Paul Pierce has many labels — NBA Champion, Hall of Famer, Boston Celtics legend, and in his current role as a contributor to FS1’s “Undisputed,” outspoken television personality. 

But the label Pierce is perhaps most known by — his iconic nickname, “The Truth” — has an origin story one might not expect.

Pierce had a breakout game for the Celtics against the archrival Los Angeles Lakers on March 13, 2001. Boston lost, 112-107, but Pierce dropped 42 points and earned the respect of Lakers big man Shaquille O’Neal, as Pierce recounted to Keyshawn Johnson on a recent episode of Johnson’s podcast, “All Facts No Brakes.”

As the story goes, O’Neal pulled a Boston reporter aside after the game and told the reporter to quote him saying “Paul Pierce is the m—–f—— truth.”

“I knew he could play, but I didn’t know he could play like this,” O’Neal went on to say at the time. “Paul Pierce is the truth.”

Pierce said he did not find out about his new nickname until the reporter’s story came out the next day with the headline: “Paul Pierce: The Truth”.

“So now I’m getting phone calls, people calling me ‘The Truth.'” Pierce recounted to Johnson. “From that point on, it just stuck. It gave me confidence after that, like, ‘Shaq gave me the nickname, I gotta roll with it.'”

The nickname took on a different meaning as Pierce entered retirement and the media world, making head-turning claims like saying he had a better career than fellow Hall of Famer Dwyane Wade and saying he could outplay longtime rival LeBron James “on any given day” in his prime, crediting himself and his Celtics teams as the reason James and Wade teamed up with the Miami Heat.

That prompted a special edition of the podcast’s recurring segment “Facts or Fiction,” in which co-host Keyshawn Johnson Jr. asked Pierce whether it was fact or fiction that he was a more clutch player than James.

“Facts,” Pierce said repeatedly into the microphone as Johnson Sr. politely declined to weigh into the debate.

But Pierce was still willing to give the Wade-James-Chris Bosh era of the Heat their respect after that “Big 3” essentially ended the Pierce-Kevin Garnett-Ray Allen era Celtics’ reign atop the NBA’s Eastern Conference.

“They was tough,” Pierce said. “I ain’t gonna lie. You had LeBron, who arguably is the ‘G.O.A.T.’, you got LeBron, you got D-Wade, probably the third-best two-guard ever, and Bosh was a perennial All-Star, all in their prime. I knew they were going to be a problem once they teamed up. … We were older already. They were in their prime. We were already cooked.”

However, Pierce thinks those Heat teams should have won more than two titles in the four years James was there.

“I think they should have won three or four,” Pierce said. “What did Bron say [in the introduction ceremony]? ‘Not two, not three, not four, not five, six’? I kind of believed it. They could run [anyone] off, and they were relatively healthy. … They might have underachieved. I looked at that team that highly, that’s why [I say that]. They could have ran the table with four, because they went to four Finals and [only] got two of them.”

As for the current state of the NBA, Pierce chose current Celtics star Jayson Tatum as the active player who most reminds him of himself — despite Johnson’s protests — and also predicted this is the year that this current Boston team will break through and win the franchise’s first NBA championship since Pierce hoisted the trophy in 2008, saying he’s “not worried” about any other contender outside the Denver Nuggets or Miami Heat.

“They’ve got to,” Pierce said. “They’ve got the best record in the league. I think Tatum is in the MVP conversation. We’re the deepest team in the league. I mean, this has got to be the year. … I do believe the Celtics are going to win it all this year.”

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