Raising 34 to the Rafters: Pierce Immortalizes Celtics Legacy

BOSTON – Paul Pierce tried to maintain his emotions Sunday evening as he began to raise a banner containing seven retired Boston Celtics jersey numbers to the TD Garden rafters.

The numbers of previously retired legends revealed themselves in pairs of two as the banner gradually unfolded from the parquet floor. First, there were numbers 3 and 33 – Dennis Johnson and Larry Bird. Next, came digits 32 and 35 – Kevin McHale and Reggie Lewis. Then, came numbers 00 and 31 – Robert Parish and Cedric Maxwell.

Finally, the banner’s last number was revealed, sitting on a row all by itself. That's when Pierce felt his emotions take control.

Overjoyed, with a smile stretching from ear to ear while his No. 34 unfolded and soared toward the rafters, Pierce came to the realization that his legacy was becoming immortalized right there in front of his eyes. It represented the utmost recognition that any Celtic could ever receive, and, for him, it was the greatest honor of his life.

“I was just trying to hold it together,” said Pierce, who joined 22 other Celtics legends whose numbers are displayed on three separate banners that hang from the arena's rafters. “I just knew that when I first saw the banner lift and I saw it straight and I saw my number there, it was like, man, all the years I walked into the gym, every day I looked up and I saw empty spots and I saw all the other jersey numbers. Now I’m up there. Now I’m up there, and that’s forever.”

Thousands of people rose to their feet to enjoy the moment with Pierce, including fans, Celtics staffers, players and coaches from the present and past, as well a handful of other Celtics legends who were there to welcome “The Truth” to their prestigious fraternity.

Standing among the crowd was Pierce’s former head coach – and current LA Clippers head coach – Doc Rivers. Despite being in the middle of the NBA season, Rivers wouldn’t have missed Pierce’s jersey retirement festivities for the world.

“I love the guy,” Rivers told reporters Sunday afternoon ahead of Boston’s 121-99 loss to the Cleveland Cavaliers. “I got a ring (in 2008) because pf Paul, Kevin (Garnett), Ray (Allen), (Rajon) Rondo, that whole group. I think Bill Parcels said it best, that when you win something with someone, it’s a blood transfusion and you’re connected for life. Paul and I talk a lot, stay in contact a lot, and so do all of us (from that team).

“This is a day that we actually talked about before we won the title,” added Rivers, who took in Sunday’s game while sitting courtside with Garnett and Rondo. “This is literally a day we talked about, as far as a whole team, that was going to happen, and we all said we’d be here.”

Rivers was also one of a few people who spoke during the hour-long ceremony, along with team owner Wyc Grousbeck, president of basketball operations Danny Ainge, and, of course, Pierce himself, who delivered a 24-minute speech from the heart to his beloved Celtics Nation.

There were also countless video tributes that were displayed throughout the afternoon and evening on the TD Garden jumbotron, as fans, former teammates, and even former rivals all paid their respects to The Truth.

One of Pierce’s most cherished moments of the day was when his greatest rival, Kobe Bryant, made a cameo on the big screen.

“Paul, congratulations my man,” said Bryant, who recently had his numbers 8 and 24 retired by the Los Angeles Lakers. “You’ve had an amazing career, to say the least, and I enjoyed battling against you all those years. I know it must’ve been hard for you as a kid growing up in Los Angeles and then joining the Celtics and putting on the Celtic green. But I’ve gotta say, man, you made all the Celtics Legends proud.”

One of those proud Legends was Bill Russell. The 11-time NBA champion could not be in attendance for the ceremony, so he sent out a tribute video from his personal Twitter account that was directed toward the newest Celtic Legend.

“Paul, one of the greatest thing that can happen to an athlete is to retire as a Celtic,” said Russell. “I’m very proud of you, and I’m proud that you were a Celtic.”

For years, Pierce had idolized Celtics like Russell, Bird, John Havlicek, and countless others who all helped bring championships to Boston and who had their numbers eternally enshrined above the parquet floor in recognition for their contributions to the organization.

To join those Legends is an honor that Pierce never could have imagined in his wildest dreams. But he deserves that recognition as much as any Celtic who earned it before him. And that’s The Truth.

“The players who won a championship, the players whose numbers go in the rafters, I’m a part of history, and there is no better history than that,” said Pierce. “This is a class-A, level-one franchise. The Boston Celtics is a name you put respect with, a name you put history with, a name you put tradition with. And now I’m a part of it.”