This past May, I graduated from my college, Susquehanna University, a small liberal arts school near Harrisburg, Pa.
I know I was supposed to be excited about graduating, and part of me definitely was. You go out into the world, find a job that makes you happy, make money, contribute to society. You grow up. You don’t spend your weekends out until two in the morning. You don’t have to go to class, write papers (well…), study for meaningless tests. College is fun, but there comes a point where it’s time for a change.
But it wasn’t a change I was ready for. I had an incredible four years. I made a ton of friends. I was a resident assistant. I joined a fraternity. I was the sports editor of my college newspaper. These are all things I’m going to miss, despite the fact that I am excited for what is come. These are things that as I move forward in my life, I will look back on with enthusiasm and nostalgia. These are things I’m not ready to forget or move past, even though, someday, I may.
You spend any amount of time in your life doing anything, and when it’s over it will always feel weird. It was weird not going to swim practice at 3:00 after my senior year high school season ended. It was weird not giving an update in chapter after my term as my fraternity’s Vice President of New Member Education finished. It was weird not hearing from my high school ex-girlfriend after we split up. It was weird not talking football on a daily basis with one of my good friends after he changed schools.
Who am I? I’m just a human being and I’ve gone through changes. I’ve moved houses, lived in different states, hung out with different people, tried new things. If it’s hard and weird for me, why wouldn’t it be hard and weird for anyone else?
These are all the things I thought about as I watched Paul Pierce speak at today’s press conference.
These are all the things I thought about as Pierce uttered his first words as a Net: “Well, you know, it’s tough.”
I was watching the press conference with my brother and he said something along the lines of: “Well, that’s not something you want to hear.” In a way, he’s right. You could just tell in Pierce’s body language that something was up. You could tell in the tone of his voice, the way he slumped over the table and the way he always brought up playing in Boston: the team he said he would have liked to end his career with.
You could tell Tuesday when he went on the Instagram posting spree, and in the subsequent YouTube clip.
When I was a kid, it was impossible for me to view athletes as anything other than superheroes. I worshipped Jason Kidd and Richard Jefferson and Kenyon Martin and Vince Carter. I had posters of them on my walls, binders full of cards. I knew all their stats and I loved watching them play basketball. I felt the same way about my favorite Buffalo Bills and Boston Red Sox. These people existed to showcase superhuman capabilities and entertain me like none other. That was their purpose in life. They owed me, the fan, everything.
Embarrassingly, it wasn’t until I really grew up and started watching the games as more than just games that I realized that athletes are more than just athletes. They are people who have to deal with life, just like I do. I didn’t start to truthfully see this until I started to put myself in their shoes.
When Dwight Howard went back and forth on his decision, I asked myself, Would I have the courage and the heartless killer instinct to just up and leave the city that gave me everything? I realized that it would be difficult for me too. That just because he is 6’10” and a wicked shot blocker, doesn’t mean he doesn’t have feelings. From that moment on, I realized that we, as fans, expect so much out of these people. We expect every decision they make to be perfect, to have no emotion, to get in front of a microphone and say all the right things and in the right tone, and, dammit, with a smile! We don’t wish for this; we expect it, we demand it, we are upset and offended if it doesn’t go the way we want.
I can’t imagine anyone is actually angry about the way Pierce carried himself at today’s press conference. It was certainly an interesting appearance. You could visually see him talking himself into his new situation. You could hear his attitude change from the second he took the podium to the last question. Where he started with saying, “This is tough,” he finished by saying, “I’m a Brooklyn Net.”
I mean, what can we realistically expect out of Pierce right now? In a few months, he’ll be in the groove. He’ll be practicing with his new team and learning a new system from a new coach, hoping to win a new title. He’ll be fine. He’s the ultimate pro.
But right now? It’s hard. Pierce spent 15 years of his life in one city, working one job, and doing it really, really well. Has anyone reading this column right now done anything as long as Pierce has been a Celtic? Has anyone been given more by a person, a group of people, a city than Pierce has from Boston? Has anyone gotten as high as Pierce has in 2008, after ten years of build-up to win a title? Has anyone gotten as low as the fiery competitor when the team was losing?
And it’s not even like the man left by choice. You have your dream job, in your dream city with your dream friends and you are successful for 15 years, and then you just fired. What kind of world does sports live in?
We shouldn’t feel bad for Pierce. He’s had an incredible run and he’ll (hopefully) have an incredible run in Brooklyn. But we should understand where he is coming from. Change isn’t easy, change isn’t even preferable. It happens, and it’s happened to Pierce. He’ll get over it, as we all do.
But it’s time to accept that no matter what The Truth does for the Nets, he will always and forever be a Boston Celtic.