Mission accomplished for big three
I remember last summer when the Celtics, already armed with the newly-acquired Ray Allen, added KG to their roster. Right then and there, I thought the Eastern Conference -- and maybe the whole NBA -- was theirs. To me, it was a no-brainer, and I was surprised when so many people around the league -- players, coaches, executives -- disagreed. They had all sorts of reasons. They didn't think KG was a No. 1 guy, didn't think Paul Pierce would willingly give up shots, didn't think Ray was certain to come back strong from ankle surgery, didn't think the team would have enough time to gel, didn't think the role players were good enough, didn't think Doc Rivers would be up to the challenge.
Still, I liked what I saw. We at ESPN the Magazine (like every other hoop publication) decided to do our season preview on Boston's new "Big Three." I wanted to do something funky with the cover shot since everyone was running the same ole picture of Ray, KG and Pierce standing next to each other, and we almost pulled it off. We had a great idea of dousing the three stars in green paint with the headline "The Green Man Group." Unfortunately, it never came to pass.
Anyway, I first hooked up with the "Boston Three Party" (I'm going to try and get every nickname I can into this thing -- Psych!) in September at a studio in Brooklyn, N.Y. ESPN was filming those fly commercials where Mark Jackson, Jeff Van Gundy, Stephen A. Smith, the rest of the ESPN broadcast crew, and various players ride around in a Winnebago. "The PGA Tour" (Pierce, Garnett, Allen -- I promise, that's my last one) was chillin' in its own camper outside the studio when I crashed their party. It was clear right away that the three players got along well, especially later that day at the Mag's photo shoot in a Brooklyn warehouse. Ray and Paul engaged in a few spirited games of ping pong while KG fooled around with some weights:
"Ah man, you don't want none of this," an animated Pierce said to Ray as soon as he saw the table.
"What?" Ray shot back, quickly laying his backpack on the ground. Then he turned to me and said, "Watch me work this boy out."
It wasn't long before Ray, in a sleeveless Jordan brand shirt and matching sweats, was getting the best of Paul, smashing precision shots that had "The Truth" flailing.
"Damn P, you up in here sweating," Garnett laughed while watching them go at it.
After Ray took two close games, Paul blamed it on the rackets. "That's the problem," he said confidently, his two white T-shirts now soaking wet.
"Cool," Ray responded calmly. "You can get some more of this."
But Paul was right, and suddenly, he was waxing Ray and talking enough trash to fill a landfill.
"That simple stuff you got ain't nothin'," Pierce kept saying while slamming Ray's stuff back at him.
"Put 'em away P! Put 'em away P!" Pierce started yelling to himself as he closed in on 21 points.
Then, after winning two straight games to even the series at 2-2, Paul began flexing his muscles and dancing.
"C'mon, it's 2-2," Ray said, looking as serious as a surgeon and refusing to leave the table. "We gotta' finish the series."
"Naw, I'm cool," Paul said, slamming down the ball and leaving Ray hanging. "I'm cool knowing I'm 2 and 0 with the real rackets."
From that point on, I figured there wouldn't be any chemistry problems among "The GAP Band." (Garnett, Allen, Pierce. I just had to do it!) That feeling was strengthened after hanging out with them during their training camp in Rome. One day, they sandwiched me in between a morning practice and a visit to The Vatican. It was just me and "The Three Amigos" (I know, that's a weak one) having lunch at a table in the basement of The Exedra Hotel. Actually, I wasn't eating, but those cats were grubbing, piling spaghetti and meatballs, salad and roast beef onto their plates. We spoke for well over an hour about the upcoming season that they all hoped would end as it did last night -- with their first ring. Here are some excerpts from our conversation:
Broussard: Y'all seem to get along very well. Where did that rapport come from?
KG: First of all, we're all humble, real humble. I've known Paul since I was a teenager and Ray since I was about 13 or 14. And as older guys in the league, you go around the league traveling to different functions, All-Star games, you meet and you befriend different players on other teams. So even though we hadn't seen each other in the locker room and things like that, we'd interacted before.
Broussard: Do y'all hang out together at All-Star games?
Paul: The West team was so lame that they didn't really kick it like we did. (Laughter all around.)
KG: According to Paul, we don't kick it like the East team. That's because of Shaq's personality, man.
Paul: We have the jokes and everything. The West be on the sideline kind of lame, all quiet and everything. (More laughs.)
Broussard: If y'all had come together in your mid-20s, would it be different?
KG: Yeah, because when you're young, everybody's trying to establish themselves. I'm being real, I'm just being real.
Ray: See, KG was the MVP. So that's one thing he can say he did already. That's an individual accolade and that trophy's going to be in his house. So he can be like, "I've done everything individually, but I don't have that championship trophy. What do I need to do to get that?" What is it, the Crysler trophy. No, the Larry O'Brien trophy?
Broussard: Y'all should be the automatic favorite in East.
KG: Nothing's automatic.
Ray: On paper.
KG: Man look, there's so many things that go into winning -- chemistry, everybody understanding their roles, so many things.
Ray: Who's the Big Three in San Antonio?
Broussard: Duncan, Ginobili and Parker.
Ray: Who comes in and hits all the shots?
Broussard: [Robert] Horry.
Ray: Exactly -- Horry, Brent Barry and Bruce Bowen. Them three cats right there are not the Big Three, but they make major contributions. That's what has to happen for our squad. It's obvious who's on this team. When they look at our roster, they're going to say KG's on the team, Ray Allen's on the team, Paul Pierce is on the team.
