Before we start with the “Paul Who?” phase of our brief fling with Paul Pierce, let us acknowledge someone who came to Washington for one year and didn’t just pick our pockets.
Let us celebrate that Pierce was not Deion Sanders, or some of the other lesser-known athletes who were gone before the jersey you bought had been washed more than once.
Pierce, who passed on returning to the Washington Wizards and instead reportedly agreed to a three-year, $10.5 million deal with the Los Angeles Clippers, gave Wizards fans their money’s worth — and more. No matter how you rationalize moving forward without Pierce and warm up to the new Wizards acquisitions to take his place, there is no “magical” second-round exit postseason without his dramatic play and personality.
We all know what he did — he arrived in Toronto, declared a team that had owned the Wizards during the regular season a bunch of losers and then backed it up with game-winning shots. And he nearly did the same thing against Atlanta — John Wall’s broken hand and all — with a shot at the end of Game 6 at Verizon Center that could have tied the game against the Hawks but was late by a split second.
He gave Wizards fans more dramatic game-winning shots than nearly anyone who has put on the uniform since the team moved to Verizon Center. Go ahead — make a list of the most dramatic moments on the court for this franchise and see if Pierce’s name isn’t on there two or three times.
He was what we have called a “one-and-doner,” but instead of just taking the money and running, Pierce left something behind — memories for a fan base that has had only nightmares, for the most part. Perhaps, too, he left learning experiences for Wall, Bradley Beal and Otto Porter about leadership and presence on the court.
He is the opposite of maybe the most famous “one-and-doner” in this town — Sanders, who was part of the Redskins’ debacle in 2000 and whose thievery sometimes gets lost in the shuffle of the long list of bad Redskins decisions. After all, Albert Haynesworth is now the gold standard for the franchise’s financial dysfunction.
But Sanders deserves a place in Washington sports history as the worst “one-and-doner” we’ve seen here. He was 32 years old, just released by the Dallas Cowboys, and was presented with fanfare and the promise of “Prime Time” greatness with his seven-year, $55 million contract.
“If the top priority’s not to win the Super Bowl, then I don’t know why you even play the game,” Sanders said upon being introduced. “I don’t play for the money.”
He was right. He certainly didn’t play the game for money that year. If he had, he barely would have gotten his per diem.
After one year and $8 million, Sanders flamed out, with nothing to show for it. It was so bad that he actually was forced to give back $2.5 million of the $8 million — and it was still thievery.
He was no Pierce. Nor was he Alfonso Soriano, maybe the greatest “one-and-doner” this town has ever seen.
Even though Pierce delivered playoff glory, Soriano delivered the greatest overnight stay in Washington baseball history. He came to the Nationals as a reluctant participant in the winter of 2005 in a trade with the Texas Rangers, initially refusing to move from second base to left field.
But he delivered one of the great seasons we’ve seen in baseball, hitting a franchise- and Washington-record 46 home runs, to go along with becoming a member of the 40-40 club with 41 steals, and also had 41 doubles, 119 runs scored, and a remarkable .911 OPS. On a last-place team, he was a must-watch — and he still has a special place in the hearts of Nationals fans. Before he left after one year to sign an eight-year, $136 million contract with the Chicago Cubs, Soriano said he wanted to tell the Nationals, “Thank you for letting me be a part of this group.”
He made history, thanked them for the opportunity, and, while he didn’t leave behind playoff memories like Pierce or leadership lessons, Soriano did leave a present for Washington fans — two compensatory draft picks, one of which wound up being Nationals ace Jordan Zimmermann.
We’ll remember Pierce fondly, just as we do Soriano.
• Thom Loverro is co-host of “The Sports Fix,” noon to 2 p.m. daily on ESPN 980 and espn980.com.