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Pierce's sign a matter of interpretation

Posted by Eric Wilbur, Boston.com Staff April 29, 2008 10:40 AM

I’m not sure about you, but when I need an interpretation of what constitutes a possible gang sign, I go straight to the Mormon executive director of basketball operations.

“That’s kind of his sign,” Danny Ainge said. “Blood, sweat, and tears.”

Blood, maybe. Others, including the NBA, immediately construed Paul Pierce’s gesture to Al Horford Saturday night as “menacing,” and allegedly gang-related, fining the Celtics star $25,000 for the incident that occurred during the Celtics’ Game 3 loss to Atlanta.

“I know it was unique,” NBA commissioner David Stern said about the fine. “You can check the gesture and you can check what it’s usually compared to. Our guys made their decision. I’m not into the etymology of gestures.”

We’re not either, except for the occasional extended arm on our morning commute. But since Saturday, Pierce’s gesture has been widely interpreted as anything from a sign for the Bloods from Piru Steet in Los Angeles, to a local Boston gesture signifying “Three’s Up.” Maybe it was a “B” for Boston. Maybe it was a “B” for Bloods. And, yes, of course, “Blood, sweat, and tears.” Thank you, Danny.

Whatever the significance of his act, NBA message boards lit up in the wake of the incident Saturday night, immediately recognizing the LA native’s symbol. Perhaps the league reacted swiftly to the knee-jerk claims of rival fan bases. And one would hope after Pierce’s past he wouldn’t be blatantly tossing Blood signs around on the court in Atlanta.

All we can be certain of is that Pierce’s gesture appeared no different than any of the following:


But unless Pierce meant to tell Horford his delivery would be fresh and hot like everybody’s favorite village pizza joint, it’s safe to assume there was a bit more behind his heat of the moment sign than giving the “A-OK.”

“Those of us from L.A. know that Paul Pierce went to Inglewood High, and we also know that means that B probably didn’t stand for Boston,” writes the Fourth Quarter blog.
Bostonians have another answer, whether it be accurate information or convenient homerism defending the Celtics star. “Paul was simply throwin his '3's up' - i.e. reppin Boston,” writes Sons of Sam Horn poster “Brookliner.” “Not reppin the bloods, not Ingelwood, not calling Horford names. I know most of us are 'from Boston', but nobody living in the 'burbs will be familiar with the practice. The whole '3's up' thing is used by kids from the hood to rep Boston - simple as that.”

Indeed, an entry in Urban Dictionary defines “Throw them threes up,” as “a hand symbol representing Boston,” likely derived from the song, “3’s Up,” by local rap artist Stein. Ironically enough, another local artist, Benzino, lays claim to the song, “Throw Them 3’s.” It was Benzino bodyguard Trevor Watson who was convicted of stabbing Pierce in 2000.

For the record, the top result in a Google image search for “Three’s Up Boston” is this:


However, if we take the time to study the images of gang warfare, Pierce’s symbol looks much like that delivered by the Bloods of LA.


Then again, according to this nifty color chart, Pierce’s thumb and index finger appear too far apart to be giving the Piru sign to Horford. I could be wrong. As of Monday morning, analyzing gang sign charts and doing Google searches for "Bloods Piru A-OK sign" wasn't exactly on the "likely" list for the week, so I may be ill-prepared.

Pierce has made the gestures all season long, as Ainge pointed out in his “Blood, sweat, and tears” explanation, including before last night’s contest in what might be seen as an act of defiance to the league. It could be as simple as Pierce telling Horford that the Hawks would be taking “zero” games in this playoff series (at that point). It could be as concerning as Pierce threatening the rookie with a symbol of gang violence.

The NBA saw it as the latter, perhaps overreacting, perhaps not. Pierce has declined comment on the entire situation, in lieu of laughing it off. Maybe that’s because there’s something to the fine, maybe that’s because his team is all of sudden on the verge of not making it out of the first round.

Regardless, here’s one sign fans want to see from the Celtics tomorrow night: Life.

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37 comments so far...
  1. I was fine with this whole column until you once again showed your ignorance of the Celtics and basketball. How is being tied 2-2 in a seven game series "on the verge of not making it out of the first round?" Seriously, Wilbur, just ignore the Celtics.

    Posted by J-Bone April 29, 08 12:36 PM
  1. Do you think the Yankees will auction off the right to push the button for the demolition of Yankee Stadium? Any idea where I can sign up for the job? (Maybe they'll do it in sections, giving multiple fans a chance to be part of history.)

