Washington Wizards forward Paul Pierce told reporters on Friday that he has "total respect" for Cleveland Cavaliers forward LeBron James as a person and that the rivalry between the two is an on-court thing, according to FOX Sports.
Last year, James said Pierce was his biggest individual rival in the league. Pierce, in his first season with the Wizards, will face James and the Cavaliers for the first time this season on Friday night.
"I think a lot of it is misunderstood. If I see LeBron walking down the street, it's not going to be no fist fight. I got a lot of respect for him," Pierce said. "The competitive nature of both of us, being at the same position, being on top teams, gunning for the same trophy year in and year out, that's where that comes in to play. It's like fighting for the same girl. Why do I want to be cool with that guy?"
Pierce said he was "definitely surprised" James left the Miami Heat for Cleveland over the offseason, but that it's "good for the game of basketball."
"I thought they built something special there," Pierce said of James in Miami.
Pierce, a 15-year NBA veteran, is averaging 12.3 points, 5.4 rebounds and 2.6 assists this season. James is averaging 25.9 points, 6.6 rebounds and 6.8 assists.
Washington (7-3) hosts Cleveland (5-5) on Friday.
- Molly Geary