September 25, 2000, is a day Paul Pierce will never forget. That night he went to Buzz Bar with teammate Tony Battie and Battie’s brother. As the evening went along, Pierce was talking to a few ladies when a man, later determined to be a family member of one of the ladies, approached Pierce. Out of nowhere, Pierce was in a fight with three men.
“It happened so fast, I don’t even know how I got into it. It’s just one dude right here, next thing I know I was fighting with three guys. Once it was all over with, I’m standing up. I didn’t even know I was being stabbed. I look up, I got my jacket ripped, blood everywhere.”Paul Pierce, via All The Smoke
That night changed Pierce’s life. He remembered banging on the hospital door, asking the medical staff if he was going to die. Pierce suffered three stab wounds to the stomach and five in the back. He also got hit with a bottle over the head, that severely cut the area above his right eye. He had to get lung surgery to repair the damage and was released from the hospital two days later.
A few miracles happened after the incident. After going through all this, Pierce didn’t miss a single game the next season; he was the only Celtic to play 82 games. More importantly, it made him realize how many people cared about him and that he had to change the way he lived his life. A few days after being released from the hospital, Pierce saw a piece of news that really hit home.
“The crazy part about it, how I respect life, how much it made me appreciate life. I get home after two days in the hospital. I’m seeing a new and they show a kid, a teenager got stabbed twice and died. I’m like ‘Damn, I’m lucky, I’m lucky.’ I can’t let my family down putting myself in these positions.”Paul Pierce, via All The Smoke
Pierce returned to the court and had one of his best seasons playing 82 games. Instinctively, people thought the incident made him stronger, that he was over it, and using it as fuel. It was the complete opposite. He suffered from paranoia and PTSD, closing in from the world and living between the gym and his home.
“People, don’t know this, I actually carried a gun for two years. I was so paranoid, I couldn’t be in crowds.”Paul Pierce, via All The Smoke
Players didn’t share personal experiences about their mental health in the early 2000s. Pierce shared he couldn’t sleep and had a 24-hour police protection unit in front of his house. The fact he didn’t act in a way that would provoke the attack, but politely talking to someone, and still got attacked took away his feeling of control.
“All I did was go to the gym and home, for like a good two-year stretch. It changes you. You don’t know where to go; you don’t know who to look at. You’re on your toes [all the time]. So I just channeled all that energy toward basketball.”Paul Pierce, via All The Smoke
Pierce spent hours and hours in the gym, putting up shots, working on his craft. Playing ball was the only time when he didn’t think about what happened to him when Pierce could relax and enjoy himself. Basketball became his sanctuary. You could tell on the court – he dropped 42 on Kobe, and Shaq named him “The Truth” that season.