Doc Rivers can now add his name to this list: Johnny Damon, Ray Allen, Roger Clemens, Wade Boggs, Curtis Martin, Kevin Youkilis, and Bill Parcels.
These men left Boston on their own accord, heading for greener pastures occupied by rivals (Yankees, Jets, Heat). They each claimed they hated the rival that they ended up playing for. They claimed their allegiance for the hometown team. (I remember when I learned that Damon had signed with the Yankees. I was with a handful of Yankee fans, it was awful).
Doc Rivers sat at a press conference a few years back, after losing in five games to the Miami Heat, and said he was coming back. There was no doubt in his statement, it flew in the face of so many post-season press conferences. Players and coaches are not usually forthcoming about their future, especially following a playoff exit. Rivers, however, promised he’d be back. He returned, signing a five year contract, which he honored for two years. Now, he’s a Clipper after requesting a move out of Boston, most likely to avoid the rebuilding process or Rajon Rondo’s attitude.
This brief saga just made it more clear that franchises and players view sports as a business. Nothing more, nothing less. Emotions run rampant at times, sure. Players fall in love with a city, with a fan base, and the fans in turn fall in love with them. Sadly, Cupid’s arrows, when it comes to sports, do not stick very deeply. Sure, some love lasts longer than others.
Paul Pierce and Boston have had a love affair for 17 seasons. Fans my age grew up with him, watched him struggle with a stabbing, with losing seasons, and then the miraculous turnaround in 2008. He was the one that most deserved that 2008 title. He paid his dues with us. KG and Ray Allen paid their dues too, but not in Boston. Those guys showed up and won after one year.
Now, as fans, we are left with a big question. Do we want to see Paul Pierce in a new jersey? We’ve seen former Boston stars move on, either on their own or via an agreed upon destination (Drew Bledsoe and Ray Bourque come to mind.). We’ve cringed at the site of different uniforms adorning our beloved sports heroes. Let’s face facts though (grumpy old man warning), these guys don’t owe the fans anything. It’s been proven time and time again. Is it sad when they leave sure? Sure. In some cases it’s even angering.
When graduates leave their schools, tears are shed, memories are shared, and the fear and excitement of the next step is palpable. Schools and its alumni/ae move on, they grow, change, and the cycle continues. Both entities can survive on their own, and they do.
Sports, sadly, are the same: memories are made, banners are hung, numbers are retired. Fans remember the great ones along with their favorite ones. We have no control over how the team is built (why do you think fantasy sports are so popular?), our love and admiration usually loses out to money (Johnny Damon and Roger Clemens) or a better opportunity elsewhere (Ray Allen).
The Doc Rivers saga, and now the upcoming KG and Paul Pierce sagas, will probably add a new scar. The key is remembering the good times and knowing that both sides, at some point, need to move on. If you want your lasting memory of Paul Pierce to be in a Cavaliers uniform (or the Warriors), that’s up to you. I won’t let that be the case though. I’ll remember him as a Celtic, pumping his fists, flopping, taking that elbow jumper as time expires when everyone knows it’s coming.
As fans, that’s truly the only thing we have control over, our memories. Not the roster, not the salary cap, not the outcome of a game, but our memories. New players will come along and create new memories. New players will help us mark our place in time. I hope Paul Pierce sticks around, but if he doesn’t I can’t begrudge him or Danny Ainge. They’re just both trying to get things in motion to make new memories. The romantic fans can assume they’re working on our behalf. The cynics can complain and claim that sports have changed. It’s up to each of us. Maybe the answer lies somewhere in the middle.