Typically, when an NBA team decides to pay tribute to a former player prior to a game, it doesn’t cause much controversy. Whether that player is still in the league and playing for another team or retired from the league for good, most tributes go off without a hitch. But the tribute the Celtics have been trying to plan for Isaiah Thomas has been causing all kinds of problems for them right from the very beginning.
If you haven’t been keeping up with it, the Celtics originally planned to honor Thomas—who they traded last summer in exchange for Kyrie Irving in one of the most shocking trades in recent NBA history—by holding a short ceremony for him before a Cavaliers/Celtics game in January. But Thomas asked the Celtics to postpone the ceremony until his family could be in attendance for it. The Celtics agreed to put their plans on hold and rescheduled the tribute for Feb. 11. But in the process, they also managed to piss off Paul Pierce since he was scheduled to have his Celtics jersey retired on that same night. Pierce asked the Celtics to reconsider their decision.
That put the Celtics into a bit of a tough spot. If they pulled Thomas’ tribute, it would likely be seen as a slap in the face, especially when you consider that Thomas’ trade to the Cavaliers was already seen as a disrespectful move on the part of Celtics team president Danny Ainge. But if they didn’t pull Thomas’ tribute, then it would likely be seen as a slap in Pierce’s face since the tribute would no doubt infringe on his jersey retirement ceremony.
Fortunately for Boston, Thomas made things easy on them on Tuesday by taking to Twitter to announce that he would step aside and allow Pierce to have his night. He asked the Celtics not to move forward with the tribute they had planned for him.
But on Tuesday night, the controversy surrounding the situation was compounded even further when former Celtics guard Rajon Rondo, now with the Pelicans, added his two cents to the mix and questioned why Thomas was even receiving a tribute video in the first place. Rondo, who won a title with the Celtics in 2008, said he doesn’t think the Celtics owe Thomas any sort of tribute at all.
"What has he done?" Rondo asked reporters after the Pelicans beat the Celtics in Boston 116-113. When a reporter told him Thomas led the Celtics to the Eastern Conference Finals in 2017, Rondo replied by saying, "Oh, that’s what we celebrate here?"
Rondo continued by suggesting Thomas doesn’t deserve a tribute from the Celtics, based on the rich history surrounding the storied Boston franchise.
"This is the Boston Celtics," Rondo said. "This isn’t the Phoenix Suns. No disrespect to any other organization, but you don’t hang conference titles. Do we hang going to conference finals? What do we hang here?"
Rondo’s Pelicans teammate Tony Allen, who also played on the Celtics’ 2008 title team, chimed in on the situation as well. He said he doesn’t think it’s right for the Celtics to try and honor Pierce and Thomas at the same time.
"I’m with Pierce, man," Allen said. "[Thomas] didn’t put in more work than Paul. Anybody disagree? OK. Paul Pierce put in big work, man. Why would they honor [Thomas] on that same day, man? Let my man get his jersey retired, man. Let him embrace that, man. He put a lot of blood, sweat, and tears in this organization, man, and capitalized and had some good results. [Pierce] struggled with the team. I remember losing 19 straight with that man. Turned around and won a championship [the next season]. Talk about Paul Pierce, man, don’t mean [Thomas’] name, the guys’ name that don’t stand in the same frame."
Pierce himself also talked again about the Celtics’ decision to honor both him and Thomas on the same night on Tuesday, and he said it felt like the Celtics were doing it because of the guilt they felt over trading Thomas in the offseason.
"They let it happen because they felt sorry how [the trade to Cleveland] went down," Pierce told ESPN. "It’s guilt. That’s what it is."
Pierce added that Thomas "had a shot to be honored" in January and chose not to take advantage of it before asking Ainge to scrap the plans to honor Thomas in February. Pierce told ESPN those things just hours before Thomas used Twitter to let everyone know he had asked for the Celtics to cancel their tribute video for him.
Pierce will now have Feb. 11 all to himself, just like he wanted, and the Celtics will plan to honor Thomas at a later date, regardless of whether guys like Rondo like it or not. Who knew a simple tribute video to show some love to a former player could stir up such strong emotions and cause so much controversy? It has to be leaving an even worse taste in Thomas’ mouth after the way his working relationship with the Celtics ended following his trade to Cleveland.