The Celtics may now be wishing they had denied Isaiah Thomas’s request and honored the Cavaliers guard when he visited Boston on Wednesday, in his first game back at TD Garden since being traded to Cleveland in the offseason. The next time Thomas is slated to visit the Celtics, the team is already set to retire the No. 34 jersey of Paul Pierce — who said Thursday he is not particularly interested in sharing the spotlight.
“I’m not saying Isaiah shouldn’t get a tribute video. … But on February 11, the night I get my jersey retired, I’m not sure I want to look up at the Jumbotron and see Isaiah highlights,” Pierce said on ESPN’s “The Jump.” The potential problem for the Celtics is that, after Feb. 11, Thomas’s Cavs won’t make another trip to Boston this season, except possibly in the playoffs, when a tribute to an opposing player could feel even more out of place.
There’s no doubt that Pierce is a much greater figure in the storied history of the Celtics than Thomas, although the latter became a fan favorite in Boston to a degree that belied his relatively short tenure there of two-plus seasons. Over 15 seasons with the Celtics, Pierce was named an all-star 10 times and helped Boston win the 2007-08 NBA title, for which he was named Finals MVP, as well as reach the 2010 Finals.
Pierce is first in Celtics history in free throws, three-pointers and steals, among other categories, and he is second to John Havlicek in points. Pierce is also third in games played, fourth in blocks and seventh in rebounds.
For his part, Thomas said he understands that Feb. 11 would be Pierce’s night, but he didn’t see the harm in having a moment set aside so the Celtics could note his contributions, which included setting team records for scoring average and player efficiency rating while almost always being the smallest player on the court. He asked that the Celtics postpone a tribute video because, having just returned from a severe hip injury, he wasn’t in uniform Wednesday and wanted to be honored on a night when he was playing and when his family could come and enjoy the event.
“That’s Pierce’s night [on Feb. 11]. The video tribute ain’t the whole night. I just wanted my family to be here to see it,” Thomas said Wednesday (via the AP), after he watched his Cleveland Cavaliers lose in Boston, 102-88. “That’s what it came down to. I wanted my family to experience the love and appreciation of this city and this organization are going to give me on that night.”
“I’m not taking nothing from Paul Pierce. He played 15 years here,” Thomas added. “There’s nothing I can take from him. If they choose to do it that night, that would be great. I would be honored.”
Before Pierce made his comments Thursday, Celtics General Manager Danny Ainge said he thought the former player nicknamed “The Truth” would have no issue with Thomas getting a Feb. 11 video tribute. “I think Paul said it best: He’s going to be the appetizer, the main course and the dessert. I thought that was pretty funny,” Ainge told the “Toucher and Rich” show (via ESPN). “I think it won’t interfere with Paul. And Paul understands that, everybody understands that. It’ll be a great game and a great moment. And Isaiah deserves it, in our minds.”
“We all love Isaiah and are grateful for him and all that he’s done for us as well,” Ainge continued. “Obviously you can’t compare the two, but Isaiah has been very gracious through this whole process. He hasn’t made any demands; he just had one request, and we granted him that request.”
“I.T. might have to wait till next year,” Pierce subsequently said with a smile on ESPN. He suggested Thomas’s video tribute should be sent to him by the Celtics “on Twitter or Instagram.”
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