As Game 3 of the NBA Finals was getting close to tip-off, fans had all sorts of questions. Would an injured Klay Thompson play for the Warriors? And which version of Pascal Siakam would the Raptors get?
One question almost no one was asking — but was answered anyway, to everyone’s surprise — went like this: what was the deal with Paul Pierce getting taken to the locker room in a wheelchair during Game 1 of the 2008 Finals?
According to Pierce himself, speaking while part of ESPN/ABC’s pregame coverage Wednesday, he simply “had to go to the bathroom.”
Score one for a conspiracy theory that had been making the rounds online for the past few years. The Internet is of course basically crawling with those, and they usually are not confirmed by the noteworthy figures involved.
Yet there was Pierce, telling a nationwide audience that he had “a confession to make.” His unburdening was prompted by “NBA Countdown” host Michelle Beadle noting that his famous “wheelchair game” had taken place 11 years earlier to the day, but she mistakenly went on to declare that it occurred for “reasons he will keep to himself.”
Assuming Pierce was telling the truth and not just kidding, it does clear up what had been a lingering NBA mystery. Pierce fell awkwardly to the floor at Boston’s TD Garden in the third quarter of that battle against Kobe Bryant and the hated Lakers, and he clutched at his right knee.
What was a concerning scene took a dramatic turn when Pierce was carried off the court by teammates and Celtics staffers before being placed in a wheelchair. At the time, it seemed likely that he had suffered a catastrophic injury, possibly taking Boston’s title hopes with him. But wait!
Less than two minutes of game time went by before Pierce returned to the sideline, very much under his own power, as the crowd roared. He got back into the contest and helped lead the Celtics to a win and thena championship in six games.
"When I came down I thought I felt a pop, I thought I tore it,'' Pierce said after that Game 1, and his return was hailed in some parts as reminiscent of the Knicks’ Willis Reed in Game 7 of the 1970 Finals.
But whereas Reed really was badly injured, it appeared that Pierce was essentially none the worse for wear, leading to speculation about his apparent need for such major assistance. An urgent desire for a potty break could explain why sitting in a wheelchair, rather than walking back to the locker room, was deemed the best course of action.
On ABC’s pregame telecast, Pierce’s confession prompted excellent, if icky, questions from co-analysts Jalen Rose and Chauncey Billups.
Rose asked, “No. 1 or No. 2?”
Billups wondered why the wheelchair was needed, to which Pierce replied, “Something went down.” That had Rose asking, “You were streaking?”
Beadle quickly steered the conversation elsewhere, which probably was for the best. Pierce, though, appeared to confirm that the answer to Rose’s initial question was not behind Door No. 1, with the tweet he posted at halftime of Wednesday’s game.
But wait again! Pierce returned to Twitter shortly thereafter to address the “haters,” and he claimed that his locker room trip had nothing to do with No. 2.
So that didn’t really help clarify matters, but it did keep the chatter going, which may have been Pierce’s intention.
One thing seems certain: We’ll never look at the “wheelchair game” the same way again.