Paul Pierce was tired. At the ripe age of 29, Pierce had wasted yet another season of his prime on a Boston Celtics team that had endured one of the worst basketball seasons in their storied history, finishing a paltry 24-58 and dead last in the Atlantic Division.
The five-time all-star small forward had missed significant time that season with a bum foot, as the lack of help surrounding Pierce contributed mightily to the team’s miserable year. Negative attitudes between Celtics players, Pierce included, and members of the organization’s front office only enhanced the team’s unstable situation, as each day brought increased tension to the storied franchise. In truth, a winning brand of basketball couldn’t have seemed further away for the Celtics.
As the Celtics’ 2006-2007 season sputtered to an end, Pierce seemed doomed to spend the remainder of his glory days as a star carrying his squad to mediocrity at best. But what happened next would change the recent fortunes of the shamrock-yielding franchise and the landscape of the entire NBA for years to come.
On June 28, 2007, the same day the 2007 NBA Draft took place in New York City, Celtics’ President of Basketball Operations Danny Ainge acquired sharp-shooting all-star guard Ray Allen from the Seattle Supersonics, immediately transforming his team into a playoff contender.
A month later, on July 31, Ainge pulled another rabbit out of the hat when he plucked perennial all-star power forward and 2003-2004 Most Valuable Player Kevin Garnett from the Minnesota Timberwolves for nearly nothing in return.
Without warning, Ainge had transformed the Celtics from a perennial eastern conference bottom-feeder into an immediate title contender, setting up a record season that would garnish him Executive of the Year honors.
The 2007-2008 season also saw Garnett win the Defensive Player of the Year award, while the Celtics posted the biggest turnaround from one season to the next in NBA history, improving their record a full 42 games from the 2006-2007 season.
With a 66-16 regular season record, good for best in the league, the Celtics would grind their way through the playoffs with home-court advantage in each round, something that proved beneficial for the surprisingly road-deficient Celtics.
After defeating the Los Angeles Lakers in six games in the NBA Finals, the Celtics’ could raise another championship banner as their league-leading 17th was perhaps the most improbable of all considering the massive disappointments they’d endured the previous season. Pierce was named the 2008 NBA Finals MVP, a total vindication for the Hall-of-Fame-bound forward that completed a journey which seemed so lost just a season before.
With those three superstars intact, the Celtics’ core had enough reason to fall victim to the cliché and unoriginal moniker “The Big Three.”
As NBA analysts began to thrive on the epithet, increasingly referring not to the individual star power of the Celtics but rather the “Big Three” as a solitary being, teams around the league began deliberating their own methods of how they could acquire this ingenious recipe for immediate success.
First, it was the Los Angeles Lakers, whose three-pronged star power came to fruition in February of 2007 when they hijacked All-Star forward Pau Gasol from the Memphis Grizzlies in return for a handful of misfit, over-the-hill Laker pieces and relatively meaningless draft rights.
In addition to superstar guard Kobe Bryant and up-and-coming big man Andrew Bynum, Pau Gasol’s entrance to the Lakers was cause for yet another stratospheric leap for a previously unimpressive team.
Though the Lakers’ own “Big Three” couldn’t handle the Celtics’ original version in the Finals that season, they would go on to win the next two championships, another example of the suddenly realistic possibility of “Big Threes” across the league leading to immediate success.
LeBron James and Chris Bosh teamed up with Dwyane Wade on the Miami Heat following the 2009-2010 NBA season as the third such model of the “Big Three” frenzy that had swept across the league, igniting some teams that didn’t even have the recipe to fit the moniker to begin using it anyway.
Indeed, teams like the New York Knicks, with Carmelo Anthony, Amare Stoudemire, and Tyson Chandler/Jeremy Lin, began believing in their own almost-but-not-really “Big Three” potential, despite barely making the playoffs in 2012 before getting eliminated in five games by the soon-to-be-champion Miami Heat.
Still, as the off-season creeps nearer to training camp, another realistic “Big Three” possibility sits on the horizon.
Less than a month following the Heats’ first championship together, rumors of grandiose, albeit realistic, possibilities surround the Brooklyn Nets in their hunt for their own immediate success.
With superstar point guard Deron Williams and top-five center Brook Lopez manning the Nets’ franchise, disgruntled superstar big man Dwight Howard of the Orlando Magic has indicated that he wants to be traded now, perhaps to the Nets.
Back when the NBA landscape circled primarily around logical trades and evened-out star power, it would have been crazy to think of three top NBA players playing for the same team. It would have been absurd to think that franchise players have as much, if not more, power within the organization than management themselves.
But the “Big Three” extravaganza has only built steam since its 2007 Celtics’ inception, with more players than ever before realizing that they can force their way to a team of their choice when playing opportunities open up for them, refusing to give into the boring, conventional trade and free agent situations that have permeated star diffusion in this league since the NBA’s beginning.
One big three has since spawned multiple. As an avid NBA fan, I’m no longer tired.