Time and distance may have separated Celtics fans from the superstars who led their team to victory in one of the greatest turnaround seasons in NBA history. But those fans have certainly not forgotten Paul Pierce or Kevin Garnett.
Now, with KG retired and Pierce planning to walk away after one more season with former Celtics coach Doc Rivers and the Clippers, we must look back with pride in a team that did the unimaginable.
Expectations are moderately high for Brad Stevens' current Celtics team, which has added Al Horford. But the team's relevance today has its roots in the dynasty Danny Ainge built more than nine years ago.
The 2006-07 Celtics won 24 games and lost 58. Pierce famously requested to be traded to a contender. Instead, Ainge saw an opportunity — on draft night, he traded a just-selected Jeff Green and others to the Seattle Supersonics for Ray Allen (and Glen Davis). With two thirds of the "Big Three" complete, he soon sent Al Jefferson and Gerald Green, alongside other players and a pair of first round picks, to the Timberwolves to get KG.
The Big Three clicked with a budding Rajon Rondo and won 66 regular season games — nearly three times the tally from the prior season — en route to a championship victory over the rival Los Angeles Lakers.
Basketball was back in Boston, and "Trader Danny" would forever have a new nickname.
That core group did not win another championship. But in 2009-10, they did knock LeBron James out of the playoffs (and arguably into South Beach) before facing the Lakers in a seven-game rematch. Had Kendrick Perkins not been injured in Game 6, they may have topped their rivals yet again.
The Celtics would lose in the playoffs to the new Miami Heat, starring LeBron, twice more before Allen signed there as a free agent.
In the summer of 2013, Celtics fans said an emotional goodbye to Pierce and KG, the team trading them with Jason Terry for a set of players whose salaries made it legal — and for a slew of draft picks that have only increased in value as the Brooklyn Nets have sputtered. In another year and a half, Rondo was traded to the Dallas Mavericks for, in part, a then-undervalued Jae Crowder.
As the sun sets for two future Hall of Famers, Celtics fans should remember just how much Pierce and KG meant. Boston drafted Pierce 10th overall in 1998, one pick behind Dirk Nowitzki, the best two players in the class going back-to-back. Growing up a Lakers fan in Inglewood, California, he quickly became the face of the franchise. Garnett was already basketball royalty when he left the Minnesota Timberwolves, but he quickly took to the city, the team and the fans. In fact, when the Celtics traded the two to Brooklyn, it was KG who was more hesitant to leave.
For many green-teamers, that Nets introductory press conference was simply torturous to watch. It probably takes some sting out of that duo walking away from the game today. But no amount of time, and no amount of distance, will make Boston forget about the dynasty those players led.