Moment of the Year: NBA
Paul Pierce's theatrics in Game 1 of the Finals were the NBA's moment of the year
Pierce was carried off in a wheelchair, only to return to spark Boston's victory
The Celtics went on to beat the Lakers in the Finals, and Pierce was named MVP
The Redeem Team beat Spain for Olympic gold in August and, just like that, the NBA was back where it belonged in the world's basketball power rankings.Yet that rated no better than second among the league's memorable moments of 2008, same as it ranked in Beijing behind Michael Phelps' aquatic dramatics.
There were plenty of candidates for the NBA's top story of the year. Shaquille O'Neal changed teams again and the continental 48 states tilted a little as the Big Entertainer shifted his act from Miami to Phoenix. Allen Iverson, Chauncey Billups, Elton Brand, Baron Davis, Ron Artest, Jermaine O'Neal and Mike D'Antoni all changed teams, too, in high-profile moves.
Derrick Rose, Michael Beasley and several other exciting rookies arrived, while the Hornets and Hawks really arrived. Josh Childress left the NBA for Greece, and the NBA left Seattle for Oklahoma City. A bushel of coaches got fired, a retired Army general-turned-referees cop (Ronald Johnson) got hired and Greg Oden finally played enough basketball to get tired, all in 2008.
But the most indelible moment for me came in Game 1 of the 2008 Finals, in the third-quarter sequence when Boston's Paul Pierce went down as if shot, was lifted by teammates into a wheelchair, then got trundled back to the locker room as he winced in pain over what appeared to be a devastating, championship-crippling right knee injury.
Turned out, it was about as serious as James Brown's signature on-stage collapses, when his handlers would scoop him up in a king's robe so the Godfather of Soul could do it to death again tomorrow night.
That's pretty much how it went for Pierce and the Celtics. The veteran swingman missed all of two minutes to injury in that series opener, returning to hit two key three-pointers and finish with 22 points in a 98-88 victory. After enduring more snide remarks than rehab work over the next three days -- Pierce was accused of faking his injury and crying like a baby over the pain of a sprain -- he played 41 minutes in Game 2 and had 28 points and eight assists in Boston's 108-102 win.
By Game 5 in L.A., the Celtics' captain was playing all but two seconds. Two days after that, the Celtics had their 17th NBA title and Pierce had earned the Finals MVP award for averaging 21.8 points and 6.3 assists and helping to keep regular-season MVP Kobe Bryant in check.
Faking? Overreacting? Hard to say, though it's even harder to say how that might have caused the Lakers to lose. What is certain is that, when the Celtics got their rings and raised another championship banner before their 2008-09 opener two months ago, Pierce had something to cry about all over again.
And that's The Truth.