Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Is Paul Pierce The Rodney Dangerfield Of The NBA?

Ask around to your group of friends and family who their favorite stand up comedian is and you will not receive one Rodney Dangerfield answer.  Ask around to your group of friends who their favorite NBA player of this generation is and you will not receive one Paul Pierce answer. 

Yet both of these men were elite in their profession.  How could this be?

Rodney started his career off to a rocky start.  He barely got any gigs. Struggling to obtain any solid and consistent work, Rodney (who use to use the name Jack Roy) changed his name to Rodney Dangerfield and developed a character for himself to play on stage, someone relatable.

Paul Pierce started his basketball career at Kansas, where he eventually earned MVP honors in the Big 12 his sophomore and junior year.  However, his teammate, Raef LaFrentz was drafted 3rd overall in the 1998 draft, a draft where Paul Pierce fell to the 10th pick.

Rodney Dangerfield was born in Deer Park, New York but moved to Englewood, NJ with his first wife in his 20’s and 30’s.  Paul Pierce was born in Oakland, CA but later moved to Inglewood, CA where he would go on to become a high school basketball star.

After Dangerfield divorced his first wife, he quit the suburban life and became his stand up career again in his 40’s, this time finding some success.  He was a last minute replacement on the Ed Sullivan Show in 1967 and from here on out, his career took a turn for the better.

Pierce’s start to the NBA was bumping.  It was this way for everyone because it was the shortened lockout season of 1998-99.  The Celtics finished with a 19-31 record.  Pierce played 48 out of the 50 games and averaged 16.5 points in 34 minutes as a rookie, missing out on the Rookie of the Year award.  He finished on the All NBA Rookie First Team and was poised to start a promising career.

Rodney continued to book gigs on late night television shows like The Tonight Show and the Dean Martin Comedy Hour in the 60’s and 70’s.  He eventually landed his first movie role in the Projectionist in 1971.  For almost 20 years, Rodney had to grind his way into the spotlight until his big break in the 1980’s.

Things were looking up for Pierce as his minutes increase, his scoring increased, his assists, steals and shooting percentages were all improving.  Pierce was on top of the world in the 1999-2000 season. 

Then the 2000 stabbing incident occurred.  He was stabbed 11 times in the face, back and neck in a night club in Boston, the Buzz Club by gang members from Made Men.  He also had a bottle smashed over his head and would have not survived the attack if not for the Battie brothers.   The most impressive thing during all of this is the fact that Pierce did not miss any time.  This was just the beginning of Paul Pierce’s history of being one tough athlete.

In 1980, the classic movie Caddyshack released.  This put Dangerfield right in the spotlight alongside other famous comedians Chevy Chase and Bill Murray. This was his breakout on a national stage.  This was the point where he finally became known to people around the country and not just those fans of comedy. 

The 2001-2002 season was the welcoming party for the soon to be star in the NBA.  Paul Pierce earned his first ever NBA All Star bid, finished on the All NBA Third Team, and propelled the Celtics to the playoffs for the first time in 7 years.   Pierce helped fuel the famous 21 point fourth quarter comeback by putting up 19 points in the fourth.  It was during this season that he earned the nickname “The Truth” from Shaquille O’Neal.  “Take this down”, O’Neal said, “My name is Shaquille O’Neal and Paul Pierce is the [expletive] truth. Quote me on that and don’t take nothing out. I knew he could play, but I didn’t know he could play like this. Paul Pierce is the truth.”

Dangerfield continue to produce hit movies in the 80’s and early 90’s after Caddyshack including such classics Easy Money (1983), Back to School (1986, my personal favorite), Rover Dangerfield (1991), Ladybugs (1992) and Natural Born Killers (1994).  He also put out a few great stand up specials as well like “I Can’t Take It No More” (1983), “It’s Not Easy Bein’ Me” (1986), “Nothin’ Goes Right” (1988), The Really Bid Show (1991) and “It’s Lonely at the Top” (1992).

