And he often said: "You'll do the same thing when you get old like me."
Well, it must be happening. I must be getting old. Because when watching Boston's
No, I saw the young college player I knew more than a decade ago at Kansas. Paul Pierce was unlike any college basketball player I ever saw. He could do anything. And he could do nothing. And he usually did both in the same game, often in the same half, occasionally on the same possession.
"Paul!" then-Kansas coach
1. Wow, why doesn't he play that way all the time?
2. Wow, where did Paul Pierce go?
"I don't get bored with it," he said back then. But that was how it looked much of the time, like he was bored. He was gifted beyond reason; Pierce, even back then, wasn't just good enough to score and rebound and pass and dunk and block shots into the third row. He was good enough to make it all look beautiful. He had a little bit of
But he needed something to challenge him, something to stimulate him. He was like the ever-present kids in most of our lives, the ones who make good grades in those school classes that interest them, not so much in those classes that do not. I was that kid in school, too.
"I love Paul," Williams said all the time. "And Paul drives me crazy too."
Watching Pierce on Tuesday, I remembered a game against Iowa State during Pierce's junior year. I had gone to write a column about him, and in the first half he played 15 minutes and did not score a point. He was so non-existent, so ghostlike, that the photographer actually wandered over at halftime and asked, "What do I shoot?"
"Wait," I said.
And in the second half -- perhaps inspired by a stern halftime speech from Williams and news his mother was in the stands -- he scored 16, grabbed five rebounds, made brilliant passes and played suffocating defense. Kansas won by 17. The photographer smiled. He got his shot. It was, in memory, the absolutely perfect Paul Pierce game.
That's how it was his entire college career. At the end of his sophomore year, Pierce was named third-team All-Big 12. Think about that for a minute -- Paul Pierce, who has become the ultimate NBA soldier, the guy who has carried the Boston Celtics this year, the most dangerous last-minute player in the game, was picked behind
Then, a year later, he was not selected as one of the 10 best small forwards in the country by
There were many doubts about Pierce as an NBA player. There was never a question about his game -- or there should not have been any questions about his game. He was one of those few players who had a true NBA game while in college.*
The questions about Pierce and the NBA were the same ones that hounded him in college:
That's why Pierce was the 10th pick in the 1998 NBA draft, behind, among others,
And so, it's so much fun to see what Pierce has become. He has become a warrior. Tuesday's game was perfect. This has been such a fun series between the Celtics and Bulls -- big shots, tough defense, overtimes, intensity. Pierce was not especially visible for much of the game. He's a very different player now. He's obviously still a great athlete, but, at 31, he's not the force of nature he once was. He is more anchored to the ground. He moves with purpose. And when the Celtics needed the jumper to tie, there was Pierce, going to his spot, shooting with a hand in his face, making the shot.
And in the final moments of overtime, when the Celtics needed points to take the lead, he kept going to his spot, kept shooting those jumpers and kept making them. Everyone knew precisely what he would do. But they could not stop him. That's the kind of player Pierce has become.
When it ended, the sideline reporter asked Pierce if he was at all tired because this was the fourth overtime of the series. He smiled real big and said no, absolutely not, this was fun, he would play overtime every time out. Pierce no longer needs anyone to yell at him to "Do something." He does plenty.