This was a crazy week in Boston sports, perhaps the craziest since the one when the Bruins lost to Chicago in the Stanley Cup Final, Aaron Hernandez was arrested for murder, and the Celtics traded Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce to the Brooklyn Nets, or possibly the weekend in October of that same year that had David Ortiz’ ALCS grand slam against the Detroit Tigers and the “Unicorns! Show ponies! Where’s the beef?!” game against the New Orleans Saints. I am just now getting around to writing about what happened this weekend, but for my article on the Patriots comeback in Super Bowl LI, click here, and for my reaction to the Bruins firing longtime head coach Claude Julien and the current direction of the team, click here.
Like the Bruins, the Celtics had big news this week that was overshadowed by the Patriots’ fifth Super Bowl win, but unlike the Bruins, the Celtics were not trying to bury it. Earlier in the afternoon on Super Bowl Sunday, Paul Pierce played his last game at TD Garden. That’s just how the schedule worked out, as the Los Angeles Clippers only make one trip to Boston the whole season. It was the only time the former team captain and former head coach Doc Rivers would be in front of the Celtics’ crowd in the 2016-17 season, and the 39 year old Pierce has announced that this is his last NBA season.
While Pierce played his last game as a Celtic in 2013, shortly after I launched this blog, and is now in his third team since leaving Boston, he will always be remembered as a Celtic. Fifteen years, ten All-Star appearances, two trips to the NBA Finals, a title, and a Finals MVP is not a bad legacy. Paul Pierce is not the greatest player of his era, and certainly not the greatest Celtic ever, but he will always be my favorite, as I was too young to enjoy the Larry Bird and Kevin McHale teams, let alone Bill Russell, Bob Cousy, John Havlicek, or Dave Cowens.
Maybe an even greater aspect of his legacy, depending on how the next couple of drafts go, is what the Celtics got in return from the Nets when they traded him and KG in the summer of 2013. Brooklyn thought they were building a contender with Pierce, Garnett, Joe Johnson, Brook Lopez, and Deron Williams, but it never got off the ground. The Celtics have already gotten the draft picks that became James Young and Jaylen Brown out of the deal (and Brown has shown true flashes of brilliance at times in his rookie season this year), as well as the ability to swap picks with Brooklyn in 2017 (the Nets are running away the the NBA’s worst record and have yet to record double digit wins) and Brooklyn’s pick in 2018. Pierce only played one season with the Nets, while Garnett was traded to Minnesota in the middle of his second Brooklyn season, and has since retired. Without a doubt, the Celtics won that trade, but just how great a haul that was is still to be determined.
While Pierce did not have a say in getting traded to the Nets (Garnett had a no-trade clause in his contract, while Pierce did not), Doc Rivers was ultimately traded from the Celtics to the Clippers because he did not want to endure another rebuild in Boston. Doc would rather work for a garbage human being of an owner like Donald Sterling (which he did until Sterling was banned from the NBA by Adam Silver in 2014) than have to toil through losing seasons and coach up young talent for a storied organization like the Boston Celtics. On one hand, I do not blame Doc, and the Celtics found a replacement in Brad Stevens who is probably a better coach anyway, and gave Stevens the benefit of adapting to the NBA game without the pressure of needing to win now like fellow college coaches Billy Donovan in Oklahoma City and Fred Hoiberg in Chicago had to, but at the same time, the way Doc left Boston made it harder to root for him in Los Angeles.
Rivers took over the Clippers in the summer of 2013, the same summer that Dwight Howard spurned the Los Angeles Lakers in free agency, leaving them without a superstar in his prime for the first time since the early 90s after the retirements of Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Magic Johnson, and the San Antonio Spurs had just lost to the Miami Heat in the NBA Finals in such devastating fashion, it was uncertain at that time (before, of course, they came back in 2014 with a vengeance) that they could ever recover. There was a sudden power vacuum in the Western Conference, and the Clippers and Oklahoma City Thunder appeared poised to take over. Rivers was eager to coach a roster that had Chris Paul, Blake Griffin, and DeAndre Jordan, and he, like many people, thought they could be another Big Three for him to coach. Alas, the Golden State Warriors crashed the party in the West, and the Clippers under Rivers still have not advanced past the second round of the playoffs.
