Paul Pierce’s announcement Monday that he’s planning on playing a 19th and final NBA season means all teams will have the opportunity to say goodbye to the Los Angeles Clippers forward, who starred at Kansas from 1995 to ’98.
“He is not Big Papi (David Ortiz) or Kareem (Abdul-Jabbar), but I’m sure some teams will do a tribute for him,” said Eric Chenowith, one of Pierce’s former KU teammates, who is an insurance producer at Parq Advisors in Beverly Hills, Calif.
“He deserves everything he gets. He’s no question a first-ballot Hall of Famer,” Chenowith added of Pierce, the No. 2 scorer in Boston Celtics history, who turns 39 on Oct. 13.
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Pierce is in his second season with the Clippers after playing a year in Washington and another in Brooklyn. He toiled 15 seasons with the Celtics.
“I’m pretty sure Boston will do something crazy for him,” one of Pierce’s former KU roommates, Nick Bradford said.
Pierce was chosen 2008 NBA Finals MVP after leading the Celtics to victory over the Los Angeles Lakers in six games.
“I’m sure there will be other teams that do things for him after all he’s done. I’m proud of him. I hope he gets to finish it up injury-free,” added Bradford, head coach of the boys basketball team at Mexico (Mo.) High.
Another one of Pierce’s former KU roommates, Ryan Robertson, envisions many standing ovations headed Pierce’s way during his final NBA campaign.
“He’s clearly very proud of his career. And why wouldn’t you be?” said Robertson, divisional sales manager for Goldman Sachs Group in the St. Louis area.
“You are talking about a future Hall of Famer, NBA legend, NBA champion,” Robertson added. “I think anybody would want to be recognized for the type of career he’s had. Is it a farewell tour where he gets gifts in every city like Kareem? Probably not. It’s an opportunity for him to go back to Boston (where he played from 1998 to 2013) or Washington (where he played in 2014-15) and get honored there as well as many other places. Good for him.”
Pierce’s former KU teammates have accumulated many stories to tell about the No. 9 scorer and No. 18 rebounder in Jayhawk history.
One tale to perhaps show how competitive he is dates to Sept. 25, 2011, when a who’s who of former Jayhawks played “The Legends of the Phog” exhibition game in Allen Fieldhouse.
“We were getting beat. During one of the timeouts, Paul said, ‘I never lost a game in this building. That means something to me. I want everybody to pick up their intensity level. Let’s try to win.’ That inspired me. I didn’t want to let down Paul. It carried so much weight for me,” Robertson said.
Pierce wound up hitting a three with five seconds left to give his Blue team an 111-108 lead over the White squad. Mario Chalmers ended up beating the buzzer with a three to send both teams — and the fans — home happy with an 111-111 tie.
Chenowith’s lasting memory of Pierce dates to 1995.
Pierce’s Inglewood High team defeated Chenowith’s Villa Park squad in the California state playoffs.
“He jumped over my high school point guard on an alley-oop. Literally jumped over him,” Chenowith said. “Even at KU we joked about that play. The Oklahoma game resonates with me. Every time I see Kelvin Sampson (OU coach) we talk about it,” Chenowith added.
Pierce scored 31 points on 14-of-17 shooting in KU’s 83-70 home win over Sampson’s Sooners on Feb. 23, 1998. It was Senior Day for Raef LaFrentz, Billy Thomas and C.B. McGrath, but also turned out to be the final home game for Pierce, who turned pro after his junior campaign.
“I’ve seen a lot of games in Allen. Paul had what might be the best four-minute stretch ever played by a player in Allen,” Chenowith said of a surge in which Pierce scored 13 straight points. “It was his sendoff. We all knew he’d be entering the draft.”
Bradford added: “My biggest memory is playing 1-on-1 against him every day. He helped me get better. The biggest thing is the Oklahoma game. He went on a 15-0, 16-0 run, then Kelvin Sampson tapped him on the butt. Everybody knew it was his last game and he picked the best way to go out.”
Pierce said in an article he authored on the Website theplayerstribune.com Monday that his goal was to lead his hometown Clippers to an NBA title in his final campaign. That would be storybook, but still might not surpass Pierce’s years in Boston, Chenowith said.
“I remember seeing him five years ago at a charity event for Neil Dougherty (former KU assistant coach who died in 2011). He was wearing a Red Sox cap. I got on him about the hat. I said, ‘You are from L.A.’ He was, ‘I’m Boston, baby. The Patriots, Bruins, Celtics. It’s my home.’ He has this love for Boston. It was cool to see. It shows how great that fan base is. He brought a championship back to Boston. He gave his heart and soul to that city.”