Tonight, the latest chapter in a rivalry that has spanned six years, four teams, all types of dramatic fourth-quarter duels, all manners of grit-n-grind loose-ball dives, and at least one salacious May-December (rumored!) romance, opens. Tonight, the Brooklyn Nets face the Miami Heat in the Eastern Conference semifinals. And so tonight, once again (for the 26th time, to be exact), Paul Pierce and LeBron James will duke it out in a playoff game. Now, let us take a trip down memory lane!
Their personal playoff trajectories wouldn’t line up until 2008, but way before the stakes were high, these dudes were chippy. As Brian Windhorst writes in this great 2012 piece on the rivalry, it started in LeBron’s rookie year, during a game in which Pierce had laid down a hard foul on James, then quickly started chattering with “Otis Carter, the father of James’ friend Maverick Carter and someone whom James considers an uncle.”
LeBron would net 37, a rookie high, but Pierce one-upped him with 41 and Boston won the game. Reports Windhorst, “He told James late in the game he needed to tell Carter to be quiet or he’d go for 50 points. Or at least that is how the story goes.” Mixing it up not with the dude, but with the dude’s uncle? Arguably one of the more Paul Pierce–ish moves of all time. Even when he was a young man, he was an old man.
There were two more notable regular-season incidents, via Windhorst. In 2004, during a preseason game at Ohio State, “Pierce spit toward the Cavs’ bench, for which he was later fined $15,000 … in the dressing room area after the game … tempers flared again in the hallway [and] Pierce’s teammates had to literally carry him away to prevent an altercation.” And in 2006, the two would have a tête-à-tête in Boston, to the tune of 43 for The King and 50 for The Truth.