Pierce & Jo Jo

--Journal-World (Lawrence, KS)

Now that Paul Pierce is hogging the headlines during the NBA Finals, it's possible he'll soon shed his second-rate status.

Pierce, a second-rater? Am I nuts?

Here is clearly one of the best players in professional basketball, a man who is paid a stratospheric $16 million plus per year, a man who probably could be elected mayor of Boston.

All of that may be true, yet Pierce remains only the second-best former Kansas University player to put on a Celtics uniform. Jo Jo White is still No. 1.

How many NBA championships have the Celtics won during Pierce's tenure? None. White, however, played on a couple of Boston title teams in the mid-1970s.

Has Pierce's jersey been retired in Beantown? No. But White's No. 10 is hanging from the rafters in the TD Banknorth Garden, the Celtics' home arena.

Memories of a player's skills diminish in direct proportion to the passage of years, and White played in his last NBA game nearly three decades ago. Yet White was just as important to the Celtics then as Pierce is to them now, if in a different context.

White was a guard noted for his speed, defense and floor acumen. He wasn't known as a scorer, but White did average a not-so-shabby 17.2 points a game during his 14-year NBA career. Pierce, meanwhile, is a points producer who averaged around 23 a game during the regular season.

White was also unusually durable. During a five-year stretch in the mid-70s, for instance, White played in all 82 of the Celtics' regular season games. Meanwhile, Pierce has been pretty durable, too. He missed nearly half the 2006-2007 season with an elbow injury, but otherwise has been an iron man during his decade in the NBA.

Curiously, both White and Pierce were taken at almost the same time in the NBA Draft. Back in 1969, the Celtics had the ninth pick in the first round and tapped White. Nearly 30 years later, the Celtics had the 10th pick and opted for Pierce.

You may recall that back in 1998 Pierce was expected to go higher than the 10th pick, but scouts downgraded him because they judged he was out of shape during the pre-draft camps. Shows you how much those pre-draft workouts mean, doesn't it?

Some thought Pierce might go as high as No. 2 that year, yet he slipped all the way to 10th. In retrospect, however, several quality players were taken ahead of him -- Mike Bibby, Antawn Jamison, Vince Carter and Dirk Nowitzki, to name a few. So it wasn't like the NBA teams considered Pierce chopped liver.

Also taken ahead of Pierce was former KU teammate Raef LaFrentz. A two-time All-American, the 6-foot-11 LaFrentz was the third name called.

Although still in the NBA, LaFrentz never really lived up to expectations after tearing an ACL early in his rookie year with the Denver Nuggets. But we need not shed a tear for him. LaFrentz is set for life, thanks to a seven-year, $70 million contract that won't expire until after the 2008-2009 season.

Meanwhile, Pierce appears well on his way to Celtics' immortality, and perhaps also on a path that would make him one of only a handful of former KU players in the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame.


The Kid said...

I disagree with this article. Pierce is the best player from Kansas to ever wear the green and blows away White in just about every statistical category, if Pierce retired today he's already ensured himself of Hall of fame induction. White is not in the hall of fame yet and is unlikely to ever be inducted.

Lex said...

Yeah, good points.

Jo Jo was pretty good, but Pierce is an offensive juggernaut, and can play very well on the defensive end, too.

Pierce is in the company of Bird and Hondo. A rung or so below both for now, but still in their general company.

Most importantly, Pierce's stock is rising.

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