    Posted by Jeff (in the Giambi spirit) April 29, 08 01:43 PM
  1. Pierce is a choke artist and used the Bloods sign. Iwas at the game and he is an idiot and embarassment to Boston. He does not belong on the same floor as KG and Ray allen. How many games did he win last year?

    But for all you Bostonians, Welcome to the ATL! We love having you drive 23 hours to get here and then see the future. "Them Kids Can Play!" and the "Sea of Red" is there home court where they have the 4th best record in the NBA this year.

    Ya'll come on down and enjoy the coolest city in the US for Friday nights game.

    Posted by JeromeM April 29, 08 01:45 PM
  1. I think Stern was right. It doesn't matter to him if it was a gang sign, or local pride sign, or it meant I love you in esparanto sign language. His job isn't to interpret hand signs, it's to get rid of objectionable behavior, and that includes things that could be misconstrued by fans or other players as threatening. It doesn't matter if it was or wasn't. If a gang member fan or a player with gang member friends thought it was and it caused an incident, it would be bad. If the player didn't know what it was, but thought it was threatening and responded violently, it would be bad. So Stern nipped it in the bud. Good move.

    Posted by Shaggy April 29, 08 02:13 PM
  1. One of the most notorious of gang sign throwers was ex-Senator and one-time Democratic Presidential candidate Bill Bradley. Oh yes, he'd throw a left-handed thumbs up that he once told me meant "reppin' Princeton."

    Posted by Dave K. April 29, 08 02:19 PM
  1. First of all the guys in that picture are Crips not Bloods. Crips color is blue, and the Bloods color is red. Secondly, if Pierce was a blood or in anyway affiliated with them we would've known about it by now as there would've been major retaliation after he was stabbed. Third, the bloods sign is actually spelling out b-l-o-o-d with their fingers. David Stern and his daughter Stu Jackson are stupid.

    Posted by playtonyallen.com April 29, 08 02:20 PM
  1. The picture that you've posted is actually of the LA-based "Crips;" the signs depicted in the picture are different than those "thrown" by "Bloods." The signs that these "Crips" are "throwing" are displaying middle, ring, and pinky fingers that are curved (forming a "C"), not straight-up (forming a "B"). The "Crips" sign is supposed to mean "C(rips) over B(loods)."

    All in all, if Pierce was "throwing" a "Blood" symbol, he didn't do it correctly.

    Posted by J April 29, 08 02:48 PM
  1. Sure has been alot of wilbur bashing lately. Something along the lines of: "I cant stand you Wilbur but I click on your blog 3 times a week just to disgust myself and reply with something negative, youre so negative I hate you I hate you why you cant be more positive like me"

    Posted by Keith April 29, 08 02:48 PM
  1. Jerome, I've been to Atlanta, and it sucks. I'm not saying Boston is the coolest city in the US, that right probably belongs to San Diego, but Atlanta isn't even in the top 10. Now, if I (probably like you) had grown up there, and never once left the city, and was forced to root for a bunch of terrible teams and one transplant team (the braves) I'd probably be pretty narrowminded myself.
    Anyways, Its about time your team has a bright future. You've been drafting in the top 5 for the last 15 years. You clearly don't follow the league as well as you think you do. How well did KG and Ray do last year all by themselves? Its hard, you should know, you've been watching it your whole life.

    Posted by Michael Vick's Vet. April 29, 08 04:03 PM
  1. I'm sorry, but I am laughing so hard that the picture in this article is in fact of the Crips, not the Bloods, ahahaha, oopsie!

    However...wouldn't this alone prove Pierce wasn't throwing Blood signs??? LMMFAO!

    I don't buy the argument that it was in the least menacing, as to incite a melee...so thats why he was punished. How about Horford getting directly in his face, yapping his jaws, pointing at him??? That wasn't done to get Pierce riled up? Stop it.

    They overreacted. Period.

    Posted by Krystyn April 29, 08 04:50 PM
  1. What! This is a bunch of crap! That hand symbol is the type of thing you do when you taste some good gaspacho! Peirce shouldn't have been fined

    Posted by Forbes April 29, 08 04:57 PM
  1. Apparently Pierce has not learned the other Crips sign "here's the church and here's the steeple..." that some of the others displayed, shame on him.

    Posted by ilow April 29, 08 05:19 PM
  1. I make that same gesture doing physical therapy for my wrist! i didn't mean to insult anyone. Did you notice how gross Stern's teeth are?

