Back in 1998, the Boston Celtics drafted one of their most beloved players in franchise history in Paul Pierce with the 10th overall pick.
But believe it or not, Pierce was not the Celtics’ first choice.
No. Boston had its eyes set on a certain skinny, unproven international big man named Dirk Nowitzki, who the Dallas Mavericks traded up to take one spot ahead of the Celtics at No. 9.
As a matter of fact, at one point, it seemed as if Nowitzki to Boston was a foregone conclusion, as then-Celtics columnist Michael Holley of The Boston Globe explained.
Apparently, the C’s had been speaking on the phone with the big German, and Nowitzki was telling the Celtics organization how thrilled he was to potentially play in Beantown.
But the Mavericks torpedoed Boston’s hopes with a sneaky draft night trade.
The C’s still ended up with quite a prize in Pierce, but at that time, it was like earning a silver medal instead of gold.
Is that how things really turned out, though?
I’m not sure anyone has ever debated who was the better player between Nowitzki and Pierce. They played two entirely different positions and had two completely different styles.
Dirk Nowitzki was the smooth shooting, NBA landscape-changing seven-footer who could stroke the three-ball like Ray Allen. Pierce was the crafty, methodical wing who could get his shot off from anywhere on the floor in spite of his mediocre athleticism.
While Nowitzki was the probably the more dominant scorer, Pierce was the better two-way player, as he developed into a very good defensive wing, something Nowitzki was never able to say about himself as a power forward.
Both players won titles, with Pierce winning his first championship in 2008 and Nowitzki capturing a ring three years later. In addition, they each won Finals MVP awards in their respective championship seasons.
Heck, they also both went to two NBA Finals each, with Nowitzki first losing in 2006 and Pierce falling in 2010.
Clearly, their career paths were a heck of a lot more similar than you probably would have believed before reading this, making it pretty hard to determine just who was the more successful player.
There are some who put Nowitzki up there with Tim Duncan and Kevin Garnett as far as power forwards are concerned, but his defensive limitations absolutely keep him a notch below both of his contemporaries.
As for Pierce? He played against some of the best wings we have seen over the last couple of decades, from Tracy McGrady to Kobe Bryant to LeBron James. Basically, his competition was fierce, as was Dirk’s.
Really, you can’t go wrong with either player, and because both the Celtics and Mavericks won titles with Pierce and Nowitzki, respectively, you have to say that the 1998 NBA Draft worked out pretty well for both clubs.
But you can’t help but wonder how the history of the league may have changed had Dallas not jumped ahead of Boston to grab Nowitzki and had Pierce then consequently fallen to another team.