Meanwhile, Brad Stevens has the Celtics in a good place. Beyond LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers, any of the playoff teams in the East can beat any other team, but the Celtics currently sit second in the conference and fifth in the NBA. Isaiah Thomas has blossomed into an All-Star and someone who might get some MVP attention (though I will be shocked if anyone other than Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, or James Harden wins it this years), and Jae Crowder has turned into a good NBA role player and a much more valuable trade asset than Rajon Rondo, the guy who was traded to acquire Crowder. The Celtics are headed in the right direction, which I cannot say with certainty about the other team that plays at TD Garden, but it is still nice to remember Doc and Pierce for the way the made this franchise respectable again when I was a teenager. The 2008 Celtics will always have a special place in my heart as the first, and so far only championship basketball team that was also my team.
At 39, Pierce is hardly the player he once was, and has been playing significantly diminished minutes this season, but near the end of the game, Celtics fans were chanting, demanding he go back in. Doc Rivers obliged, and Pierce sank a three in the end, though the Celtics still won. TD Garden erupted in cheers. Paul Pierce, The Truth, had his final moment in front of the Garden crowd. It may not have been the right uniform; anything other than Celtics green just did not look right on him, but the fans never stopped loving this guy. After all they had been through together, the ups, the downs, the victories, and the devastating defeats, Paul Pierce was the guy making the big shot at the end. His next great moment in Boston will be when the Celtics inevitably retire his #34 to the Garden rafters, something that was destined to happen as soon as they reached the Finals in 2008. It was a fun ride, and I was glad to see it happen, even if it got overshadowed by the Super Bowl.
Coming out of college, they were some of the most talked about NFL prospects in the country, and for good reason. Under former head coach Urban Meyer, the Florida Gators were one of the most exciting teams in the country, and all they ever seemed to do was win. Just a few short years later, it’s just another college football story that you can’t feel good about as a fan. How did the mighty fall? And how much worse can it get?
Aaron Hernandez was believed by most fans to be just a misunderstood talent with a marijuana problem. It’s amazing how uninformed we were just a few short months ago. Since then, the 23 year old tight end has been linked to cocaine, PCP, drug dealing, bar fights, domestic violence, gang violence, and (oh yeah) more than one murder. It’s amazing how badly the Patriots missed on this guy, and amazing how much of his off the field activity at Florida was unknown to the general public. Hernandez will probably never play again and will probably spend the rest of his life in jail.
Riley Cooper got himself in trouble for using the n-word on camera at a Kenny Chesney concert. The Philadelphia Eagles wide receiver was drafted in the 5th Round of the 2010 NFL Draft. This year, the Eagles couldn’t afford to release him after his racial misstep, because their other receivers keep getting hurt. It’s another case of poor judgement from one of Urban Meyer’s Gators. Philly is the same city that gave Mike Vick a second chance, so he may very well get past this, but you can’t help but wonder what they’re actually teaching these football players at the University of Florida.
Percy Harvin has been arguably the most successful Meyer Era Gator in the NFL. He’s been a fantasy football star who also sparked the Minnesota Vikings’ offense since his rookie season in 2009, but has become the Chevy Chase of professional football: for all his talent, he still managed to earn the label “difficult to work with.” He was a big reason Vikings head coach Brad Childress was fired in 2010, and he never seemed to be on the same page with his young QB Christian Ponder. Finally, last winter the Vikings decided enough was enough and traded Harvin, who was unlikely to re-sign with Minnesota, to the Seattle Seahawks for a longboat-load (because they’re Vikings, get it?) of draft picks. Both teams thought they were getting a good deal, as it gave Seattle’s young star QB Russell Wilson another target to throw to, but Harvin injured his hip this summer, and the Seahawks are not quite the Super Bowl favorites they might have been.
