The NBA Finals MVP award is one of the most coveted honors in basketball. Not only does it demonstrate the ability to step up and contribute on the biggest stage, but it also means you led your team to a victory and you’ll all be getting rings.
The list of players who took home Finals MVP awards are some of the most legendary in the game’s history: Michael Jordan (six times), LeBron James, Tim Duncan, Magic Johnson, Shaquille O’Neal (three each). But one player, the 2008 recipient, didn’t have the strongest basketball skills in high school and was even cut from the team — more than once.
How high school failure set Paul Pierce up to succeed
Many NBA stars grew up as prodigies. In addition to national media attention for his basketball career, LeBron James could have potentially made it as a talented football star.
Back in the mid-2000s, it was possible for a player to go directly to the NBA from high school and many of those players had the basketball world’s eyes on them as a freshman.
However, Paul Pierce’s story is a bit different. An ESPN story from 2010 touted him as LA’s greatest NBA player. It’s a difficult stance to agree with, given the massive amount of talent that’s come out of the City of Angels.
But whether you agree with the author or not, there’s some information in the piece that backs up Pierce’s insane work ethic. During his freshman year at Inglewood High School, Pierce was cut from the basketball team. His sophomore year? Same thing.
At this point, it appeared that Pierce’s dreams of playing pro ball were done. He considered transferring to another school, but put his head down and worked hard instead.
Eventually, he finished high school as a McDonald’s All-American and went on to the University of Kansas. Pierce spent three years as a Jayhawk before finally moving on to the NBA.
How good were the 2008 Celtics?
Looking back at the history of the NBA finals, 2008 seems out of place. The Lakers won the Championship five times from 2000-2010, and the Spurs three times. The Celtics don’t seem like one of the power teams of that era, but 2008 was an absolute masterpiece for Boston. Everyone remembers Kevin Garnett shouting “Anything is Possible!” but time has erased exactly how hard Pierce worked to bring Boston the trophy.
The year prior, Boston had managed a miserable 24-58 record. But trading for Ray Allen to fill out the Big 3 with Garnett and Pierce gave the Celtics a real shot at the title.
During the regular season, the team went 66-16 to clinch the #1 seed in the playoffs. However, it quickly became clear that the road to the championship wouldn’t be easy.
How Paul Pierce made the team click
The major reason the Celtics got through three tough series on their way to the NBA Finals? Pierce’s work ethic, probably honed from working harder than “prodigies” in high school.
The Celtics went the full seven games against the Atlanta Hawks and Cleveland Cavaliers, then beat the Detroit Pistons in six games to set them up against the Los Angeles Lakers in the finals.
Despite recent comments from Pierce, including those that would seem to tarnish his legendary Wheelchair Game, his success for the city of Boston and the Celtics won’t be forgotten.
Some players, like James, are obviously headed for the NBA from the first time they lace up their shoes. Accordingly, they get most of the media attention. But others have to keep their head down and grind, coming back year after year to breakthrough. Pierce wasn’t destined for NBA greatness, but he made it and achieved one of the game’s highest honors because he simply wasn’t willing to give up.