    Posted by samm April 29, 08 05:50 PM
  1. I grew up in an urban part of Boston. We use the OK sign sideways, represting 3. This means 3 for the stripes, which can also be related to why we wore Adidas so often. 3 for the stripes to us meant you have to earn your keep. 3 stripes makes you a veteran. In basketball to earn your keep, you can't talk trash as a rookie. You have to play like the teams destiny is on your shoulders. Paul Peirce does that.

    Posted by David April 29, 08 06:06 PM
  1. Is the guy tossing the balls in the air in the Crips too??? Just wondering...I'm so confused now!

    Posted by Finger Food April 29, 08 07:13 PM
  1. This is beyond ridiculous. Anyone with half a brain can see that Pierce was giving Horford a "zero" sign, as in "you're nothing". Y'all are going to extreme conclusions with this whole gang thing.
    The point of the matter is this: Horford is allowed to taunt Pierce excessively, and when Pierce responds with a simple, calm gesture instead of responding in kind, he gets fined. I find this absolutely preposterous. Stern is on crack.

    Posted by Mick April 29, 08 09:14 PM
  1. Pierce obviously hasn't learned from his other boneheaded incidents in the playoffs (such as his classless act against Indiana). He free throws are killing this team in the playoffs to the point where it's canceling out his best facet of his game (his driving). As one coach always says, "it is what it is"

    Posted by Mac April 29, 08 10:02 PM
  1. This is a ridiculous fine for nothing that can be explained by anyone. Paul Pierce should not pay a penny!!!

    Posted by Tim Kirk April 29, 08 10:31 PM
  1. "It's Tomato soup served ice cold"

    Posted by Lisa Simpson April 29, 08 10:44 PM
  1. Crips, Bloods, whatever. It doesn't matter, cause those stiffs from the ATL will look like just another high school team on Wednesday! It will be a total joke. And when the Celts put Tony Allen on Joe Johnson, he'll maybe score 10. Celtics will blow them out. And, I hope thast cocky Al Whoreford gets his due!

    Posted by DanaTheDogMan April 29, 08 11:57 PM
  1. Aren't crips and bloods african american gangs? The people in that picture look like they are most likely latino. Surenyos perhaps?

    This whole thing is absurd, hillarious, sad, and wrong.

    Posted by c April 30, 08 12:52 AM
  1. When you are tied 2-2 with a team that is vastly inferior, you ARE on the verge of not making it out of the first round.

    Posted by Robert April 30, 08 01:12 AM
  1. As a Gang Officer for the Commonwealth that sign is the hand sign which is commonly used by the strret gang "BLOODS". What he did was wrong and 25K isn't a large enough fine. Not just Pierce, but all Pro Athletes need to realize that their actions during games are closely watched by our youth. With all the violence on the streets of every major city today (especially Boston) the yuoth of america don't need to watch star athletes flashing gang signs. Obviously Mr. Pierce didn't learn enough when he was brutally stabbed by street thug William Raglad. By flashing gang signs of a gang and not belonging to that gang is just as dangerous as flashing a rival gang your gangs sign. I just hope that many lessons will be learned by this.

    Posted by Concerned One April 30, 08 08:18 AM
  1. As a Harvard PhD in sociology I am an expert on hand signals and immediately recognized Paul Pierce's gesture. The three extended fingers represented peace, love and happiness, while the circle shape was a call for world unity. Mr. Pierce should be praised as a crusader for world peace and the league should send him 25K.

    Ps Gang Officer and others - get a grip and don't pretend you know what Pierce meant. Maybe Horford should have been fined for pointing at Pierce on the ground while screaming obscenities. Hmmmmm

    Posted by mike April 30, 08 11:26 AM
  1. how about everyone just shuts up and relaxes. stop making judgments its just a hand sign. this is blown way out of proportion. everyone is going around claiming that its a gang sign like all the reverends but how the hell do they know? do they have some kind of micro-chip installed in pierce's brain that lets them know?... no so just shutttt uppppppppp. what the hell is wrong with people nowadays.

    Posted by people suck nowadays April 30, 08 11:55 AM
  1. keith, the problem is I've been reading Wilbur for a few years now and he used to be quite good (except when writing about the Celtics), but for a while now, he's devolved into the same negative stereotype of a Boston sportswriter that he used to poke fun at. The hope here is that he will snap out of it and not only get back to the level at which he once was, but improve on that. He's still pretty good when talking about on-the-field stuff, but lately his focus has shifted away from that.

