Legendary ESPN writer Jackie MacMullan published a deep dive into the state of mental health in the NBA Monday. MacMullan's piece included an interview with Boston Celtics great Paul Pierce, who opened up about his experiences. Pierce was stabbed 11 times in the face, neck and back while at a club in Boston in September 2000. He had to undergo lung surgery wound up fighting depression.
"I felt like I was trapped in a box," Pierce told MacMullan. "I couldn't go nowhere. I battled depression for a year. The only thing that saved me was basketball."
He played in all 82 games in the ensuing season, which began just a few weeks after the incident. Pierce said he used basketball to escape his dark thoughts after the stabbing. "I think that’s the reason I got back on the court so fast," Pierce said. "Me sitting at home thinking about [the stabbing] didn't work. I went to every practice, sat on the sideline for hours, because that's where I felt safe. I didn't want those practices to end because then I had to go back out there in this world that really scared me."
Pierce, then a young player in his third pro season, averaged 25.3 points and 6.4 rebounds per game during the 2000-01 season, career-best numbers. He spent 15 seasons in total with the Celtics and made 10 All-Star teams. Pierce retired after the 2016-17 season and is now a commentator for ESPN.