BOSTON, Massachusetts (AFP) — It took 10 years of persistence but Paul Pierce has finally done what it takes to deserve being mentioned among the greatest players in the history of the Boston Celtics - win an NBA title.
"In order to be a legend, you have to win a championship," Pierce said.
Pierce captured his crown in spectacular fashion, averaging 21.8 points and 6.3 assists during the Celtics' NBA Finals championship run that ended here Tuesday with a devastating 131-92 rout of the arch-rival Los Angeles Lakers.
Now Pierce's jersey number, 34, will someday join those retired numbers honored with banners hanging from the rafters of the Boston Garden.
"I'm not living under the shadows of the other greats now. I'm able to make my own history," Pierce said. "If I was going to be one of the best Celtics that ever played, I had to put up a banner and today we did that."
Pierce was named the NBA Finals Most Valuable Player from Boston's first title team since 1986 thanks in part to the defensive work he did in containing the regular season NBA Most Valuable Player, Lakers' superstar Kobe Bryant.
"I think Paul was only viewed as a scorer and now I think people see him as a complete basketball player," Celtics coach Doc Rivers said. "He did it all."
Second only to Larry Bird among Celtics' players in scoring average, Pierce struggled as a star on a weak team for nine years until Boston added Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen for this season.
Boston made the greatest one-season turnaround in NBA history, leaping from the second-worst record in the NBA last season to a championship.
"It feels so great," Pierce said. "I worked so hard, 10 long years with the Boston Celtics, going through my ups and downs. This is what makes those other things so sweet, knowing you were at rock bottom a year ago.
"To climb all the way back to the top, this is a dream come true and I'm going to cherish this one forever. It means everything."
Pierce, selected 10th overall by Boston in the 1998 NBA Draft, showed his determination in September of 2000 after he was stabbed nearly a dozen times at a Boston nightclub.
After lung surgery and serious stab wounds to his neck and face and back, Pierce played every game for the Celtics in the following season.
So when Pierce suffered a knee injury in the opening game of this year's NBA Finals, he shrugged it off and came back to hit back-to-back 3-pointers and spark a Celtics' victory.
"You tend to forget about injuries when you're on that court playing for something special," Pierce said. "That's what you dream about all your life."
Pierce, 30, missed a chance to win the title in his hometown when the Celtics lost game five in Los Angeles, where as a youth he awoke at 5:30 in the morning for workouts at Inglewood High School gymnasium.
Scott Collins, a police officer who was then an assistant coach at the school, awoke early to open the gym so Pierce could dedicate himself to the dream that came true when the Celtics took the title.
"He kind of took me under his wing when I was a kid, got me really into basketball and other things, came to the gym at six in the morning," Pierce said. "He was definitely very instrumental in my life and in basketball."
Pierce was determined to take the extra shots, make the moves while others slept, that would make him a champion.
"I wanted to get into the gym before everybody else had a chance. It was kind of nasty because you went to the gym sweaty all the time. But that's what you had to do back then to get to this point," Pierce said.
"It helped me get a work ethic and it helped me sacrifice. Who wants to get up at 5:30 to go to the gym? I know nowadays I don't. But then you were a kid who had dreams and tried to develop a work ethic.
"That's pretty much where it all started, just being disciplined when you woke up and developing a work ethic."
It also helped Pierce avoid becoming involved with gang violence in his neighborhood.
"I didn't really see too many gang members out or bad things happening at six a.m. but it did help me just kind of stay away from a lot of negative things you could have gotten into," Pierce said.
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