For Brook Lopez and Paul Pierce, the summer of 2013 has been a season of new beginnings. The Brooklyn Nets shocked the NBA last month when the team swung a trade with the Boston Celtics to acquire Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Jason Terry. The trio arrives in New York with combined two championship rings, 25 combined All-Star game appearances, a league MVP, NBA Finals MVP and Sixth Man of the Year awards, as well as countless other accolades. The move to BK –the Nets also added Andrei Kirilenko to the roster from free agency– has dramatically improved the team’s championship aspirations, and Nets’ owner Mikhail Prokhorov’s expectations are very clear – first place.
After the 2011-2012 season, the Nets won 49 games last season and continued to make a big splash early this summer when the team named former Nets and Knicks’ guard, Jason Kidd, the new head coach. For the 25-year-old Lopez, who was selected to his first All-Star game last season, the Nets’ new acquisitions’ signifies a fresh start to his young career. For the 15-year league veteran Pierce, 35, the blockbuster deal could help rejuvenate the twilight of his career.
Life+Times caught up with the former Celtics legend –who is the second all-time scorer in franchise history– and the Nets’ center, who just returned from Africa as part of the “NBA Cares,” at G-Shock’s “Shock the World 2013” 30th Anniversary event in Manhattan last week, to talk about writing the next chapter in Brooklyn, Nets-Knicks rivalry, charity and building a village.
Life+Times: Welcome to New York, Paul.
Paul Pierce: Thank you. Thank you.
L+T: How are you settling into your new home of Brooklyn?
Pierce: I’m really settling in nicely and just embracing the change and looking forward to it all. My place won’t be ready until the first week of September, but New York has always been one of my favorite cities. I’m getting adjusted to the city.
L+T: Has anyone shown you the town yet?
Pierce: Oh yeah, this is my third trip to New York this summer. Jason Kidd, Amar’e, coach Lawrence Frank. D.Will and I share the same agent…I think it’s the perfect fit.
L+T: Brook, you recently did some philanthropic work with the Clinton Foundation as part of “NBA Cares.” How was Santhe, Malawi?
Brook Lopez: It was great. It was absolutely perfect. Just being out there was really life changing for me. To see what the Clinton Foundation is doing out there and how they’re helping people out there. The first day when I met the President [Clinton] and he was speaking to all of us, he made a point to me that these are kids don’t have easy access to health care. You know, in my situation, with my foot, I may be frustrated being in a boot, but I’m able to go see a team doctor and stuff like that, however these kids would do anything to have access to health care. For most, it’s a daylong walk to clinics for them. They have to wait six weeks to get results on a medical exams and things like that. The whole trip put things in perspective for me.
L+T: Did President Clinton lend any words of advice to you? Was there anything in particular he said on the trip that resonated with you?
Lopez: It really goes back to that first day that when he spoke to the entire group. He told me when he thinks about when he’s really frustrated or when something is bothering him, it really puts things in perspective when you start to think about other people in the world and what situations they’re in compared to us, and the problem is probably really nothing at all.
L+T: How was it navigating your way with the boot?
Lopez: [Laughs] I guess it was a good test for me. There was no pain the whole time and like I said it was absolutely worth it. Walking in a boot through Africa was no problem, because the trade off that I received from the trip was so much more.
L+T: How is your foot?
Lopez: It’s doing really great. I lose the boot tomorrow actually. I can’t wait to get back out there.
L+T: The Nets were able to land some big acquisitions this summer, including the man here with you tonight. I know you’ve spoken to Paul, but have you had a chance to speak with KG and the Jet yet? What was that initial conversation like?
Lopez: Yeah, the things you hear from KG, Paul, Jet and Andrei [Kirilenko], it’s one goal in mind– and that’s to win. They have all said that they’re checking their egos at the door and we want to go out together as one and win.
L+T: Paul, you and J.Kidd have had a lot of battles over the years…
Pierce: Oh yeah…
L+T: What is it like to now share the bench with him now? To share plays, ideas and strategy?
Pierce: Ah man…It’s going to be a lot of trading basketball knowledge between the both of us and talking about the old times when we used to go at it. With Jason, he’s a guy that I have always respected. You know, I think he demands a lot of respect around the league and that’s why he was given the head-coaching job because a lot of players, coaches, and owners feel the same way about him, and I think he has one of the best IQ’s. So it’s going to be fun playing for him because I respect him. Kevin respects what he’s done in this league. So it’s just a mutual respect thing and we’re going to enjoy the ride.
L+T: You’ve also had a lot of battles with the New York Knicks in the Atlantic Division. Now you’re right across the bridge from MSG. Being that you’re in such close proximity now, how much more has this rivalry grown for you?
Pierce: It’s going to be what it was, but now on steroids. This is a city battle. We’re going to divide that city now. Before this was the Knicks town, but now that I’m here we’re going to call it Nets…Nets Village. It’s going to go from Knicks Town to Nets Village. It’s our time.
L+T: Obviously the Eastern Conference is really stacked right now…
Pierce: Oh yeah, STACKED!
L+T: The Miami Heat just acquired Greg Oden. What are the Nets’ chances against the defending champs?
Pierce: I think it’s going to be another new rivalry. I mean the Eastern Conference is stacked. We’re not just talking about Miami. You got Chicago, Indiana, New York. Anyone of those teams can win it. But everyone knows that the favorite is Miami and that’s whom we’re chasing. We know that we’re going have to play them and beat them to probably win a championship, so that’s going to make the games that much more intense because they got what we’re trying to get.
L+T: October 15. October 23rd and January 26th. What do those dates mean to you?
Pierce: Oct 15th. What are the other ones?
L+T: October 23rd and January 26th.
Pierce: October 23rd…
L+T: I’ll give you a little hint…October 15th and 23rd are the first preseason games when the Nets play the Celtics.
Pierce: Oh…I didn’t know that. I knew that it was the preseason, but I might not be playing in the preseason. We might just save it for the regular season.
L+T: In doing so, are you giving Boston fans are true tribute?
Pierce: That’s why I didn’t circle those dates. We just might save it for the regular season, because it’s too emotional.
L+T: So December 12th is the date?
Pierce: Yeah, it’s going to be real emotional, man; I’m not even going to lie to you. I might even shed a tear. Who knows? But I was happy with my time there. We shared a lot of good memories, and accomplished a lot of great things, from the fans to the ticket owners, but I’m here now.
L+T: Paul, as a future Hall of Famer, how will your role change with the Nets?
Pierce: A lot of my role is going to stay the same to tell you the truth. The biggest change I’m a have to make is going to be on the court, where I’m not going to be getting the same amount of touches. I may not score 20 or 30 points, but as far as my role, I’m still a leader. I’m still going to be vocal. Overall, just my presence in the locker room and leading by example. Those are some things that don’t show up in the statistics, but will help elevate this team. The know-how. The championship experience. That’s what I’m going to bring.
L+T: Growing up in L.A. Moving to Boston and now BK. That’s three major cities. Have you picked up in New York vernacular yet?
Pierce: [Laughs] Ah not yet, but I’ve been waiting. You know I’ve always loved this city. It’s my one favorite cities. It has the best restaurants, the best shows, there’s a lot of things to do out here. That’s all I’m going to say. I’m really going to enjoy my time, while I’m here.
L+T: So Brooklyn is back then, huh?
Lopez: Yeah! The sky’s the limit for us. It’s just a matter of coming together and really working together to achieve our goal.