Jermaine Cunningham had a promising start to his career after being drafted by the Patriots in 2010. He was part of a young defense that made it to the Super Bowl in his second year. Last season, he was suspended by the league for PED use, and must have stopped using them because he was mostly ineffective after that. He was released by the Patriots with week, and his NFL future is uncertain.
Tim Tebow was the little quarterback that could. Despite his unconventional throwing motion, he was able to make plays with his legs and had one of the most successful college careers of all time, which included two BCS National Championships, three Heisman Trophy finalist selections, and was the first sophomore to win the Heisman Trophy. On top of all that, he was (and still is) a really good person. It was hard not to like the kid, but the media overhyped his ability because he was such a great human interest story. He probably never should have expected to be a QB in the NFL, but former Broncos head coach (and current Patriots offensive coordinator) Josh McDaniels bought in to it as much as Tebow did. McDaniels, who selected Tebow in the 1st Round of the 2010 NFL Draft, saw him as a QB while everyone else with an interest in the player saw him as a running back or a tight end. Based on his build, Tebow could have become a player similar to longtime Washington Redskins tight end Chris Cooley. Now he’s 26, and unable to play any offensive position very well. He was released by his third NFL team, the New England Patriots, this week and has drawn very little interest from any professional football teams in the United States or Canada.
Meanwhile, Urban Meyer is now the head coach at Ohio State, where he posted an undefeated season last year and is an early favorite to reach the BCS National Championship Game yet again. Some guys have an uncanny ability to know when to get out of Dodge, and always seem to land on their feet.
Really? Part III?
I know, I know. It makes about as much sense as the Rambo titles, but I should really go back and rename the two posts prior to this one as “Worst Week in Boston Sports” parts I and II. I had no idea things would escalate like this in EVERY SPORT BUT BASEBALL (By the way, the Red Sox are the only team in town with games scheduled in the next two months, but they’re still on the back burner. This never would have happened before 2007.).
This is a time of year where the Patriots are usually an afterthought. The draft has come and gone, so has the height of free agency, and training camp has not yet begun. Then the Pats signed Tim Tebow to interrupt the Bruins’ Stanley Cup Finals news cycle. Then news breaks about how Vladimir Putin stole Bob Kraft’s first Super Bowl ring, and then serious news hit.
Aaron Hernandez has squandered a life most people his age will only ever dream of. A caller into 98.5 The Sports Hub the other day said that Hernandez (and I’m paraphrasing) “had the talent to be an NFL player, but he grew up wanting to be Tony Montana instead of Joe Montana.” This is disturbing on several levels. Hernandez was the fourth best selling Patriots jersey last season (after Tom Brady, Wes Welker, and Rob Gronkowski). When the OJ Simpson trial was going on, elementary school age kids weren’t wearing his jersey. Also, Hernandez is now being connected to a double murder in Boston from last summer, which would have occurred a month before the Patriots handed him a seven year contract extension. All of this feels like it’s from the script of a bad network TV ripoff of The Wire with Hernandez playing the role of a really really stupid Marlo Stanfield. Seriously, you don’t rent a car in your name if you’re going to (allegedly) murder someone, you don’t smash your cellphone before handing it over to authorities, you don’t leave the shell casings in the rental car, and YOU DON’T MURDER PEOPLE IF YOU’RE GETTING PAID MILLIONS OF DOLLARS A YEAR TO CATCH A FOOTBALL (OR EVER FOR THAT MATTER)!!!
The other thing is that the Patriots thought this guy was worthy of a contract extension, but they made Wes Welker play out his contract and then get in a dispute with his agent over the details once he hit free agency? So they trusted a guy with a history of drug use and gang connections more than the guy that goes over the middle on every down, pulls in 100 catches for five straight seasons, and bounces right back up after every hit, but gets stuck in Belichick’s doghouse because he enjoys the occasional Rex Ryan foot joke? Please. The Patriots were right to cut Hernandez this week, but they’re looking more and more wrong about not coughing up the money to sign Wes Welker.