Ricky Pierce was a high school basketball standout at Garland High School in Garland, Texas. After finishing high school, he went to Walla Walla Community College before eventually transferring to Rice University in 1979.
The sharpshooter was drafted in the first round of the 1982 NBA Draft by the Detroit Pistons.
After not seeing much playing time as a rookie, the 6’4 guard was traded to the San Diego Clippers for two future draft picks. Again, he played sparingly in San Diego, starting just 35 games. In the limited time he was on the court he showed flashes of what he was capable of, including a 30 point effort in his first start against the San Antonio Spurs.
His career trajectory changed when he was traded, along with Terry Cummings, to the Milwaukee Bucks prior to the 1984-85 season. Pierce was reunited with his college coach, Mike Schuler, who was an assistant with Milwaukee. Although only starting 46 games in his time with the Bucks, Pierce averaged over 17 points per game in his six seasons in Milwaukee, becoming one of the greatest sixth men in the history of the game. He earned NBA Sixth Man of the Year honors twice, after the 1986-87 and 1989-90 seasons, becoming only one of three players to win the award multiple times. Pierce earned an All Star nod in 1991.
Pierce became a starter after being traded to Seattle for the 1991-92 season. He joined Gary Payton and Shawn Kemp in making multiple deep playoff runs for the Sonics.
After four seasons with the Sonics, Pierce bounced around to Golden State, Indiana, Denver, Charlotte and back to Milwaukee before retiring after the 1997-98 season.
In retirement, the Bucks bench legend returned to Rice University to compete his degree in kinesiology. He also created Accushot22, a basketball system that helps develop shooting accuracy with strategically place oval fingertip placement markers on the basketball.
We caught up to the 61-year-old Dallas native to talk about his rookie cards, being approached by fans in his college library, the competitiveness of past eras and much more.
Tony Reid– The autograph experience is a special one for the autograph seeker and the person being asked for their signature. Do you remember the first time you were asked for your autograph?
Ricky Pierce– I was in high school come to think of it. I was hanging out with my brother at the gym and an older guy came up and said ‘Hey, man. You are a celebrity.’ That’s what he told me. It really blew my mind because I never thought of it like that. He said ‘Let me get your autograph.’ It was weird. It really freaked me out a little bit but it was cool. At that point I’m just playing basketball for fun.
TR–You had an extended career in the NBA, including being a member of the 15,000 Point Club, an NBA Sixth Man of the Year and other accolades. Do you have a memorable fan interaction that is top of mind today?
RP-I have a lot of those, especially were fans would come up and say I was a great basketball player or that I jumped high or things like that. This was in high school. I was looking at it as that I was just having fun playing basketball. It was just fun to me. I didn’t know I was making that type of impact on fans. It was pretty cool. Even in college, I would go to the library and some of the student body would come up and give me compliments. They didn’t really talk about my scoring, they would say I could jump well for my height and things like that. It was cool.
TR- Do you remember the first time you saw yourself on a trading card?
RP-I really didn’t think about it. I guess it was cool. It is more of a recognition that one of my goals has been accomplished. I am being recognized as one of the top players in the league. As a player, you want to be recognized. It’s pretty cool.
TR-You are a two time NBA Sixth Man of the Year, an NBA All-Star, you average 20 points per game coming off the bench for a number of years and accomplished so much more. Do you have an area where you have memorabilia displayed?
RP-Yeah, I have the plaques from my high school days, I have items from college and some stuff from the pros. I have certificates and all kinds of stuff. I have what I call my television room where I have everything displayed. I think the Sixth Man Awards are pretty awesome. Those are most special to me. I have those in the room.
TR– Fan mail and requests really spiked with the shutdown and the pandemic. Do you receive fan mail on a regular basis?
RP-I get all kinds of stuff. People go to my Accushot22 site and leave all kinds of messages. They send me stuff in the mail. I’m so glad to see that the NBA is back playing and that college is back, too.
TR–The jersey swap is a new tradition in professional sports. If you could go back in time and swap jerseys with anybody, who would you pick and why?
RP-At the beginning of my career, I would say I wanted to swap with guys like Julius Erving and other players that I came up watching as a kid. That would be great to swap jerseys with guys like that. Then going on down the line, into the era of when I had my peak performances, I would say players I played against like Michael Jordan, Isaiah Thomas and Magic Johnson. It would have been really cool to swap jerseys and take pictures with those guys. In my day, we weren’t into taking pictures with opponents. It was more competitive. Now guys are high fiving and doing the jersey swap thing. I think it’s pretty cool.
TR–I grew up with that era that you mentioned, the era that you played in. I, like many, grew up an enormous Michael Jordan fan. What was it truly like competing against the greatest basketball player of all time in MJ?
RP– It was all about the competitiveness. There was no horsing around. Guys came out to play. The respect that you gave one another, especially guys that competed, you gave respect to guys that really cared for the game. The competitiveness and the seriousness of it was what stands out.
TR–On the back of your 1990-91 Fleer card you are quoted as saying ‘It’s not who starts the game, it’s who finishes it.’
RP-That’s true. That is when the game is won. You are out there on the floor when the game is being decided. That was most important to me, finishing the game.
TR– On the back of one of your cards, there’s a quote from you that says ‘Dedication has been my overall strength. I get that from my mom.’ How instrumental was it having her as an example growing up?
RP– There are nine in my family. It was competitive coming up. We knew we had to share. She would come to my youth games and it was competitive even there. She would tell me there would always be players out there that would push you, push you to the end. She told me to stay competitive and work on my game. Go out and work on your weaknesses not just your strengths. Stay dedicated and stay with it year after year.
TR–On the back of your 1991-92 Fleer Team Leader card it refers to you as a hired gun. By that point you had gone on to Seattle. Did you feel like a hired gun at that point?
RP-Scoring the basketball was my strength. The teams would let you know that you were hired to play a certain role. That was the role that I took on, my strength, my scoring ability. That was what I focused on. One time, in the middle of a game, I was passing the ball a lot. Coach Don Nelson called a timeout. He told me ‘I have Paul Pressey to pass. Your job is to score the ball.’ I thought that was kind of cool. I really liked that. He was giving me permission to shoot the ball. It really surprised me. He didn’t have to tell me that but OK that’s cool.