On the night of June 24, 1998, I flew a transatlantic flight from Boston to Frankfurt, Germany en route to a most wonderful three week high school trip through Prague, Krakow, and Berlin. This European expedition was one of the most formidable experiences of my high school years, solidifying and furthering my passions for history, travel, and white chocolate magnum bars. I have some striking memories from the trip – winning a competitive ultimate frisbee game on a field by Hradcany Castle, alluding locals on a paddle boat on the Vltava River, entering a gas chamber at Auschwitz, sitting alone for hours in Wenceslas Square people watching – yet the one memory that has stuck with me the longest and now, fifteen years later, will forever be the most significant, occurred in the terminal at Logan Airport waiting for our flight.
Although thrilled and privileged to be able to travel to Europe in such a way, a part of me was disappointed that I would miss most of the NBA draft. Probably second to only Christmas Eve growing up, the NBA draft was my favorite night of the year. My die hard Celtics fandom began at the earliest of ages (few four year olds remember the 1986 title run so well) and especially since the Bird (1992), McHale (1993), and Parish (1994) departures, the NBA draft represented a glimmer of hope for the Celtics to find their way again as the most storied and successful franchise in professional sports. Some recent horrible selections of useless stiffs (hello Acie Earl and Eric Montross) followed by the M.L. Carr tank-a-thon in 1996-1997 in a failed attempt to have a shot at Tim Duncan (
five four titles in San Antonio later) led Boston to bring in what was thought to be (I was genuinely excited) our great savior. Rick Pitino jumped on board as coach, president, vice president, media instigator, player agitator, and impatience advocate in 1997 hoping to steer the Tim Duncan bandwagon, but found himself instead with the third and sixth picks. He selected Chauncey Billups third (but promptly traded him in February for Kenny Anderson because Pitino didn’t like Billups’ progress as a point guard and leader – Billups went on to be an All-Star, NBA Finals MVP, and Hall of Fame candidate) and Ron Mercer sixth (an overall disappointing NBA career plagued by injuries). Along with Antoine Walker, the enigmatic, wiggly, lovable, super talented, four point shot proponent, the Celtics entered the 1998 Draft on what seemed to be a promising upswing.
Back at the airport on the night of June 24, the Celtics had the tenth pick, and I remember hoping that I would be there to see it on one of the bar TVs near our gate. Our flight was at 8:30, so, depending on what time we boarded, I wasn’t sure we were going to be there for it. Many prognosticators predicted the great Paul Pierce to be selected second by the host city Grizzlies (in Vancouver at the time) or third by Denver. I remember hoping that we would get a player like Bryce Drew from Valparaiso (he played the role of Cinderella in a memorable game in the 1998 NCAA tournament) or Pat Garrity from Notre Dame who was essentially Steve Novak 1.0. It was inconceivable that a collegiate stud like Pierce would be available at 10. After Vancouver selected Mike Bibby at 2 and Denver selected Pierce’s Kansas (and future Celtics) teammate Raef LaFrentz at 3, the remote possibility of Pierce becoming a Celtic began to take flight. The next four selections (Antawn Jamison to Toronto and then Vince Carter to Golden Slate, traded for each other later that night, followed by the late Robert Traylor to the Mavs, Jason Williams to the Kings) filled specific needs for those specific teams (or so I thought). There was no way that Philadelphia at no. 8 would let a potential All-Star like Pierce go by. I remember heading into Philly’s pick thinking that maybe the Celtics could get this big German kid who reminded some of Larry Bird if Milwaukee passed (see Dirk Nowitzki – also traded that night to Dallas in exchange for the rights to Tractor Traylor). When David Stern’s “with the eighth pick in the 1998 NBA Draft, the Philadelphia 76ers select Larry Hughes” echoed through the Logan Airport lounge, the opportunity to get Pierce (or at least the promising Nowitzki, little did we all know) finally became real. Milwaukee selected Dirk, and then, this beautiful moment happened, just minutes before I had to board my flight (too bad I missed the Pistons pick Bonzi Wells at 11)…
Last night, painfully and appropriately on the night of the 2013 NBA Draft, Paul Pierce was no longer a member of the Boston Celtics (I am aware that the actual deal cannot be consummated until July 10, but this agreement is as good as done). As a person who literally grew from a boy to a man during these past fifteen (at times tumultuous, but ultimately so rewarding) years, this era of my life symbolically has come to a close. Thank you Paul for embodying what it truly means to be a Boston Celtic.
For some Celtics fans, their most formative Celtics eras were led by Cousy and Sharman, Russell, Havlicek and Cowens, or Bird, McHale, and Parish. My Celtics were led by Paul Pierce. We will miss you, no. 34.
David J. Bloom can be reached on twitter @davidbloom7 and writes about MTV’s The Challenge, pop culture, and the NBA for Bishop and Company.