Kevin Garnett was not exaggerating about his relationship with Paul Pierce. Despite Garnett being 17 months older than Pierce, they were part of the high school class of 1995 and the two often played ball together during summers while participating in basketball camps.
Back then, Pierce was a highly touted swingman, headed for the University of Kansas. And Garnett was a 6-foot-10-inch center with point-guard skills, but one who was susceptible to being bullied by stronger players, such as man-child Schea Cotton, whom Garnett called “LeBron before LeBron.”
There was no guarantee either would be here. Here as in the NBA. Here as in Boston. And here as in on the list all-time great players. Boston is no stranger to milestones. It seems a Celtic — going back to Cousy, Russell, Heinsohn, Havlicek, Bird, McHale, Parish — is always passing somebody on an all-time list.
PA announcements from Eddie Palladino are commonplace. But Wednesday night, during Boston’s 112-88 rout of the Raptors at TD Garden, was different. Palladino had the pleasure of informing fans that Garnett had passed Jerry West for 15th on the all-time scoring list. Garnett now has 25,201 after his 12-point night.
One quarter later, Palladino used his golden voice to alert the crowd that Pierce had passed the famous/infamous Charles Barkley for 20th on the all-time list. Pierce now has 23,763 after his 15-point effort.
Two teenage buddies who took dramatically different paths to get here are now among the top 20 scorers in NBA history. That’s a long way from Slam-N-Jam youth leagues, in which Montell Jordan’s “This is How We Do It” would blast before games.
A long way from when Garnett donned the cover of Sports Illustrated with “Ready or Not” next to his smiling face as he became the first of the new generation of prep-to-pro prospects. A long way from when doubts about Pierce’s athletic ability and ability to score in the NBA dropped him below Raef LaFrentz, Robert “Tractor” Traylor, Jason Williams, and Larry Hughes in the 1998 NBA draft.
What’s more, that quartet – all of whom are retired or in Traylor’s case, deceased – have just 2,520 more points combined than Pierce himself.
Neither Pierce nor Garnett will reflect fully on their accomplishments until they are done. They are consumed with the Celtics’ effort to finish the season strong, their quest to win at least one more title before they depart Boston, their desire to remain relevant and productive in a young man’s game.
But it’s been nearly 18 years since Garnett decided to enter the draft and about 20 since he and Pierce formed a bond, and that wasn’t lost on the reflective leader.
“You guys have no idea what I was like as a kid,” said Garnett, who seemed to understand this moment required more than a few low-key ‘aw shucks’ statements. “I didn’t have all the magazines but for some reason I had all the pictures in the magazines. I don’t how I was able to acquire that but that’s another story. I just fantasized, mimicked, appreciated, all the things that a young kid does when he’s creating heroes and he’s creating stories in his head.
“So when you guys are telling me that I’m surpassing somebody that I used for these different reasons, it’s another form of feeling. It’s another form of emotion. Someday I’ll probably sit back and actually think about it and it’ll probably mean something but one word I just keep thinking about is that I’m flattered.”
Garnett couldn’t help but reminisce, when as a country kid from South Carolina, he visited Los Angeles and played on various all-star teams, bonding with Pierce, then a high-level Division 1 recruit from Inglewood High School.
Pierce embraced him, and if the two weren’t busy trying to improve their national basketball reputation, they were bonding.
“What you all don’t know is that Paul and I have history and it’s only right that we come in here and we make history together,” he said. “Thirteen, 14 [years old], tearing up his mom’s living room, breaking vases, almost getting our [butts] whupped. First time I ever experienced Crenshaw [Boulevard] on a Sunday, Paul taking me out being 15, 16 years old. Then finally being able to follow our dreams . . . having some duration together, trying to go to the same school then obviously going different paths then finally meeting up here in Boston, winning a championship, doing the things we’ve been doing since we’ve been here.”
Here. Here is the appropriate word. Being here is very significant for Pierce and Garnett. While both may not admit it now because they are too prideful, neither imagined the possibility of being here, among the greats, unable to play down their own greatness, but only allowing themselves to briefly bask in the moment.
“Surpassing people we watched when we grew up and everything, obviously idolizing – it’s special,” Garnett said. “It’s best to do it with a personal friend. Not just a teammate but a real friend. Someone that knows you, knows your family, knows where you come from and vice versa. Knows the things that motivate you and push you. I always tell people I’ve got the greatest seat in the house to watch one of the best players in NBA history put the ball in the basket every night. It’s special to be able to do it with him.
“That’s not common these days, to be able to call someone in this league a friend. These are special times.”