Black Man Lost

By Jerold A. Wells Jr.
Updated: December 6, 2005

MINNESOTA—It wasn’t supposed to be this way for him, drifting aimlessly in a sea of confusion, mad at the world for the situation thrust upon him.

It was supposed to be different. It was supposed to be better. Paul Pierce was supposed to be more than the next Celtic great, he was supposed to be the next Celtic champion.

Red started the dynasty and has lived to see the death of it. Cousy, Russell and Havliceck, Jones and Cowens, Bird, McHale and Parrish, Bias, Walker and Pierce. The line of Celtic greats was supposed to continue. The tradition of drafting players to sit and learn the Celtic way under the watchful eye of the great Red Auerback wasn’t supposed to be cut off in a hotel room with too much cocaine and not enough self-control.

Boston Celtic history is filled with superstars. Every decade from 1960 to the present has been defined by one, two, or even three players that were among the best in the league during their prime. Exceptional selections in the draft kept that tradition alive until the selection of the Maryland All-American Len Bias in 1986. The selection of Bias would have given the Celtics the complementary perimeter player Larry Bird needed to win another title or two and would have guaranteed a continuance of Celtic supremacy well into the 90’s. Len Bias was that special.

If you listen to coaches, commentators or analysts speak about ACC greats past the name Bias always comes up. Sure they’ll mention Dawkins, Worthy or Sampson but they will take care to point out the fact that Len Bias was one of the greatest forwards in ACC history. Bias’ creative post play, explosive leaping ability, quickness, and power combined with a legit 6-9 frame and sweet shooting touch proved to be a lethal combination. He was Darius Miles with muscle and a jump shot, Shawn Marion with back to the basket game, Marvin Williams with 4 years of ACC seasoning.

Sadly, Len Bias’ life and career ended prematurely due cocaine overdose. A nationwide epidemic struck the infallible Celtics dynasty. Because of his death the Celtics was forced to satisfy their hunger for a superstar worthy of the mantle Bird left with glorified role players such as Dino Radja, Rick Fox, Dee Brown, Antoine Walker. Meanwhile a certain special player was looking to make the final eastward move into his destiny.

Inglewood, California. Lawrence, Kansas. Boston Massachusetts. The road to destiny was a long one for Paul Pierce. Thing is the team destiny granted him was not very good. Truthfully it should have been a lot better. It ought to have been a piece or two away from revisiting the glory days. You see with Len Bias winding down what surely would have been a Hall of Fame career and still available to usher in a talent such as Pierce, the Celtics would have provided a potential foil to Jordan’s Chicago reign of terror in mid to late 90’s. Instead Paul Pierce was forced to lead a team reeling from Rick Pitino’s frenetic college style NBA experiment. Talk about more than one man can bear.

Luckily “The Truth” refused to let circumstance thwart providence. The Celtics were his team to lead and lead did he ever. He led them to the Eastern Conference Finals in 2002 before falling to New Jersey in 6 games. So often when the names premier swingman are thrown around in debate as to who is the best pound for pound in the game today Pierce is omitted. Wade, Bryant, Allen, McGrady, James, Carter, Hamilton and Ginobilli are all great in their own right but Paul Pierce is most definitely their equal.

As an exceptional shooter, passer, rebounder and defender Pierce can do everything you want a wing player to do. He feasts on smaller defender due to his size and strength and frustrates larger ones with his quickness willingness to move without the ball. Pierce is perennially among league leaders in minutes played and free throws attempted as well. In a nutshell the man is the real deal. And therein lies the struggle. Paul Pierce’s exceptional ability to play the game, natural aptitude for leadership, and top-flight representation of the Celtics organization are on par with Celtics legends past.

Thing is a championship is not in his immediate future. This years version of the Celtics are a promising bunch, but with young players at PG, in the pivot, and in key back up positions inconsistency has been their calling card. Inconsistent teams don’t win titles in any league.

Since a championship is the only thing that can put Pierce in the company of Celtics legends past in the minds and hearts of Boston faithful his jersey may never hang in the rafters of the Fleet Center along side those of greats he toils under during every home game. Sadly, it’s not entirely Pierce’s fault that he’s still ring less.

The Celtic way is for the elder to lead the younger from inexperience to greatness. Paul Pierce’s mentor never arrived and ever since he’s been in the league, he’s had to find his own way. The result has been a great career and he’s also in the middle of a career year. Perhaps it was supposed to be this way. That Paul Pierce, mentor less for so long, would rekindle the Celtic tradition. That Delonte West, Tony Allen, Gerald Green, Kendrick Perkins, and Al Jefferson would have a bona fide superstar to look up to, learn from, and emulate.

Perhaps the Black Man Lost has found his calling, realized his destiny, and found victory in the midst of defeat.