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Paul Pierce and Joe Frazier
On March 8, 1971, heavyweight champ but underdog Joe Frazier (26-0, 23 KOs) defeated challenger Muhammad Ali (31-0, 25 KOs) in what was then described as the “Fight of the Century.” The fight ended all debate over who was the best fighter in the world.
Or rather, it didn’t.
Frazier had defeated Ali, fair and square. Of this there was no doubt. He sent Ali to the canvass in the 15th round, and that convinced most observers that Frazier deserved to win the bout. But some Ali supporters refused to concede the point.
Ali hadn’t fought in 3.5 years, having been stripped of his license to fight for resisting the Draft during the Vietnam War (the conviction was later overturned, and his boxing license returned). Ali was still shaking off the rust, supporters argued, and, given a rematch, would prove to be the superior fighter.
But Frazier would have none of it. He walked into Madison Square Garden that evening as the champion and walked out as the champion. Who could possibly question his status as the supreme fighter of the day?
Professional basketball isn’t professional boxing, and the Phil Jackson’s LA Fakers couldn’t hold a candle to Muhammad Ali. But like Joe Frazier, Paul Pierce is entitled to make the argument that he is the best player in the world.
During the playoffs, he was the difference maker in a seven-game series against a team boasting a player many believe to be the league's most talented and difficult to stop, LeBron James. In the Finals, Pierce was named the MVP, helping to defeat a team that boasts a player the rest of basketball fandom believes is the best player on the planet, Kobe Bryant.
So in head-to-head match-ups, Pierce won, just like Frazier beat Ali in 1971. Was Frazier the better boxer? Was he the best boxer on the planet?
He was on that night and in that fight.
The same goes for Pierce.
Sure, Pierce had help from his teammates. But keep in mind that LeBron and Kobe had teammates, too. Many pundits picked LeBron and his teammates to beat the Celtics, while an overwhelming majority of pundits picked Kobe and his teammates to cruise past the Celtics.
Yet Pierce and the green prevailed.
Sounds to me like Pierce has bragging rights until next June.
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