Pierce, Garnett Have Impressive Legacies in Boston

BOSTON – When you think about measuring an athlete’s contribution to a team, you can look at points per game, games won, records held, and a handful of other statistics. It usually comes down to numbers.

For Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett, the only number that really matters is 17.

Pierce and Garnett had very different stories and careers with the Boston Celtics. Garnett arrived in the summer of 2007, and brought with him a shift in culture, ushering in a new era. Initially reluctant to leave Minnesota, where he’d played his entire career, KG embraced Celtics Pride upon arrival. Together with Pierce and Ray Allen, he helped stage a renaissance that yielded the team’s 17th NBA Championship.

The five years of championship contention that followed nearly earned them a few more rings along the way.

Drafted out of high school, Garnett grew up in the NBA, and by the time he arrived in Boston, he was a grizzled veteran with a no-nonsense approach and an unhinged intensity that few could match, let alone comprehend. The Boston crowd immediately responded to his passion and fire, and he created a unique bond with the fan base that few athletes ever enjoy. Garnett’s pregame chest-pounding, his love affair with Gino, stare-downs with opponents and his hilarious real-talk postgame diatribes all added to the legend.

Garnett’s focus zeroed in on winning games, and his approach was infectious among his teammates, who revered him in the locker room. Garnett didn’t particularly enjoy doing interviews on most days, and he was an intimidating presence to media and those not in the team’s inner sanctum. While ensconced on the team bus or plane, his guard dropped and his mouth opened. Never bashful about using colorful language (to put it nicely), Garnett would crack his teammates up with running dialogue about anything and everything.

When you think about No. 5, the indelible visual that comes back is him screaming, “Anything is possible!” into an ESPN microphone after the Celtics had blown out the Lakers at TD Garden in Game 6 of the 2008 NBA Finals. Surrounded by teammates, team officials, reporters and cameras, Garnett lost control, started giving shout-outs to his friends and family and sobbing into his freshly-minted championship hat, all before finally collecting his composure.

“There’s a lot of responsibility that comes with putting this great jersey on,” Garnett said. “I’m just happy that we carried out tradition.”

Garnett then went on to embrace Bill Russell, the greatest champion of all time, and one of the many men who made that moment carry so much weight in the first place.

Pierce, meanwhile, grew up a Lakers fan in Inglewood, Calif., despising that Celtic tradition is a kid. He became a Celtic on draft day in 1998 when he was the 10th pick in the draft, having watched the likes of Michael Olowakandi, Mike Bibby, Raef Lafrentz, Robert Traylor, Jason Williams, and Larry Hughes go ahead of him. Vince Carter and Dirk Nowitzki also got picked ahead of Pierce, but the Celtics got a franchise player that day, and he became perhaps the best pure scorer the team has ever seen.

When Pierce landed in Boston, he quickly became a local star alongside Antoine Walker. The two reached their zenith together in the 2002 postseason, making a memorable run to the Eastern Conference Finals that was highlighted by the greatest fourth-quarter comeback in NBA playoff history at the time.

After a tongue-lashing from Walker during a timeout, Pierce dropped 19 of his 28 points in the fourth quarter, incredibly erasing a 21-point deficit in the final stanza and delivering a memorable victory over the New Jersey Nets in Game 3. The Celtics went on to lose the series, but the image of Pierce celebrating atop the scorers’ table at the conclusion of that game at the FleetCenter is among the many iconic photos from his Celtics career.

That game baptized Pierce; he was suddenly a legitimate NBA superstar who would carry the franchise on his back through ups and downs until the cavalry arrived in the summer of 2007. With Allen coming from Seattle and Garnett coming from Minnesota, the New Big Three was formed and the Celtics were back. A new era was born and the Celtics wasted no time in hanging Banner 17; Pierce was at the center of it all as the NBA Finals MVP. Outplaying Kobe Bryant and the Los Angeles Lakers, The Truth added another chapter to the NBA’s greatest rivalry.

That’s grossly oversimplifying Pierce’s story, considering he played 1,102 regular-season games and postseason 136 games in Celtics green. But who knows? Never afraid to boast, Pierce told TMZ recently that he may play until he’s 40. Whatever the case, his legacy with the team is certified.

Both Pierce and Garnett can claim to be Celtics legends, a fact that's unmistakable. The culture and legacy of the Boston Celtics will forever go hand-in-hand with the legacies of these two legends.