Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, and Ray Allen sat side by side during a press conference at TD Banknorth Garden to announce their arrival in Boston July 31. The Big Three stood side by side in uniform in front of the Roman Colosseum at the beginning of training camp in October while cameras flashed and surprised tourists looked on. All three were Eastern Conference All-Stars, marking the first time since Larry Bird, Robert Parish, and Kevin McHale in 1991 that a Celtics trio had done it. And as the clock ticked down during Game 6 of the NBA Finals with the Celtics claiming their first title in 22 years Tuesday night, Garnett, Pierce, and Allen were where they had been all along: side by side.
Individually before this season, Garnett, Pierce, and Allen all had Hall of Fame credentials without rings to show for it. But together in their first season, the Celtics’ All-Star trio can now boast they are NBA champions, too.
”That moment right there solidified the reason why we sat on that podium and talked, from the moment we were in the back talking to the moment we stepped foot in Rome,” said Garnett.
Said Allen: “We just ignored the Big Three talk, and if people are going to place the stigma on the team after we won, everyone is going to be fine with it because we did win.”
Said Pierce: “We put in hard work all the way from September, getting here early, going to Rome, staying together, the guys dropping their egos for the good of the team, sacrificing so much. You guys look at Kevin, myself, and Ray, we sacrificed so much of what we did throughout our careers to get to this point because we’ve done everything we’ve been able to do individually, won all type of awards, but never made it to the mountaintop, and it’s like a breath of fresh air.”
Other teams have been put together in recent years hoping for a quick fix to a championship that didn’t pan out.
Remember the 1998-99 season when Hakeem Olajuwon, Scottie Pippen, and Charles Barkley joined forces in Houston? There was inner turmoil between Pippen and Barkley during the strike-shortened season, and the Rockets were knocked out in the first round.
Remember the 2003-04 season when Karl Malone and Gary Payton sought their first rings by joining Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant with the Lakers? The Lakers had injury woes and much drama on and off the court before losing to the Pistons in the Finals.
The Mavericks lost in the first round this season after acquiring Jason Kidd. The Suns lost in the first round after acquiring O’Neal.
Pierce made a point of letting Boston management know he wanted to play with much better talent around him even before the Celtics posted the second-worst record in the NBA during the 2006-07 season. And when general manager Danny Ainge met Pierce’s wishes by putting together such a team with the acquisitions of Garnett and Allen, many skeptics didn’t think it would work. But after winning an NBA-best 66 games, the biggest turnaround in league history, and knocking off the favored Lakers, Garnett, Pierce, and Allen silenced the skeptics.
”It’s one thing to talk about it, another thing to go out and do it, and we did it,” Pierce said.
Said Celtics legend John Havlicek: “It’s been 20-something years and it’s been too long. I really feel good for Paul because he put up with so much here. When Kevin and Ray came, it sort of solidified it as a viable team. No one knew how good they were going to be. But they proved to everyone that they’re a champion.”
From the introductory press conference to the final buzzer Tuesday, the Celtics never had major problems on or off the court with Garnett, Pierce, and Allen, other than occasional injuries. They quickly embraced each other like brothers. They put their egos aside for the betterment of the team. Coach Doc Rivers let them know that together, not individually, they could be champions.
Garnett and Allen respected the fact that Pierce had been in Boston for nine years and wanted him to remain the only captain and the last Celtic called during pregame introductions. And while the spotlight shined on the All-Star trio during the entire campaign, they always made their teammates feel like equals.
”It wasn’t just about the three of us, and we knew that,” Allen said. “Kevin had been in situations where it was always about him; same with myself and Paul. And even with the three of us, we knew it was going to take more than just the three of us, and we had to make our teammates better and allow them to understand the magnitude of what we were facing.”
Said Garnett: “We said from Day 1 this is Paul’s team. Ray and I had no problem with that. Doc let us know that the three of us were going to have to sacrifice.”
One morning last September at about 8, Rivers convened Garnett, Pierce, and Allen for an unexplained meeting in downtown Boston. It took place on a duck boat that gave the three stars their first such tour of the city. As they rode past downtown, Rivers emphasized that they were on the same route the Red Sox and Patriots took during their championship parades and if they jelled, they would have a parade of their own someday.
That someday is this morning as Garnett, Allen, Pierce, and the rest of the Celtics will be on the duck boats being revered as champions and a true team by Bostonians.
”I’d never been on the duck tour, all my years of being in Boston,” Pierce said. “So we took the tour, and Doc said, `You know, this is what they’re going to do if we win a championship.’ So it kind of like set the foundation, like, hey, this has got to be our motivation.
”There are pictures you see in our hallway at our practice facility of the guys celebrating, and it was just like, man, to be able to do this the second time [on the duck boats] will be great because the first time was obviously with Doc, being that I’ve never been before, and I said, `Next time I get on this duck tour, it’s going to be when we win the championship.’ And I promised that.”