(There's an interruption: Paul notices some Italian local at the door of the room dressed in a skin tight T-shirt, some skin tight jeans and black high-top sneakers. He says to KG, "He steal your clothes?" Everyone starts laughing.)
Broussard: So y'all aren't offended that people aren't picking y'all to win the East?
KG: Hell nah!
Ray: I would rather them not.
KG: That's perfect for me. You know what, with all due respect, Cleveland earned that right. I don't read too many people's articles, but right now the team to beat in the East is Cleveland, just because they did it last year.
Broussard: If y'all are healthy, is it championship or bust?
Ray: You gotta relish the journey, like game to game.
KG: You just can't look ahead. Everybody's looking at rings. Man, we've got an 82-game season that we gotta play.
Ray: We gotta prepare for everybody in the NBA, thinking it's going to be a battle every night. Because it's going to be.
Broussard: Paul, were you about to ask for a trade?
Paul: I went into the summer with that on my mind. I felt like I was at the point in my career where I was seeking something that probably wasn't going to happen here in Boston. I gave my heart and soul to the organization and I was always second guessing myself, you know: "Is this the right move to make this decision and ask for a trade, or should I stick it out?" Those were the questions I had to think about in the summer. When the season was over, I went away and took a 25-day trip to Rome, London, Paris, Greece and the Bahamas and really thought about it, talking to people I trust, and whose opinions I really respect, seeing what they thought about my situation. I decided to wait and let the summer go by and maybe around September, I was going to talk to Danny [Ainge] and management to see what the best thing was for the both of us. And KG and Ray were in the same situation, where you look at your team and the salaries you have and you wonder, "Does this team have any direction?" I was questioning the direction of the ball club, and then these deals were made.
Broussard: KG, was the trade for Ray what got you ready to go to Boston?
KG: I looked at it like, "Wow, P got Ray." I had a conversation with [Timberwolves owner] Glen Taylor and he was like, "We're not signing you, we're not trying to make this team better, we're not doing any of that, this is what we're about to do." And I couldn't believe he was saying that. We didn't talk about an extension or none of that. He was saying we're trying to be cheaper, we're going in another direction. So I was like, "Wow, you mean to tell me after 12 years this is what you're going to do to me?" It felt like a smack in my face.
Broussard: Did it get contentious?
KG: I didn't take it as contentious, knowing he wasn't lying to me. He was straight up. The man was telling the truth. I was just like, "Wow, damn." It hurt me more than anything. I sucked it up. I know Steve Nash, I know Kobe, I know P. I saw Paul in the gym at UCLA during the summer and we didn't even bring it up, we just hooped. We didn't even bring it up.
Paul: As much as I wanted to bring it up, I never brought it up.
KG: What happened was Boston had tried to do something before the draft and my agent jumped out like, "No, we ain't going to Boston." I didn't know what was happening. I took my vacation, I was just chillin.' And I seen P in the gym, and we were ballin' hard. Didn't say two words about it; we spoke, talked it up, laughed, joked, conversated. And then I talked to Glen Taylor. I talked to Steve Nash and told the Timberwolves that Phoenix was something to look into. I looked at Kobe going through management problems in L.A. I know I didn't want to go out there and deal with that. So I got on the line and talked to Ray and I was like, "You know what, it ain't gonna get no better than these two. We're all in our primes. It ain't gonna be no better than this."
Broussard: Paul, where were you when you found out y'all had KG?
Ray: I know he had a huge smile on his face. I know he had to be beaming.
Paul: Me and Antoine Walker were at an ESPY's party in L.A., and I told him the deal was going down and he was hot. He was upset. Then I told him we're coming after Miami.
Broussard: Playing anywhere would be special, but the fact that it's Boston has to make it even more so.
KG: It's perfect, man. It's like peanut butter and jelly. Granted, if it was another city, it'd still be what it is, but history and how it repeats itself and how potentially we could man, it feels good. I actually like doing all these interviews and things as a trio. I told the Celtics, "I'm not doing anything by myself. If I do anything, it's going to be with these two."
Broussard: Were any of y'all Celtics fans growing up?
KG: I'm gonna' keep it real. Growing up, it was like Detroit when they was beating up on Mike [Jordan]. We hated Boston. Magic had the smile, the charisma.
Paul: You don't even have to ask me. You know where I'm from.
KG: We respected Bird, we respected Parish, we respected DJ, we respected the guys that wore that Celtics uniform. But they were the team that you hated.
Ray: I'm gonna tell you something that sums the whole thing up -- the movie "Do the Right Thing." When Sonny stepped on his tennis shoes he said, "I'm from Brooklyn. Go back to Boston!" And they all laughed. Yeah, that's how we was. All the brothas' were with the Lakers because it was Magic, Kareem, Worthy, Cooper, Byron Scott. Kurt Rambis was like a brotha'."
KG: Coming into that arena for the first time, when you see all those banners in there my first time seeing the banners, I was like, "Damn." I haven't played in there yet as a Celtic. I'm talking about the building. I'm in there, like "Man, looking at all these banners, like 'Man, they won so much."
Paul: You feel it everyday. We're not in the Garden everyday, but even in the practice facility, you gotta walk down the hallway and they've got pictures of them celebrating the championship. You see pictures of them celebrating on the boat, then you go on the practice floor and all the banners are in there. So you can't help but feel it.
Now there'll be one more banner in both the Garden and the practice facility.