Everyone knows about Paul Pierce. When I first set out to write these articles, I expressly wanted to feature under-the-radar guys or greats of the distant past, guys who we might have heard of or seen their banners hanging in the rafters at Allen Fieldhouse or the Ring of Honor at Memorial Stadium, but who we didn’t know much about. I even used this in the summary section of many of the initial articles:
Everyone around Jayhawk nation knows the names Sayers, Pierce, Self, and Wiggins. But there is a sizeable chunk of names that we know in passing - we know of their greatness but not necessarily what made them great. This column is intended to shed some light on past KU greats.
Pierce’s name is right in there. He is one of the greatest Jayhawks of all time, and he is a sure-fire NBA Hall of Famer. I’m not going to regurgitate his great stats at Kansas or those he accumulated with the Celtics, so why write an article like this about someone that everyone that frequents this site already knows everything about? One reason: February 28, 1998.
It was senior night at Allen Fieldhouse, and those days are already emotional, but when you add to it that Pierce, a junior, was most likely going to be leaving campus in favor of the NBA along with star forward Raef LaFrentz, the night took on even greater meaning and the emotions were at an all-time high.
Even though I knew that Pierce’s departure was inevitable, that feeling of hope and desperation still existed somewhere deep within the darkest recesses of my mind. Some think that if the crowd shows enough love, that player will have a change of thought. After all, an NBA crowd will never love a player as much as the Fieldhouse faithful love their Jayhawks. But after the performance that Paul Pierce put in against Oklahoma on that Monday night in February, all of us in attendance knew that despite the chants of "One more year!", Paul had too much talent not to be playing basketball professionally.
Kansas had already won the league a few games before, but putting away their closest competitors and extending the home-court winning streak to 60 games was on the minds of the 16,300 spectators in attendance. I know it was on my mind, and seated behind the backboard, about halfway to the windows, I was ready to watch Paul Pierce win one more time at Allen.
Oklahoma had other plans. The Sooners held tight and had the Jayhawks asking questions of themselves in a 17-7 run that cut the KU lead to only five points with less than 10 minutes remaining in the game. The score was 50-45. KU scored five more points to extend the lead to 10, and the crowd at Allen Fieldhouse was starting to get excited, but it was that slow-burn kind of excitement that sometimes goes unnoticed. But that slow burn became a crescendo of noise after Paul Pierce’s magical display over the next few minutes.
In what seemed like a blink of an eye, Paul Pierce scored 15 straight points for KU. Sure, Oklahoma tossed in some buckets here and there, but ask anyone that was at that game how it went down and I’m sure you’ll hear about the time that Pierce scored and scored and scored and couldn’t miss. That’s the way I remember it. Only after checking the facts, did I realize that OU scored during Paul’s amazing run. It sure didn’t seem like it.
He went 3 of 3 from two-point land and 3 of 3 from downtown and all of a sudden it was 70-55. I remember the baskets, but mostly I remember the noise. I remember looking at my friends standing next to me at the game wondering if what we were watching was real. I remember how easy it looked to Paul Pierce and how there was no way this guy was going to experience his own senior night at KU. Paul Pierce took over Allen Fieldhouse in his last game at the historic venue. After that performance, you knew he wasn’t coming back.
He is arguably the best Jayhawk since Danny Manning and inarguably the best NBA product KU has produced since Wilt Chamberlain, and on one night in February 1998, no one on planet Earth was better than Paul Pierce.