‘I Spit at Their Bench’: Paul Pierce vs. LeBron James, Explained

Paul Pierce, left, and longtime rival LeBron James

Getty Paul Pierce, left, and longtime rival LeBron James

It was one powerful loogie. At least, that is, if you are to believe the conversation coming from Celtics great Paul Pierce and his former teammate, Kendrick Perkins, explaining why there has been such tension between Pierce and Lakers star LeBron James for well over a decade now.

Pierce apparently, let loose a wad of spit near the Cavs bench way back in 2004 when Boston was playing Cleveland in a preseason game at Ohio State. James was in his second year playing for Cleveland, and Pierce—like many other star players around the NBA—was resentful of the hype surrounding James. Tensions spilled into the hallway where the locker rooms are after the game.

Pierce’s disdain for James was on clear display in the past week when he put together his Top 5 NBA players of all time and declined to include James.

As Perkins explained:

Paul is talking noise to the bench, right? He’s talking big noise to the Cavs bench, and they’re sitting over there, Bron and them, they’re all sitting over there. Paul actually spits over there at the bench. The ultimate disrespect.

It ended up turning up. After the game, both teams were meeting in the back. Guys were ready to fight, we had to hold people back. It went up from there. Ever since that moment, LeBron James and Paul Pierce [hated] each other. They don’t speak to each other, even now, today.


Paul Pierce Fined $15,000 for Spitting

Pierce did later confirm that the story was true. He and James had been having a good deal of back-and-forth during the game and the tension rolled into the locker rooms.

“I’m glad social media wasn’t out there, because I spit at their bench,” Pierce said on ESPN. “I probably would have gotten fined.”

Pierce, though, did get fined by the NBA, for $15,000, on October 27. As a line in the New York Times read, the NBA, “Fined Boston F Paul Pierce $15,000 for spitting at the Cleveland bench during an Oct. 25 game.”

“You know the crazy thing about it was, it was a preseason game, that didn’t mean anything,” Pierce said. “I don’t know, me and LeBron going back and forth, the bench is yelling at something. And I look over at the bench, and I’m like, ‘That’s why y’all are on the bench’ or something, and I spit at them.

“And I’m not sure I hit somebody or not, but I spit in that direction. And then it just kind of — tempers flared up, the next thing you know, we was in the hallway, it was about to go down. That’s just kind of, like, the basis of everything.”


Pierce Takes Dig at LeBron James’ Heat Teams

That might have been the start of Pierce’s disdain for James, but the rivalry reached its most heated stages years later, especially when the Celtics knocked off the Cavaliers in the 2010 Eastern Conference semifinals, an upset on Boston’s part and a loss that preceded James’ move from Cleveland to Miami.

Once James suited up with the Heat, though, Pierce and the Celtics could not quite keep up, though they had memorable playoff battles. Pierce was eliminated in the playoffs by James three times, in 2011 and 12 with Boston and 2014 with Brooklyn.

Still, Pierce found a way to needle James about those years in Miami.

“(James) played on the Miami Heat, who, in my eyes, underachieved,” he said “and were a Ray Allen shot away (in 2013) from only winning one championship. We ain’t talking about that. How about that?”

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