Nine years later and the scars are still there.
You can see some of them every time Paul Pierce steps on the court. The next time the camera focuses in on his back, look just above the top trim of his jersey.
You’ll see two diagonal marks. They’re noticeable, but far from massive or extravagant. In fact, you’d probably think nothing of them if you didn’t know the story behind them.
But there is a story, one that could have been tragic and disheartening. It’s a story that puts to rest the sometimes perceived invincibility of professional athletes. To those who know about the story, the scars are a reminder of how the basketball world almost lost a star before his potential blossomed.
Those scars remind us of the young rookie who arrived in Boston during a period when the Celtics were the NBA’s laughingstock. They remind us of the buzz that his arrival on Causeway Street created around Boston, of the fans that had been waiting for relevant hoops since the departures of Larry, McHale and The Chief, and how they saw Pierce as the proverbial light at the end of the tunnel.
They remind us of how he slipped down the draft board, and how Rick Pitino made his only good decision in Boston by selecting him No. 10 overall, teaming him up with Antoine Walker and creating one of the best young duos in the NBA. They remind us of some of the teams who passed on Pierce in that ’98 Draft in favor of Michael Olowokandi, Tractor Traylor, White Chocolate and Larry Hughes. They remind us of his me-against-the-world attitude, of the immediate motivation he had coming into the League. They remind us of his All-Rookie season where he averaged over 16 points and six boards a game as he tried to put his name on the NBA map.
They remind us of his low-key, almost quiet, style of play. He wasn’t flashy by any means. He didn’t have the reverse 360 dunks like Vince Carter and he didn’t have AI’s killer crossover. There wasn’t an aura around his game and his potential like Kobe and he didn’t possess Shaq’s outgoing personality. He wasn’t a household name, but the NBA world knew that he could ball. Those scars remind us of the feeling we had that it was only a matter of time before everyone else noticed it, too.
Of course, those scars remind us of September 25, 2000, the day of the incident at the Buzz Club in Boston’s Theater District. They remind us of the rising expectations around Pierce and the Celtics as he was about to enter his third season, and how those expectations turned into shock, disbelief, and horror.
They remind us of the police reports, of hearing that Pierce was attacked by a group of men early that morning, of how he was stabbed in the back, face, and neck a total of 11 times and had a bottle smashed over his head. They remind us of how one of his chest wounds was seven inches deep and punctured his lung, of how Tony Battie carried him to a nearby hospital where he was rushed into surgery in an attempt to save his life.
They remind us of how we immediately thought about the worst case scenario. This was supposed to be the guy to lead the new generation of Celtic Pride. He was supposed to be another superstar in a long line of Boston superstars and legends. They remind us of how we started comparing him to Len Bias and Reggie Lewis instead Bird, Havlicek, Cousy, and Russell. They remind us of visions of jerseys with a black strip across the shoulder strap, of another player taking his place in the starting lineup, of another young Celtic whose career, and life, would be cut way too short.
They remind us of how he survived, how he was released from the hospital only three days after cheating death. They remind us of how he had newfound motivation, to show the world that he wasn’t going to let haters hold him back from accomplishing what he wanted to do. They remind us of how he was the only Celtic to play in all 82 games during that ’00-01 season while putting the League on alert that he had arrived. He began scoring at will, averaging over 25 points a game while becoming the face of the franchise. They remind us of March 13, 2001, when the Diesel anointed Pierce “The Truth” after he dropped 42 on the Lakers at Staples.
They remind us of Pierce’s loyalty to the organization that drafted him, even though his career had been filled with losing seasons and early playoff exits. They remind us of how badly he wanted to win, how much he wanted an NBA championship for himself, his teammates, the former Celtics legends, and the city of Boston. They remind us of June 17, 2008, the night he was finally able to hold the Larry O’Brien Trophy over his head, of how he could finally be talked about as one of the all-time Celtics greats.
And as the ninth anniversary of those scars approaches, Pierce is getting ready to lead the Boston Celtics into another season as they chase another NBA title. He’s still one of the premier players in the League. He’ll probably eclipse the 20,000-point mark this season and there’s a good chance he’ll end up in the Hall of Fame when he hangs up the kicks.
But this ninth anniversary reminds us that his remarkable career almost never happened, that everything could’ve ended at the Buzz Club on that early September morning.
But Paul Pierce’s work wasn’t quite finished yet.
Those scars will always remind us of that.