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Over the past few seasons, we’ve seen some players, who have dominated the league for what feels like centuries, announce their retirement in unusual ways. They’ve given us a heads up.
It’s spanned across both the MLB and the NBA, where first-ballot Hall of Famers have given us the courtesy of knowing just when their time will be coming. We’ve been used to players just walking into the sunset or fading off into retirement after staying around too long like those people who hear the music come on mid-Oscar speech. Now, stars now have the option of the farewell tour.
It’s an art that is designed to favor the final days of those who have given us years of memories. Mariano Rivera was one of the more notable players to begin the tradition, shortly followed by Derek Jeter, and more recently David Ortiz and Kobe Bryant. This year, Paul Pierce has joined the fray, announcing during the offseason that he’ll play his final year in Los Angeles.
The only difference is, no one is noticing Pierce’s last ride.
There has been some recognition that he’s parting ways with his lifelong job as a basketball player, but compared to the other players mentioned who took the premature retirement route, it’s been less noisy than a Kawhi Leonard screaming session. Kobe got standing ovations every time he made a basket, even if it was to give the Lakers a win over the home team. Big Papi and Mariano Rivera got gifts from every franchise like they were the long lost relatives who were making up for missing the holidays for so many years. The fanfare was exceptional for every athlete that has walked away, except for Pierce.
Even when the Clippers made a farewell video for Pierce, it came in a home game against the Celtics in which he didn’t even record a single minute.
The one person outside of Boston who actually noticed Pierce was leaving? Draymond Green. He didn’t exactly do it in the friendly “the league is going to miss everything you’ve done” sort of way like we’ve seen before.
For the level of disrespect Pierce has been getting, there has to be a deeper meaning.
To argue that he isn’t being treated like a legend who, because of the stresses endured by his body, is saying his final goodbye is senseless and misguided. Pierce may not be Kobe, but he’s a first-ballot Hall of Famer. He’s a 10-time All Star, has been on four All-NBA teams, and was the 2008 Finals MVP. He owns a number of records for the winningest franchise in NBA history. Calling him less than a legend is worse than when Draymond dragged his lifeless body across social media by insulting him.
Pierce’s treatment isn’t exactly warranted, but the reasons are there.
The most obvious reason is the decline of play. Sure, those who took the victory lap option clearly experienced a production slide. Kobe would play a few minutes, and then tape bags of ice on every limb of his body like he just went 12 rounds with Conor McGregor.
Yet at the same time, Kobe played. No matter how short of a stint, or how ineffective he was, he suited up and played. Unlike Kobe and others in front of him, Pierce finds himself on a team that is in the middle of a playoff hunt. Aside from checking in during his final game in Boston to hit the most meaningful meaningless three pointer in the history of the NBA, Pierce hasn’t played since New Years Eve. It’s been this way since the dawn of basketball at every single level that has ever been played. Bench warmers don’t get cheers.
Another reason has been his past. No, this has nothing to do with trash talking moments like him telling Dwyane Wade he was going to pull a Delonte West with his mom, or despicable moments like him getting taken off the court during the NBA Finals in a wheelchair, only to run out of the tunnel moments later. It has to do with him going from franchise great to gun for hire.
Pierce is one of the greatest Celtics of all time, but did not spend his time on one team like Kobe did. Once he got traded from Boston to Brooklyn for seemingly every draft pick the franchise ever had, he became a ring chaser. He has now played on four different franchises who have made playoff appearances while he was on the roster. Ring chasers are certainly not frowned upon, as we’ve seen players hunt for hardware every year. However, bounty hunters don’t get treated like legends.
If this was one year ago, or a few franchises ago, things may be different. Pierce may be getting the proper treatment, waving to road crowds as “thank you Truth” rained down from the rafters. Instead, we just have the memories he gave us the previous 18 years, while the ghost of what Pierce was sits idly by on the Clippers sidelines in a warm up.