    Posted by J-Bone April 30, 08 12:43 PM
  1. Mr Gang officer, you guys are just as outta touch as the rest of the un hip crowd. Anyone who is a loyal boston sports fans knows that sign is three's up which represents Boston. Look it up in a slang dictionary.

    Posted by John April 30, 08 05:42 PM
  1. Gang Officer, I believe you need to learn some Grammar and English. I do not think that kid these days need role models that cannot spell correctly or construct a proper sentence.

    "By flashing gang signs of a gang and not belonging to that gang is just as dangerous as flashing a rival gang your gangs sign"

    and the "yuoth" of america

    Posted by Stephen T April 30, 08 09:17 PM
  1. this is outta hand, he ain't even say nuthin! 3's up baby! Boston, we the one's to Beat, and we lettin them punks know in they city, we stompin on yall punks 3's UP!!!

    Posted by threes up April 30, 08 11:59 PM
  1. Check out the American SIgn Language gesture for **shole. "The hand sign for F or #9 held horizontally at chest level with the fingers out." Appropriate considering he was ticked off. Would have been much simpler for Pierce to flip the bird rather than deal with all this speculation about whether he holds ties to the Bloods gang. Likely would have received the same fine from the NBA. Let's concentrate on winning this series and moving on!

    Posted by Ausonio May 1, 08 11:21 AM
  1. THREE'S UP!!!

    Posted by sean May 1, 08 11:36 AM
  1. If the guys on piru street represent 'bloodz' then shouldnt they wear a little red every now and then. hahaha. this is ridiculous! come on people. grow up!

    Posted by oscar May 1, 08 02:44 PM
  1. The ESPN commercial with Garnett, Pierce, and Allen trying to come up with a nickname has aired a couple of times recently. I noticed the sign (thumb and ring finger circled, other 3 fingers extended) being used twice. The first time was by Kevin Garnett as he said one of the proposed nicknames, and the second was by the ESPN personality as he came up with his proposed nickname. It looks to me like an innocuous gesture, perhaps relating to the 3 Celtics stars.

    Posted by Howard_T May 1, 08 06:50 PM
  1. Ok I live in LA and can tell you that. . .

    1. That picture is neither crips nor bloods
    2. Paul Pierce is probably not a member, but merely affiliated.
    3. Whoever wrote otherwise above. . . He did throw up the blood sign correctly.

    Posted by Josh May 2, 08 12:26 AM
  1. Once again, people in Boston and all over the country who posted on here showed their ignorance. I guess because he's black and from Inglewood, it HAD to be a gang sign, right? As if a multi-millionaire who is set for life who, by the way, is a basketball veteran would throw up a gang sign to a kid in the NBA as some sort of threat.

    "I'm going to see you in the parking lot, with my Blood gang!"

    Just break things down... "Blood, Sweat, Tears" abbreviates to "BST" which is short term for "Boston". "3 Stripes" in Boston did NOT start from a "song", it started because in Boston people wore Adidas in the urban neighborhoods way BEFORE and AFTER Run-DMC made it cool in the 80's, hence the "3 Stripes". So people represented their areas with the "3's" similar to how people out west would make a "W" sign to represent "West". So, being that Pierce is from Cali but lived here for more than 11 years, he caught on and used it to represent his team.

    Now, would that be too hard to comprehend, or is that reaching? Outside of Downtown Boston and the Fenway area, you can find the answer, easily.

    Oh, on a sports-personal note: Atlanta people... have fun with your trash talking team and your Hip Hop-ruining selves. :)

    Posted by John July 3, 08 01:09 AM
  1. I just stumbled on your page and thought you might want to have factual information regarding your pictures. The picture you posted of the "Blood gang" is are not Bloods. Those are Crips. Specifically Rolling 60s. Their hand sign looks really similar to the B for Bloods, but the index finger is more pointed. Also, you would NEVER have that many Bloods in one picture all wearing blue. As a personal note, I doubt these guys are at all legit. The guy in the back right is throwing up the sign for the Underground Crip set while most everyone else is throwing up Rolling 60s. There are also several people throwing a 6 pointed star which is associated with Folk gangs and what's called an 8balling Crip. 8ballers aren't considered "legit"

    Posted by Affliliated February 26, 09 12:14 PM
  1. John is 100% right in Post 35

    Posted by Adam June 2, 09 03:33 PM
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