As I stepped foot Tuesday morning into the auditorium of Inglewood High School, I felt like I was instantly teleported from Los Angeles to Boston. I noticed the green banners and streamers. I noted the absence of Lakers jerseys. And I heard the never-ending cheers for Celtics forward Paul Pierce.
Pierce, a former standout at Inglewood High, was having his No. 34 jersey retired at the school. You’d think that might bring up conflicted feelings, because, you know, the Lakers beat the Celtics in the 2010 Finals.
But Pierce said: “I don’t have conflicted memories. I live here. I’m from here. I’m around my friends and my family. Obviously losing to the Lakers in Game 7 hurts, but it’s just home for me in the offseason. I spend a lot of time around people that had a chance to watch Paul Pierce grow and had a chance to watch Paul Pierce succeed in high school, college and the NBA.”
Some of his other statements might get Lakers fans riled up: He said that Doc Rivers’ contention that the Lakers haven’t beaten the Celtics’ starting five is accurate, though the Lakers lost to Boston in the 2008 NBA Finals without Andrew Bynum and Trevor Ariza. “He was right,” Pierce said of Rivers’ misleading claim. “Hopefully we can get to the Finals healthy and have an opportunity to win a championship.”
He also said the Celtics’ loss to the Lakers in the 2010 Finals continues to haunt him (It’s a tough memory for me to erase.”), and he called new Celtic Shaquille O’Neal “one of my all-time favorite players” and “one of the greatest players to play the game,” the latter claim being one even the most ardent Lakers fan can’t dispute.
Like you, I rolled my eyes at Pierce’s wheelchair stunt, his claim that Boston fans are more intelligent than L.A. fans and his guarantee that Boston wouldn’t return here after Game 2. Even if this falls on deaf ears, I have to admit it was humbling to see how much of a genuine impact Pierce had at Inglewood High. The assembly was filled with students who cheered when speakers referenced the Lakers and Celtics. But I did do a double-take when Pierce’s former math teacher, Elijah Mackey, boasted that Ron Artest had trouble defending Pierce in the Finals.