By Brian Robb, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — Paul Pierce will have one final chance to say goodbye to Celtics fans on Sunday at the TD Garden, and the 6’7″ forward isn’t quite sure how he will respond to the moment.
“There’s no preparation for something like this. I know it’s going to be emotional,” Pierce told reporters Saturday at Northeastern University before Clippers practice. “I don’t know what kind of emotion is going to come out, whether it’s a smile or a tear or what. It’s something that you just can’t prepare for.”
The contest will hold even more meaning in Pierce’s heart since he will will be making his final Garden appearance 18 years to the day of his NBA debut. The rookie started his career on February 5, 1999, after an NBA lockout delayed the start of the ’99 season–and the schedule makers will allow him to bring things full circle in 2017.
That revelation is just one of the many things for the 18-year veteran to reflect upon as he enters the home stretch of his final NBA season. He played his first 15 years in Boston, building up a Hall-of-Fame resume before being shipped away with Kevin Garnett to the Brooklyn Nets to jumpstart the Celtics rebuild in 2013.
Pierce has been relegated to the deep part of the Clippers bench for much of the 2016-17 season, but the 10-time All-Star knows he will be experiencing the most important on his farewell tour during the Sunday matinee.
“I know when I step foot in that Garden that this is the last time I’ll play here,” he explained. “It’s just going to remind me this is it. This is sort of like my goodbye. This stop right here in Boston. Kobe had like the whole all-year in every arena. But this is just mine right here, I feel like.”
Between one championship, two NBA Finals appearances, and 10 All-Star appearances, the 39-year-old knows he’s left it all out on the Garden floor over 15 memorable seasons. He grew attached to the city and he’s happy that he was able to leave a memorable imprint on the region during that span.
“My whole career basically in one building, 15 years, then to be able to come back here for one more time,” he said. “You know I always wished that I’d end my career playing as a Boston Celtics but things sometimes they don’t turn out how you want them. But I’m happy with what I’ve been able to leave behind as a Boston Celtic. I’m happy that I know I gave my all to this city, not only on the court but off the court. I embraced the city of Boston, I engulfed myself in the community, gave back through my foundation. A lot of people look at me as one of their own in the city of Boston. It’s almost like I grew up here. Being able to appreciate that time, I learned to appreciate my time when I was here.”
Pierce will undoubtedly return to the Garden soon after Sunday to see his No. 34 lifted to the rafters. For now though, he is just soaking it all in as he closes the final chapter on a Hall of Fame career.
“This is like my goodbye when I come into the building, when I come into the TD Garden tomorrow,” he said. “This is my one arena where it’s like really saying goodbye to the game.”
Brian Robb covers the Celtics for CBS Boston and contributes to NBA.com, among other media outlets. You can follow him on Twitter @CelticsHub.