pre-‘Big 3’ Era, Paul Pierce’s Celtics made the playoffs 4 out of 8 years, including 2 years (2002-03 & 2004-05) where they were knocked out of the first round.
Then during the ‘Big 3’ Era of the Celtics (i.e. the arrival of Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen), the Celtics made the playoffs 6 years in a row…but only had 1 NBA Finals Championship to show for that. So even with 2 Future Hall of Famers with him, Pierce could only scrounge up just 1 NBA Championship. A lot of Celtics fans will try to point out that they almost won the 2009-10 NBA Finals if Kendrick Perkins didn’t go do with an injury in Game 6. But if you’re gonna be talked in the same breath as those who won multiple championships, almost doesn’t cut it. Not to mention that the only reason why Pierce even had a shot in the first place was because the team went out to get Garnett & Allen to begin with.
A jersey retirement means that you were a great player. Not a pretty good player and certainly not a above average player with a few moments here and there.
But hey, these are the Boston Celtics. If given a chance, they’d retire anybody’s number that played for them even if it was just for a couple of seasons. But if they keep retiring jersey numbers of players that were 'pretty good', it'll take away the significance of what that gesture really stands for.
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