SPRINGFIELD — Paul Pierce was simply himself during his 14-minute Naismith Memorial Hall of Fame speech.
He was funny, brutally honest, flamboyant and gracious. It was a long road for Pierce to get here. He slipped to 10th in the NBA Draft. He nearly died before his third season. He shouldered the blame for the Celtics’ losing ways for so many years.
The final 10 years of his career were brilliant, compelling and successful. Introduced by former teammate and close friend Kevin Garnett, Pierce was all smiles as he thanked everyone involved in his success, his mother Lorraine, who was unable to attend, his high school coach, his best friend Jason Crowe and the Celtics for drafting him.
Pierce finished as the second all-time scorer in Celtics history, an underdog of sorts who turned himself into an elite player with his work ethic and desire to prove naysayers wrong. He even thanked his “haters” on Friday evening on social media after being fitted for his Hall of Fame jacket.
On Saturday, he was relaxed, relieved and reflective.
“Never in my wildest dreams did I think I’d be a Hall of Famer,” he told the star-studded audience that included Bill Russell, Doc Rivers and LeBron James. “The initial dream as a kid is to make to the (NBA). To be enshrined in basketball lore is more than I could have ever imagined.”
Pierce couldn’t speak long before praising himself, the first of several occasions he made the audience laugh.
“Let me just start off by thanking the Hall of Fame and the committee that voted me in,” he said. “I appreciate that. You guys got it right.”
After thanking his mother for her hard work and perseverance, Pierce apologized for burning down the family home in Oakland, Calif., when he was 7 years old.
“I don’t remember ever apologizing for that but I guess God knew I had to repay you somehow so I’m thankful to have made it to the league and got you a new one,” he said. “Thank you Mama. That’s a true story. I was playing with matches, the next thing you know I’m out in the front and the house is coming down.
“All the kids in the neighborhood called me an arsonist. I didn’t know what that was. I was 7 years old.”
Pierce also acknowledged his Inglewood High School coach Patrick Roy, who was in attendance. He thanked Roy for being the first person to tell him he could play in the NBA as an 11th grader. Roy was just five years older than Pierce when he took the head coaching job at Inglewood and he immediately became Pierce’s mentor.
“You planted the seed, you made me believe I could go to the NBA,” he said. “I never thought I could go. I just wanted to go to college. That wasn’t a vision at first but he did and the rest is history.”
Pierce admitted times in Boston weren’t always rosy on the floor. He thanked Danny Ainge, who was not in attendance, for not trading him, although he thought Ainge might in the mid-2000s.
“He came in and was trading everybody,” Pierce said. “He traded Antoine (Walker). I was like, ‘Man it’s over for me.’ But y’all stuck with me. We went through some tough times. It took 10 years for you to bring this guy (Garnett) around. I told y’all in 2006, if we get him we’re gonna win it. True story.”
He shifted his gratitude to Rivers, who was seated a row behind Pierce and his family. The two got off to a rocky start when Rivers took over as coach in 2004.
“I know you wanted to trade me too, I know you did,” he said to a smiling Rivers. “I was accustomed to doing things my way, I didn’t like anybody coming in and telling me what to do. But when I started to listen to you and understand your criticism is coaching, that’s when I became great.”
Pierce then told a story about coming to shootaround hungover, and Rivers pulled him aside, smelled his breath and told Pierce to go home and rest for the game.
“That’s when I knew you were a players’ coach,” he said.
Garnett was next, and he apologized to his buddy for jumping out of a taxi without paying in Las Vegas when they on the same summer AAU team.
“I’m sorry for being a bad influence to a country guy that was young,” he said. “We didn’t have no money at the time. We were just trying to get to Circus Circus. I appreciate you man.”
Pierce ended on serious note, thanking brothers Tony and Derrick Battie for taking him to the hospital and helping save his life after he was stabbed 11 times at a Boston nightclub 21 years ago.
“That helped me realize how precious life was,” he said. “Without them I probably wouldn’t be standing here today. I went on to play 82 games that year. There was no load management. I didn’t know nothing about that. I appreciate life a lot more because of that incident.”
He finally thanked his four children and inspired them to be their best. It was an emotional ending to a speech that captivated all sides of Pierce. And now he is part of basketball immorality.