BOSTON -- The hat was placed on a little crooked. It was after, all, brand-new -- declaring him and his team as NBA champions.
But the hoisting of Paul Pierce’s MVP Finals trophy went straight and skyward to the rafters of the TD Banknorth Garden, where his number will probably someday join the same aging but everlasting ones of Larry Bird and Bill Russell.
“This is unreal,” Pierce said in a voice that was dry and raspy from celebrating his first championship.
He stood on the podium at center court, where a crowd, a city and a state adored him for his part in bringing home their 17th NBA championship and first since 1986.
With the scent of cigar smoke wafting around the arena -- maybe Red Auerbach was around somewhere -- Pierce clutched his hard-earned hardware from NBA Commissioner David Stern.
Game 6 wasn’t Pierce’s most memorable game in the NBA Finals. It was only the final footprint of a long journey.
Only last season, Pierce, the star with no supporting cast, contemplated asking for a trade from a team that had just finished with the weakest record in the Eastern Conference.
Then Ray Allen came. Then Kevin Garnett came.
And everything started coming together, cresting Tuesday.
“Knowing that you were at rock bottom a year ago today, and to climb all the way to the top, this is a dream come true, and I’m going to cherish this forever,” Pierce said.
After running through the regular season for 66 victories with the Big Three, Pierce emerged as their steady scorer during the playoffs.
He went tit for tat with the Cleveland Cavaliers’ LeBron James and was the one still standing after both exhausted each other for more than 40 points.
He scored a team-high 27 points in the clinching game of the Eastern Conference championship over the Detroit Pistons, sending the Celtics into these Finals.
Then, this city held its collective breath when Pierce went down with a knee injury in the third quarter of Game 1 against the Lakers.
Pierce resurfaced that game, resurrecting Boston to a win. Among the six games, he experienced one dismal outing, a two-for-14 effort for six points in Game 3. He then averaged 29 points the next two.
On Tuesday, his shot again not falling, Pierce became a distributor, dishing out 10 assists to go with 17 points.
With 4:01 remaining in his final and most satisfying game this season, Pierce departed the game, along with Garnett and Allen.
He took a deep breath and looked at the scoreboard.
It finally happened.
For the kid who grew up in Inglewood, mimicking Magic Johnson, rooting for the Lakers and loathing the Celtics, this was indeed unreal.