How Paul Pierce's Celtics jersey retirement turned into a big, ugly mess

The Feb. 11 matchup between the Boston Celtics and Cleveland Cavaliers was one everyone was looking forward to since the day the schedule was announced -- especially after the Celtics announced in August they would be retiring Paul Pierce's jersey that night. 

An Eastern Conference finals rematch on the court, interspersed with tributes to a Celtics legend. It had all the makings of a night that would go down in TD Garden history. But now, with just under a month until the big night, the whole event has turned into a big, ugly mess. 

Here's how that happened. 

Aug. 18: Jersey retirement announced

There was never any doubt the Celtics would retire Pierce's number, and after he retired following the conclusion of last season, the Celtics decided to waste no time. They announced in the middle of August they would have the ceremony on Feb. 11, when the Celtics took on the Pierce's longtime rival, LeBron James and the Cavs.

Aug. 23: Celtics trade Isaiah Thomas for Kyrie Irving

A few days after the Celtics announced they would be retiring Pierce's jersey, they swung a blockbuster deal to send Isaiah Thomas, Jae Crowder, Ante Zizic, and the Nets' 2018 first-round pick to the Cavaliers in exchange for Kyrie Irving.

At the time, all everyone talked about was how the trade would affect the two teams on the court -- and of course, that's what people should have been doing. However, though no one realized it at the time, this is when things really started to get complicated in regards to Pierce's night.

Jan. 2: Thomas ruled out for game vs. Celtics, asks team not to show tribute video

The first time the Cavaliers played the Celtics in Boston this season was just after Isaiah Thomas made his return from his hip injury. And because the game was on the second night of a back-to-back, Thomas was ruled out. Since he wasn't going to play, and his family wasn't going to be in attendance, Thomas asked the Celtics not to play any tribute video for him. 

The Celtics, understandably, honored his simple request. Shortly afterward, everyone realized the next time the Cavs would play the Celtics in Boston would be Feb. 11, Pierce's jersey retirement game, which meant both IT and Pierce would be honored the same night. It should have made the night even more special. No one, however, could have foreseen the drama that would cause.

Jan. 3: Thomas: 'That's Pierce's night'

The morning of the Cavs-Celtics game on Jan. 3, I.T. made it clear that he had nothing but respect for Pierce, and that the Feb. 11 should be about The Truth. However, he pointed out his video would only be a couple minutes. He also noted the Celtics were fine with moving his tribute video to that day. Via CelticsWire:

"That's Pierce's night. But, like, the video tribute ain't the whole night," Thomas said. "Like, I just wanted my family to be here to see it. That's what it came down to. I wanted to be able to play. And I wanted my family to experience the love and appreciation this city and this organization is going to give me on that night. And when my representatives reached out to these guys, they were all for it. They agreed on it."

Jan. 4: Pierce says he doesn't want to share jersey retirement night with Thomas

After it became clear that the Celtics would honor both former players on Feb. 11, Pierce started to publicly bristle about that plan. During an appearance on ESPN's "The Jump," Pierce complained about having to share his special night with Thomas. 

"I'm not saying Isaiah shouldn't get a tribute video … but on Feb. 11, the night I get my jersey retired, I'm not sure I want to look up at the Jumbotron and see Isaiah highlights. I enjoyed watching that (Kobe's tribute videos) throughout the game. Hopefully the Boston Celtics will do that for me. I'm not sure I want to see an Isaiah video that night."

Jan. 16: Pierce says Celtics' guilt over trading Thomas is why they were OK honoring him on Pierce's night

Pierce explained that he talked to Danny Ainge for 40 minutes about the situation, and that at the end of their conversation, they agreed it would be Pierce's night. Via ESPN:

"Danny and I talked about it for 40 minutes," Pierce explained to ESPN early Tuesday afternoon. "He told me, 'This is what we have planned,' and at the end of the conversation, he said, 'If you don't want us to do Isaiah, we won't.' So I told him, 'I really don't.' So that was it.

"That's how we left it."

Pierce also said that the Celtics' guilt over how the I.T.-Kyrie trade went down was why they were letting Thomas set the schedule for the tribute video.

"(Thomas) had a shot to be honored," Pierce said. "You came to Boston. Whether you are playing or not, you should have had your tribute then. I just don't see how, if someone is having a jersey retirement, they're going to be running other tributes for other players.

"Danny tried to sell me on it, but I told him, 'He had a shot, Danny, and he punked you on it. He pretty much dictated everything.' They let it happen because they felt sorry how (the trade to Cleveland) went down. It's guilt. That's what it is."

Jan. 16: Thomas requests Celtics not to play tribute video after all

Thomas eventually decided to take the high road, sending out a few tweets in which he asked the Celtics not to show the video after all. He noted his love for the Celtics fans, but said he wanted to focus to be on Pierce. 

Jan. 16: Rajon Rondo gets involved

Thomas sent his tweets on the afternoon of the 16th, and later that night, the Celtics took on the New Orleans Pelicans and another former Celtics point guard, Rajon Rondo. Like Thomas, Rondo was once a fan favorite in TD Garden, and he decided to offer his thoughts on the never-ending soap opera. 

"What has he done?" Rondo asked in regards to Thomas, apparently not impressed by Thomas' incredible performance last season in which he lead the Celtics to the conference finals. 

Conclusion: Feb. 11 will be Pierce's night, and Pierce's night only

The matter, now, has been settled. 

When the Cavaliers come to town Feb. 11 to play the Celtics, the Celtics will retire Pierce's jersey as they were planning to do all along, and they will not show any tribute video for Thomas. 

That will be Pierce's night, and his night only. He got his wish, but only after this whole saga turned into an ugly mess where really no one -- save for perhaps Thomas -- comes out looking good.

NBA Writer

Jack Maloney lives and writes in Milwaukee, where, like the Bucks, he is trying to own the future. Full Bio

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