Larry Bird doesn't like to dabble in hyperbole.
Bird, the former Celtics great who's now the president of basketball operations for the Indiana Pacers, rarely throws complimentary bouquets just for conversation sake. That's not his style.
So when Bird spoke so glowingly of Paul Pierce last week, putting the 15-year veteran's career in Boston in perspective as he gets set to embark on his new challenge with the Nets, it truly validated Pierce's standing in Celtics lore.
"He's one of the better ones to ever come through there," Bird said at the Orlando summer league. "He really is."
The statistics certainly back it up, giving fuel to the notion that the 2008 NBA Finals MVP will one day join Bird and the other Celtics legends who had their numbers raised to the rafters. Pierce ranks second in franchise history in points (24,021), third in games played (1,102) and minutes (40,360), and fourth in assists (4,305). And that's not all.
He's also first in team history in steals (1,583) and three-pointers made (1,823).
Selected with the 10th pick in the 1998 draft, Pierce earned 10 All-Star Game nods and was named to four All-NBA teams as a Celtic. He was the player the team built around, the one they pegged to pull them out of the depths of mediocrity. Boston failed to post a winning record in Pierce's first three seasons before grabbing a playoff berth in 2001-02.
Still, Pierce's tenure in Boston wasn't without its share of trials and tribulations, both on and off the court. In 2000, he was stabbed 11 times in the face, neck and back while in the pool room of a nightclub.
There was also an 18-game losing streak in 2006-07, the precursor to Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge going for the gusto and assembling the Big Three. Pierce was partially responsible for forcing the Celtics' remake when he demanded a trade if Ainge had no plans on upgrading the talent around him.
Ainge landed Ray Allen from Seattle and Kevin Garnett from Minnesota that offseason. The Celtics went on to win the franchise's 17th championship in the Big Three's first year, knocking off Kobe Bryant and the Lakers in six games.
Pierce is a character, too -- even when he's not necessarily trying to be. Throughout his career, he's registered more than a handful of timeless YouTube moments, with two coming this past season. He nearly had his ankles broken when the Nets' Joe Johnson put on a Curly Neal-type dribbling exhibition in front of Pierce to free himself, leaving Pierce laying on the court as Johnson swished a long jumper.
Pierce also was badly embarrassed by a crossover made by the Magic's Jameer Nelson, a move that caused Pierce to crumple to the court.
There was also that 2008 Finals performance some believe was worthy of an Oscar. Perhaps a product of the fact that he was raised in Inglewood, Calif., which is just outside Hollywood, Pierce put on what appeared to be a great acting job. In Game 1 against the Lakers, Pierce grabbed his right knee while writhing in pain. His teammates carried him off the court and in a matter of seconds, Pierce was in a wheelchair headed to he locker room. Minutes later, he ran back on the court with a sense of purpose, making a Willis Reed-esque return.
Pierce caught some flak for that, with some saying he was being overly dramatic, possibly looking to dupe the opposition. But whenever people bring that up, all Pierce has to do is point to his ring, knowing no one can ever take that away from him.
It's that championship pedigree that had the Nets eager to bring Pierce to Brooklyn. "I would have loved to see ," Bird said "I've got a lot of respect for Paul and what he has accomplished. But who says he's not going to play another four years?"