Paul Pierce was a professional basketball player best known for leading his team, the Boston Celtics, to victory in the 2008 NBA championship series. He was born on October 13, 1977, in Oakland, California, Paul Anthony Pierce moved with his mother, Lorraine Hosey, and two half-brothers to Inglewood, a predominately African-American neighborhood in Los Angeles, California, about 1989. When his brothers, both older, left home, Pierce found companionship on the basketball courts of Inglewood’s Rogers Park Community Center. An important early mentor was Scott Collins, a police officer and assistant basketball coach at Inglewood High School, who allowed Pierce and several of his friends to practice on the school’s court every morning before classes began. Pierce would later credit these early-morning sessions with developing his character, particularly his work ethic. A standout star on the school’s basketball team in his junior and senior years, he won an athletic scholarship to the University of Kansas (UK), which he entered in the fall of 1995.
Pierce’s impact on the UK basketball team was immediate. In his first year (1995-96), he started in thirty-three out of thirty-four games, averaging nearly twelve points each time. Co-winner of Freshman of the Year honors from the Big Eight Conference, Pierce’s performance only improved over the course of the next two seasons. In his junior year (1997-98), for example, he averaged more than twenty points per game and was named a first-team All American by the Associated Press. These achievements brought him to the attention of NBA scouts, and the Boston Celtics selected him as their first-round choice, and the tenth pick overall, in the 1998 NBA draft. After the draft Pierce decided to skip his senior year at Kansas; as of 2008, his undergraduate degree in crime and delinquency studies remained unfinished.
When he joined the team, the Boston Celtics were a struggling franchise with a rich history. Though the Celtics remained the most successful team in the league’s history, with sixteen titles to their credit, their last championship season had been in 1985-86, a dozen years earlier. Pierce quickly established himself as a key contributor, averaging more than sixteen points and six rebounds per game in his rookie year (1998-99), the team continued to struggle, winning only nineteen of fifty games during that strike-shortened season. Though the team’s record, and Pierce’s personal statistics, improved over the next three seasons, an unsettling incident occurred in the fall of 2000, when he was the victim of a brutal stabbing in a Boston nightclub. In the early-morning hours of September 25, three men attacked Pierce from behind, striking him on the face with a broken bottle and stabbing him eleven times with a knife. While most of the wounds were superficial, one penetrated six inches into his chest and within a quarter inch of his heart. Pierce was lucky to receive medical attention within minutes. Even so, the speed of his recovery was extraordinary. After surgery to repair a partially collapsed lung, Pierce was out of the hospital and practicing with his teammates within three weeks.
The circumstances surrounding Pierce’s assault remain unclear. In an article that appeared in The Sporting News in December of 2000, Michael Silverman wrote that the incident was “believed to be related to an incident from the night before, reportedly when Pierce said or did something to a mutual female acquaintance that sparked some jealous feeling.”Pierce himself soon put the attack behind him, telling Silverman, “I don’t think about the negative things that happened to me because basketball is my life right now.”
After another disappointing season (36 wins, 46 losses) for the Celtics in 2000-01, the following year proved a turning point for the team, which reached the playoffs for the first time since 1995, and for Pierce himself, who was named to the Eastern Conference Team for the NBA All-Star Game. That honor would be repeated five times in the next six years (2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, and 2008). He was also selected to play for the United States in the 2002 World Championships in Indianapolis, Indiana.
A co-captain of the Celtics since 2000, Pierce became the captain in 2003. Under his leadership, the team returned several times to the playoffs. In 2006-07, however, the Celtics stumbled badly, finishing the season with one of the worst records (24 wins, 58 losses) in franchise history. Pierce’s frustration was apparent. “I’m the classic case of a great player on a bad team, and it stinks,” he remarked in comments quoted a year later by Billy Witz in the New York Times. Boston’s fortunes improved immediately, however, following General Manager Danny Ainge’s astute off-season acquisition of two veteran players, Ray Allen (formerly of the Seattle SuperSonics) and Kevin Garnett (formerly of the Minnesota Timberwolves), whose playing styles meshed well with Pierce’s. “They like each other,” Celtics head coach Doc Rivers told David DuPree in USA Today in November of 2007. “They’ve all decided that they don’t need anything individually and it is all about what’s best for the team.” In a surprisingly fast turnaround, the team finished the 2007-08 season with the best record in the league (66 wins, 16 losses) and went on to win the championship title in a six-game series with the Los Angeles Lakers. Pierce was named Player of the Game in the first and fourth games and Most Valuable Player in the series as a whole.
Career highlights and awards:
NBA champion (2008)
NBA Finals MVP (2008)
10× NBA All-Star (2002–2006, 2008–2012)
All-NBA Second Team (2009)
3× All-NBA Third Team (2002, 2003, 2008)
NBA All-Rookie First Team (1999)
NBA Three-Point Shootout champion (2010)
No. 34 retired by Boston Celtics
Consensus first-team All-American (1998)
No. 34 jersey retired by the University of Kansas
McDonald’s All-American (1995)
California Mr. Basketball (1995)