NGLEWOOD, Calif. (AP)—Paul Pierce(notes) is eager to help Shaquille O’Neal(notes) catch up to Kobe Bryant(notes).
Pierce enthusiastically endorsed the Boston Celtics’ decision to sign O’Neal after Pierce’s No. 34 jersey was retired at Inglewood High School on Tuesday.
Boston owner Wyc Grousbeck said the Celtics decided to pursue O’Neal after Bryant’s playful remark after the Los Angeles Lakers’ Game 7 victory over Boston last June in the NBA finals. Bryant laughed about having one more championship ring than O’Neal, his former teammate with the Lakers.
“I’m not at all surprised by it, because (Grousbeck) is a competitor too,” said Pierce, the 2008 finals MVP. “Even though he’s not on the court with us, when we win, he wins, and when we lose, he loses, because he feels it just as much as we do.”
Pierce, a former high school McDonald’s All-American who played at Kansas for three seasons, was honored by civic leaders and community members including Inglewood Mayor Daniel K. Tabor during a two-hour ceremony. Pierce grew up in Inglewood as a Lakers fan.
“This is a great day for me,” Pierce said. “It’s a great honor. There’s only a few people that have had their jersey retired at the high school.”
The acquisition of O’Neal was one of several notable offseason moves made by the Celtics, who topped the Lakers two years ago before losing the final two games of last season’s finals. O’Neal, who won three championships alongside Bryant, long ago gave Pierce his nickname—“The Truth.”
“I’m excited,” Pierce said of playing with O’Neal. “He’s one of my all-time favorite players, and now I have a chance to play with one of the greatest players to ever play the game.”
The Celtics added O’Neal to give depth to their frontcourt. Boston center Kendrick Perkins(notes) hurt his right knee midway through the first quarter of Game 6 of the finals and was sidelined for Game 7, when the Lakers clinched their second straight championship.
Since then, Celtics head coach Doc Rivers has said the Lakers still haven’t beaten the Celtics at full strength. Pierce agrees.
“We reloaded this year,” Pierce said. “We added some more pieces— Jermaine O’Neal(notes), Shaquille O’Neal, a couple other pieces—so he was right. Hopefully we can get to the finals this year healthy. We’ll have the opportunity to win a championship.”