Rodney also put out 4 albums in comedy during this time.  Two making it onto the billboard charts at #48 (No Respect in 1980) and #36 (Rappin’ Rodney in 1983). Dangerfield won a grammy for Best Comedy Recording for his No Respect album. After this wave of good movies, Dangerfield saw work starting to slow down.

As for Paul Pierce and the Boston Celtics, they would go onto make the playoffs for the next four years with their best year being the 2002 playoffs where they advanced to the Eastern Conference Finals.   After the stretch of 4 years in the playoffs, Danny Ainge (Celtics GM) made some moves to the Celtics fell into lottery contention.   This same season, Pierce had his two front teeth knocked out in a game against the Suns. He finished the game and proceeded to the dentist the following morning.

“I don’t know, maybe it has something to do with the Celtics winning all the championships back in the day and they are still taking it out on us. I’ve always been the Rodney Dangerfield of the league, I get no respect even from day one when I got drafted. It’s something I got to play through and I can’t let it bother or frustrate me because at this point of my career I’m used to it and I feel like it’s made me a better player because when I’m out there I have to earn it.” – Paul Pierce

In the 2005-2006 season, Pierce proved to be one of the most efficient and consistent players in the league.  He held the highest points per shot average in the league, had 8 straight games of over 30 points per game and continued earning a clutch badge by hitting buzzer beating shots. However, despite his personal success, Pierce’s teams missed the playoffs as he played with lesser talent than before.

The following year is when Pierce would miss NBA games due to injury for the first time in his career.  This was hard for Pierce as he had to decide if he wanted to stick around the franchise or move on in hopes of finding a championship.   He eventually decided to stay and in 2008, he was able to see his boss (Danny Ainge) pull off two historic trades to bring in prominent NBA all-stars to form one of the best teams in the league. 

Rodney Dangerfield applied for membership in the Motion Picture Academy in 1995 after his stint of success in both stand up, television and movies.  He was denied membership.  His fans disagreed with the decision and began a protest in which the Academy reconsidered.  They eventually accepted his membership but Rodney declined saying, “They don’t even apologize or nothing,” he said. “They give no respect at all — pardon the pun — to comedy.”  He won the Creative Achievement Award in 1995.

Pierce would eventually become an NBA champion and a NBA Finals MVP in 2008, a milestone for the trio of all-stars who won their first title.  The Celtics continued to make deep runs in the playoffs and made a second NBA Finals in 2010 but fell short in game 7.  After one more year together, the Celtics disbanded as Ray Allen bolted to Miami for greener pastures and the Celtics were left with aging veterans.  The following year, Ainge traded both Pierce and Garnett to the Nets and Pierce closed his chapter with the organization.

Fans gave him grief for the “wheelchair” incident, which seemed to negate the toughness of his stabbing incident, constant contact he receives on a nightly basis and his teeth getting knocked out.  This is just a glimpse of the lack of respect the fans have for Pierce.

After the mid 90’s, Dangerfield sort of sailed off into the sunset as being a legend in the comedy game.  He did cameo’s for the Simpsons and even played the role of Lucifer in the movie “Little Nicky” but his career would never reach the pinnacle he has in the 80’s.

At this same time, Pierce would play 3rd star on the underachieving Nets team for one year before moving onto the Washington Wizards as the veteran presence to show the young guys the ropes.

Dangerfield passed away on October 5th, 2004 with more respect than he could have ever imagined.  Comedians and celebrities from everywhere paid tribute to the legend.  Although he earned respect later in his career, for most of his life, Rodney didn’t get no respect.

Paul Pierce has gone down in this generation as one of the best wing players of the 2000’s.  Overshadowed by the 2003 class of Lebron, Wade and Melo, Pierce was always consistent and overachieved with his teams.  He has many classic games and many accolades that don’t seem to be cherished by casual NBA fans. We can only hope that Paul Pierce will earn his respect around the league before he retires.  

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