The date was March 13, 2001, when the Celtics took the floor of the Staples Center to face the defending champion Lakers. Shaquille O’Neal first heard of Paul Pierce when the Celtics’ up-and-coming star was in high school. But he didn’t really know how good he was until that night—a night that changed Pierce’s persona forever.
After he scored a game-high 42 points, O’Neal called Pierce, who was in his third season at the time, “The Truth.” And it’s become part of his identity, as Pierce calls himself on his social media accounts, “The one and only Truth.” He also founded The Truth Fund in 2002 to provide educational, healthy living and life-enriching opportunities for underserved youth.
This week, the NBPA spoke with O’Neal about how he came up with Pierce’s nickname and how “The Truth” has lived up to it in his 19-year career, which will come to an end this season. His conversation is presented below in a first-person perspective and edited for clarity and length.
You want to know about “The Truth?” You can’t handle the truth! He was a guy that when he got going, nobody could stop him.
Sure, I knew Paul Pierce beforehand. I knew he was from California because I played for the Lakers. I heard about him when he was in high school, saw him play at Kansas a couple times. But then when we were playing against him in the NBA, it was just a completely different story. It was at our home game against the Celtics on March 13, 2001, when I noticed he wasn’t just like everybody else. He was just hard to guard. And I was just, like, “Man, this dude is the truth!”
So after the game I pulled aside Celtics beat writer Steve Bulpett of the Boston Herald, I looked him in the eyes and pointed to his pad. And I said, “Take this down. My name is Shaquille O’Neal and Paul Pierce is the truth. Quote me on that and don’t take nothing out. I knew he could play, but I didn’t know he could play like this. Paul Pierce is the truth.” I’m just glad I didn’t have to guard him. Him and Kobe Bryant had some epic battles.
I knew after I said it that it wouldn’t take long for the nickname “The Truth” to catch on. At that time, I was already going around giving people nicknames. I gave Tim Duncan “The Big Fundamental” and I gave Kevin Garnett “The Big Ticket” because there was nothing to do in Minnesota but go watch him.
I was giving nicknames because a lot of players are celebrated and sometimes their game doesn’t match their image. But everything that was said about Paul was the truth. They said he was a great player. They said he was one of the top scorers. And they were definitely telling the truth. Then, players were on the bench saying, “You can’t handle ‘The Truth!'”
After I gave him the nickname, we became very cool. Every time I’m in Cali, I see him. We were on the East team in the 2006 All-Star Game, having fun, getting to know people. And then 10 years after I first called him “The Truth,” we finally played together in Boston during the 2010-11 season. It was all good because it wasn’t like I was going there to take over the team. I was older then. I just wanted to be a role player.
That ended up being my final season and I retired after 19 years in the league. Ironically, this is Paul’s 19th season. Father time is undefeated, so I know it’s about time for him to retire. When that officially happens, I’ll tell him, “Enjoy your lovely wife, enjoy your family and save all that money that you made.”
I’m sure Paul has got a lot of business lined up, and I could probably see him getting into coaching one day. He was very successful, he’s always been a guy that’s very intelligent and he’s well-respected in California. So I’m sure whatever endeavor he decides to partake in, he’ll be fine.
Good luck, brother!