The dynamics of Tom Brady’s departure from New England make it impossible to directly compare his situation to anyone else across the sports landscape. Plenty of these things we already know about while other factors will undoubtedly rise to the surface more in the coming months on his decision to leave for Tampa Bay.
As far as one team athletes go, Paul Pierce is probably the closest comparison I can write about during the last 20 years as a Boston sports figure who had a realistic chance of spending his whole career here. Pierce is not close to the same caliber of player that Brady was and he did not leave voluntarily after being traded away in July 2013 to the Brooklyn Nets in a blockbuster deal that netted the Celtics their current core.
From that standpoint, Pierce was in a far different boat than Brady (Pierce never wanted to leave Boston as his career came to a close), but the decision-makers at hand are cut from a similar cloth.
Bill Belichick has been renowned for cutting ties with veterans a year earlier rather than a year too late throughout his historic tenure with the Patriots. Meanwhile, Danny Ainge famously told Red Auerbach in the late 1980s that he should trade away Larry Bird and Kevin McHale for younger players as they approached the twilights of their careers and has carried that mentality with him into his tenure as Celtics president.
Auerbach refused to be disloyal and listen to Ainge's advice at the time and that combined with some other tragedies (Len Bias, Reggie Lewis) left the Celtics in a tailspin as a franchise that they never fully recovered from until the early 2000s.
Ainge avoided the same mistake when dealing away Pierce and Garnett in 2013, when they still had a couple more years of elite basketball left in them. However, for all the hysteria about Auerbach holding on to Bird and McHale for too long, it's important to note that Ainge was happy to follow a similar path with Pierce if an appealing trade never emerged last decade. Here’s him talking about Pierce’s situation ahead of the trade deadline in 2013:
"Nothing has been talked about with Paul,” said Ainge of a possible trade. “Nothing is close to being done. I too would like to see Paul retire as a Celtic. That would be great. We’re all attached to Paul. He’s been great for the city, the franchise, and he’s been a true pro. Having said that, if something came up, I would talk to Paul. My job is to do what’s in the best interest of our team, regardless of my personal ties or my personal feelings with the players."
Ainge doubled down on those comments to the Boston Globe in 2017.
“I would have been thrilled to let Paul and KG finish their careers as Boston Celtics and have them finish here,” Ainge said. “I would have been fine with that. But we had an opportunity that came up that presented itself that we needed to do for the benefit of our fans, our franchise. It’s not my franchise. It’s not Paul’s franchise. It’s the city of Boston’s franchise and that’s my job to do what I think is best for the franchise. With ownership we work to make decisions that’s best for the long-term benefit of our franchise.”
Putting all the off-field drama and variables aside with Brady and Pierce, I think this is where the biggest differences lie in the NBA and the NFL in regards to competing in the postseason and the impact that has