It is the end of a long Nets practice, and Paul Pierce is trying his hardest to keep a straight face.

That's not easy to do around Kevin Garnett, his longtime friend and teammate. Garnett has declared that no one can leave the court until they all sing "Happy Birthday" to team trainer Tim Walsh.

It doesn't matter that everyone is sweaty and tired and just wants to head home. Garnett makes three Spanish-speaking players sing "Feliz Cumpleaños" first before corralling the rest of the team to follow in English. He stands before them, part drill sergeant and part orchestra conductor, screaming and moving his arms with the beat.

In the middle of it all, Pierce's composure breaks and he shoots Garnett a look of both familiarity and wonder. It's the sort of look reserved for the longtime married, the sort of look that says I don't know exactly how we got here, but I'm glad we did.

"I've heard all his stories about 25 times," Pierce said. "There's really not a whole lot we don't know about each other. When he starts talking in the locker room, I already know what he's going to say."

Garnett added with a shrug: "We've always been able to communicate."

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That, more than anything, is why the Nets have brought the 36-year-old Pierce and the 37-year-old Garnett to Brooklyn. Lacking a chemistry and attitude of their own, the Nets decided to import it by trading for one of the tightest and toughest-minded tandems in sports.

The Nets already had talent on their team, but it wasn't enough to keep them from dissolving in the first round of last season's playoffs against a Bulls team without Derrick Rose.

 

Toughness? Check

No one walks over Pierce and Garnett, at least not without getting tripped and bruised in the process.

In their six seasons together in Boston, the duo won an NBA title in 2008 and came within five points of winning another one in 2010. In Brooklyn, they are gunning for one more.

If there was ever any doubt about that, it was dispelled last week when Pierce lowered his shoulder and delivered a hockey-like hit to reigning NBA MVP LeBron James in a meaningless preseason game against the defending champion Heat.

"That's going to be our identity. That's a message to the league," Pierce said.

Nets coach Jason Kidd, who made it to the NBA Finals three times as a player, including a championship with the Dallas Mavericks in 2011, said it is impossible to overstate the value the Hall of Fame-in-waiting duo brings to the team.

"They understand what it takes to win, and they understand each other," said Kidd, who led the Nets to the Finals in 2002 and '03. "If one is tired, the other can finish his sentence for him.

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"They have known each other since childhood but it goes further than that. They respect each other. They also need each other to be successful."

 

Teen pals reunited as Celts

They met as teenagers, and something instantly clicked. Pierce was a chubby, fun-loving 16-year-old from Los Angeles. Garnett was an intense, angular country kid from South Carolina who was regarded as the nation's best 17-year-old. Preparing to play in an AAU tournament together, Garnett lived with Pierce's family even though they had met only a few days earlier.

When they weren't on the basketball court that summer, they were cruising Crenshaw Boulevard, Garnett somehow folding his long frame into the passenger seat of Pierce's mother's old white Nissan. Pierce introduced him to the pleasures of city life, prime among them wolfing down handfuls of sickly sweet Cinnabons.

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It would be more than a decade before they were teammates again.

After moving to Chicago to attend Farragut Academy for his senior high school year, Garnett went straight from Farragut to the Minnesota Timberwolves, becoming the youngest player ever to play in the NBA. Pierce played three years at Kansas before heading to the Celtics.

Both established themselves as perennial All-Stars. And both failed to click enough with their surrounding casts to ever make a legitimate run at an NBA title.

That all changed in 2007 when Garnett and Ray Allen joined Pierce in Boston to form what was the original super team. It was a special time in all their lives, one that produced one NBA title, two trips to the Finals and three trips to the Eastern Conference finals.

They bought houses 15 minutes from one another and their wives each gave birth to a girl two weeks apart. If as teenagers they had invented the NBA life they wanted to have, it wouldn't have been this good, which made it all the more difficult when things started to fall apart.

 

Hello, Brooklyn

Pierce knew he was going to have to leave Boston, and he didn't want to do it without Garnett. He thought the Nets would take them both, but Garnett would have to waive his no-trade clause. So Pierce picked up the phone, walked out the back door of his house in Las Vegas and placed what ended up being an emotional two-hour call to his friend.

"I know you don't want to retire. You have too much in the tank, you love the game too much," Pierce recalled telling him.

By the time they hung up the phone, Pierce said his shirt was soaked in sweat.

"I can be hard-headed because I'm a Taurus," Garnett said. "But I trust what Paul says and vice versa."

Two decades after they first cruised the streets of Los Angeles together, they have yet another city to explore.

The two now live within walking distance of one another in Lower Manhattan. Instead of cruising Crenshaw Boulevard in a compact car, they can motor down Flatbush to work together in the wheels of their choice.

Watching the two on the practice floor, it's clear how right Pierce was. Garnett still loves the game and still believes in the way he and Pierce play it. Teammates marvel at the fluidity of their pick-and- roll, at how both seem to know exactly where the other is going to move five steps before they get there.

"Take today in the scrimmage; you could damn near see it coming but you couldn't stop it," said Jason Terry, who also came to the Nets in the trade with the Celtics. "It's just the relationship they have. It wasn't a called play. It was just instinct from knowing each other and playing over the years."

Both Garnett and Pierce realize that they have something special. There are plenty of tight friendships in basketball, but in the free-agent era of professional sports in which players jump from team to team, it is rare for two players to know each other as well and as long as they have.

"I think we're kind of linked together forever, bonded together forever," Pierce said. "When you share a championship together, when you share moving to other cities together, I have a guy who I will share a bond with for the rest of my life."

Regardless of whether they share another championship ring.