BOSTON -- The championship banner rose to the rafters. The tears trickled down Paul Pierce's cheeks.
The MVP of last year's NBA Finals finally was part of a ceremony that often seemed unreachable throughout his 10 full seasons, all with the Boston Celtics.
But on Tuesday night, before their season-opening 90-85 win over the Cleveland Cavaliers, the Celtics' 17th title banner and first since 1986 was hoisted high above the same court where Boston routed the Los Angeles Lakers 131-92 barely four months ago in the clinching game.
John Havlicek, an eight-time champion with Boston, carried the golden Larry O'Brien trophy onto the court accompanied by other former Celtics and handed it to Pierce. They hugged and Pierce cried.
"As a kid, I always dreamed of moments like this," Pierce told the crowd. "You never know if this day is ever going to come. I've had a dream come true to add another banner to the rafters."
The team's owners handed out championship rings before the green-and-white banner was raised with several players pulling on two ropes that lifted it to the ceiling. Some former Celtics received rings between the first two quarters.
"One team, once a year gets to have a ring celebration," coach Doc Rivers said before the ceremony, "and we're that team because we earned it."
The Celtics beat Atlanta and Cleveland in tough seven-game series, then eliminated Detroit in six before facing the Lakers, the team they beat for their 15th title in 1984 but lost to in the 1985 and '87 finals.
In Game 7 against the Cavaliers, in Boston, James outscored Pierce 45-41 but the Celtics won 97-92.
"I let it go quickly," James said in the Cleveland locker room an hour before the ceremony. "I had to refocus myself to get ready for the Olympics. It was a great game between me and Paul and it was a great game between the Cavs and the Celtics."
On Tuesday, Pierce outscored James 27-22 and the Celtics won by five again.
The Celtics composed themselves after the emotional ceremony.
"I actually had to pinch myself [that] this is real," Pierce said. "You don't want to have a ring ceremony and leave with a loss."
James and his teammates were on the court for the national anthem but left before the ceremony.
"They were invited?" Rivers said with a laugh. "I wouldn't want to be out there either. ... First of all, it's long. And, secondly, they're giving us something they want."
It was a bright night for Boston even before the game -- fans' cameras flashing for nearly the entire 20-minute ceremony and gleaming rings made of 14-karat white gold with a total of 92 diamonds and emeralds. The top of the ring features an emerald shamrock surrounded by 64 pave set diamonds
NBA commissioner David Stern had looked forward to participating in the ceremony.
"In this game, you have the players say that you're playing for the ring," he said before it began, "and, there you are, being a part of fulfilling the goal of every player."
Then, he added, "it's one of the few times you don't get booed when you're the commissioner."
Turns out, he was the only person booed at the ceremony. Then he opened it by saying, "Here we are, No. 17."
And when he was done, the crowd chanted, "Let's Go Celtics."
"It's kind of hard to turn a switch on and off," Kevin Garnett said after scoring only 11 points. "It was just good to get it out of the way."
A brief video of Celtics patriarch Red Auerbach, who died at the age of 89 in October 2006, got loud cheers when it was played on the scoreboard at the beginning. He guided the Celtics to their first 16 titles as coach or general manager.
When Rivers came out to get his ring -- with Auerbach's signature engraved on the inside -- he put his left palm atop the trophy.
The biggest cheers went to Pierce, who had won just three postseason series in his first nine years and was part of the team that managed only 24 wins the season before their championship.
Celtics owner and CEO Wyc Grousbeck handed Pierce his ring after the other players had gotten theirs. Pierce, seeming to fight back tears, held it up in his right hand as the fans roared and chanted, "MVP, MVP." Then he and his teammates raised the banner.
On one side of the new one was the 1986 championship banner. On the other side was a banner bearing the retired numbers of eight Celtics.
Rivers said he tried to limit his offseason contact with his players after the long season and told them to show up a week before training camp, not a month early as several did last year.
But "Paul came in a month early and he was already in great shape," Rivers said.
He called the ceremony "a good distraction," then it was time to open defense of the title. The floor was cleared, warmups resumed and the game began.
Then Pierce scored the Celtics' first basket of the new season -- a slam dunk.