Friday, December 5, 2008

New Paul Pierce Sports Illustrated Nine Page Spread

"I've always been the Rodney Dangerfield of this game," he says. "Maybe it was meant to be that way, but that always drove me. If somebody said, 'You're going to be the Number 1 pick, you're going to have a great team around you all these years'? It would've been too easy." - Paul Pierce

On Paul's Father

George Pierce never lived with Lorraine. Paul was no more than six the last time he saw his dad. Cornelia Pierce, George's wife, answers the phone at their home. She's cordial but has little desire to open old wounds. "I'm a strong woman," she says. "I've prayed over it and I've accepted the whole situation; in fact, I watch many of Paul's games. I feel that Paul is an innocent bystander, as well as I am. I'm a Christian woman, so I look at things from the positive side and I don't have any regrets, or any attitude or anything. George and I have been married for 45 years." Paul and Lorraine moved to Inglewood in 1988, and that year Jamal Hosey [Paul's Oldest Brother] saw George Pierce one last time. "I yelled at him, 'You know, you got a great kid! You at least could call him, you bum!'" Jamal says. "Then my wife pulled me, and I walked away."

On New GM Danny Ainge in 2004

The slaps kept coming. In 2003 Pierce had his first playoff triple double in the second round against New Jersey and led Boston in postseason assists and scoring. But the Celts lost to the Nets, and when Ainge took over as general manager that May, he unloaded Walker. "He didn't think highly of me and Antoine at all, and I knew this," Pierce says. "So I'm already thinking, He's not feeling my game; I don't need to try to build a relationship because he already doesn't like me and just traded Antoine. Maybe I'm next."

On Coach Doc Rivers

Doc Rivers took over as Boston coach in 2004, and for half of that season he and Pierce clashed. The Celtics were rebuilding and had used three first-round picks to bring in Al Jefferson, Delonte West and Tony Allen. Rivers wanted Pierce to trust his young teammates more and stop playing his ponderous isolation game. Trust? With a championship looking ever more distant, Pierce didn't trust Ainge to get the winning players the team needed and didn't trust Rivers's approach. It came as no shock to hear, on draft night two months later, that Ainge was close to dealing Pierce for the rights to rookie guard Chris Paul.
When that deal fell through, it looked like star and team would be stuck in one of those bad NBA marriages. But during the two awful seasons following 2005, Pierce never tuned the coach out. Rivers kept waiting for Pierce's supposed selfishness to kick in, but "even though it wasn't working—and he was fighting it—he was still trying to do [what was needed]," Rivers says. "That's not a selfish person."

On The Worst Year Of The Franchise

The team won just 24 games in 2006--07, and late in the season Pierce told a Boston reporter, "I'm the classic case of a great player on a bad team, and it stinks." Yet such foot-stomping had become more exception than rule; Ainge, Rivers, his brothers Jamal and Steve had noticed that, as Pierce says, "my spirits really changed." He had been seeing a woman named Julie Landrum since '05, and Pierce credits her with teaching him to think more positively and "keeping me happy." Out for nearly half the '06--07 season with injuries, Pierce watched Boston lose a record 18 straight. He realized that, at 29, he was as far as ever from winning a title, and his first impulse was to publicly demand a trade. Landrum talked him out of it.

George Karl On Pierce Stepping His Game Up From All Angles Last Year

"What I saw was commitment," Karl says. "If the game said, 'Be a defender'? He was a defender. If the game said, 'Be a rebounder'? He was a rebounder. If the game said, 'Be an orchestrator'? He was an orchestrator. He made his career scoring points, but last year? What the game asked him to do, he did." Pierce's performance in the Celtics' dismantling of the Lakers in the Finals sealed [it]. In Game 1 he left the court with a knee injury, but he returned to hit two three-pointers and give Boston the lead for good. In Game 2 he led the Celtics in scoring and held off L.A.'s desperate comeback with two key free throws and a block on Sasha Vujacic's three-pointer. With Boston down 18 at the half of Game 4, Pierce demanded that Rivers let him guard Bryant, then dogged the Lakers guard relentlessly, blocked one of his jumpers and held him to 6-of-15 shooting, and the Celtics fought all the way back to win and take a 3--1 series lead. Pierce, the Finals MVP, would outplay Bryant again in the next game and Boston would win in six, but the championship—and Pierce's legacy—was secured in Game 4. George Karl is 57 and has seen the greatest, from Russell to Jordan, produce the kind of basketball that can make a coach swoon. He was in the building for the Celts' miraculous comeback and saw it up close. "Probably the best half of basketball I can remember one player playing," Karl says.

On Being Present For The Birth Of His Child Earlier This Year

"It was unreal," he whispers. It made him decide some things. "I don't want to be the dad that my father was," Pierce says. "I want to see my child grow. Who knows if I would've made it if he had been involved? Who knows if I would've been that much better? Who knows? But I'm sure his influence wouldn't have hurt those times I fell off my bike or didn't have nobody to rebound for me. I want to be there for my daughter—when she falls, to pick her up. When she needs help with homework."

Find the full Sports Illustrated Feature Here.

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