By Ty Anderson, 985TheSportsHub.com
Even in retirement, Celtics great Paul Pierce is doing his best to deny LeBron James. His latest work against James? Saying that James, his fiercest rival, is not one of the game's top five all-time greats.
It's a downright on-fire hot take from The Truth, but when it came to assembling his list, Pierce put a focus on those who were franchise architects or carried on a tradition of excellence from a previous generation. (It's no wonder his list went Michael Jordan, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Bill Russell, Magic Johnson, and then Kobe Bryant.)
Paul Pierce says LeBron James isn't a top 5 player of all time ???? (???? ESPN) https://t.co/xRT29gZIz8
"Bill Russell built up the organization in Boston," said Pierce. "He should get way more credit than we give him. A lot of times he's left out of the conversation. So in saying that, look at some of the names I said; Kareem, Magic, Jordan, Tim Duncan, Kobe, [Larry] Bird, these guys are all Top 10 players who either helped build up their organization or continued the tradition."
As crazy as Pierce sounded to the panel, his logic checked out.
While there's no denying LBJ's all-world talent and accomplishments as an unparalleled, generational talent on the floor, he failed to win in Cleveland the first time around, and ran to Miami to form a superteam with Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade after the Celtics straight-up broke him during their 2010 playoff series.
Pierce, as you'd expect, holds that against the four-time league MVP.
"[James] went and put together a team in Miami, and in some ways, he came back to Cleveland to put that team together," Pierce said. "Then he went to the Lakers, where a tradition has already been made, and we don't know, that's still to be continued."
Again, this checks out.
After winning two titles with Bosh and Wade, James returned home to Cleveland once they had Kyrie Irving and added Kevin Love, where he brought the Cavs their first title in franchise history. He later suffered in Los Angeles for a year, sure, but then the Lakers swung a deal for the Pelicans' Anthony Davis last summer. (I'm also not one to call trades rigged, but it feels worth mentioning that Davis is represented by Rich Paul, who has been in LeBron's "inner circle" for almost two decades, and that Paul essentially told teams like the Celtics not to bother trying to trade for Davis. Guy's just the worst.)
There's just no denying that James has always needed some extra superstar-level help to get over the hump as a champion. That's not a bad thing, per se, but it does help Pierce's argument that James is not somebody that truly builds a franchise from the ground up. Pierce, who didn't win a ring until the C's brought Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen into the picture, would know about this more than anyone. (However, in the interest of fairness, James deserves some credit for dragging some outright bad Cavalier teams to the NBA Finals, even if it didn't end with the championship parade Cleveland craved.)
But you really can't talk about Pierce's take without acknowledging that these two never liked one another.
Even before their infamous playoff head-to-heads with James in Cleveland and then Miami, these two never backed down from another while duking it out on struggling teams. Hell, they nearly came to blows after a preseason game in 2004. And that near-fight -- which wouldn't have come close to happening had the game not been played at Ohio State, where the locker rooms were right next to one another -- came after Pierce spit in the direction of James and the Cleveland bench. I don't know... seems fair to equate spitting at someone (and their team) to some pure hatred.
There's also some undeniable and natural bitterness that comes with the fact that it was LeBron's move to Miami that spelled the end of the Celtics' 21st century Big Three, which went 1-for-2 on title runs before Miami's trio took over the East.
And James, for what it's worth, never hid from this feud.
"I think the closest [rival] would be Paul Pierce," James said in 2013. "I would say Boston is a rival of mine because I've met them so many times in the postseason. I've been able to advance against them, they've sent me home fishing a few times. Boston and Paul Pierce would kind of be that [rival], if I had to name just one."
Something that remains true seven years later, even with Pierce out of basketball, and with LeBron on his third team in what everybody 'cept Pierce would consider a top five NBA career.