One hundred, forty-two days after the Boston Celtics’ 2018-19 season flamed out in Milwaukee, and 90 days after formally signaling his intentions to sign with the rival Brooklyn Nets, Kyrie Irving offered his first public comments Friday while detailing the emotional struggles that he endured last season and how they contributed to him reneging on his original declaration to re-sign in Boston.
You can read Irving's four-minute, 800+ word riposte that highlighted his turn at the podium at Nets’ media day HERE.
The question for Celtics fans in the aftermath: Did Irving say what you needed to hear to move forward?
Irving opened himself up on Friday. He divulged his personal struggle to focus following the death of his grandfather last October. He admitted that the loss took the joy of basketball and “sucked it away from me.” Irving noted how hoops duties prevented him from having a chance to say goodbye to his grandfather before he passed and made him re-prioritize his future desires, including putting a premium on being closer to his New Jersey roots.
Irving also took some accountability for both the way his attitude impacted the team and the failures of the 2018-19 Celtics. Said Irving: “I failed [Celtics teammates] in a sense that I didn’t give them everything that I could have. … My relationships with them, personally, were great but, in terms of me being a leader in that environment and bringing everyone together, I failed.”
Many Celtics fans were bothered when Irving didn’t take accountability for his own struggles, particularly as Boston lost four straight to the Bucks in the Eastern Conference semifinals. Irving seemed unfocused at times, particularly the way he haphazardly called for defensive switches and guarded league MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo. Quizzed on his offensive struggles late in that series, Irving barked, “Who cares?”
On Friday, Irving noted, "For me, it’s like just a huge learning experience just to slow down and acknowledge that I’m human in all this.”
Some will wonder if Irving’s intentions were pure in suggesting his grandfather’s loss impacted the entirety of the 2018-19 season. It’s important to remember that everyone grieves differently. Celtics fans might have an irrationally high barometer for moving on after watching Isaiah Thomas produce some insanely gutsy basketball in the face of tragedy after the untimely passing of his younger sister. Thomas willed Boston to the 2017 conference finals before a hip injury ultimately forced him to shut down. The Celtics traded Thomas to Cleveland that summer as part of the deal to acquire Irving.
In his verbose way, Irving also left himself open to scrutiny by contradicting himself at times. He downplayed his connection to the city of Boston while noting, "I had no type of affiliation with Boston before I left Cleveland,” though he routinely cited here how his parents met while his father played at Boston University, and it was the reason he ultimately chose No. 11 (the same digits he famously yearned to put in the rafters at TD Garden).
Irving also fell into old habits while blaming some of Boston’s struggles on the team's younger players. Near the end of his response on what changed in Boston, Irving said, “Everyone has a role to play. And you see the most experienced teams end up winning the championships because they all buy in and they sacrifice. It’s usually the oldest teams in the league that make it there every single year because they don’t have to deal with the same youthful expectations that are unrealistic for players that really have to earn different things in this league to be at that level -- including myself.”
Ultimately, some confluence of emotional strain early in the 2018-19 season left Irving wondering if he might be able to find happiness and fulfillment elsewhere. When the questions about his free agency picked up in February, it’s clear now that he shut down completely.
We can forever wonder whether Irving might have been more inclined to honor his commitment if the Celtics hadn’t struggled so mightily and the team had come closer to reaching its potential. Maybe the joy of winning basketball could have eased the difficulty of losing a loved one.
Irving was never bound to his preseason declaration, as both sides routinely noted in the aftermath. As a free agent, he made a decision to seek a new adventure. The Celtics were content to turn the page in the aftermath and embrace a new era of their own.
Irving’s peek behind the curtain Friday should allow Celtics fans to turn the page as well.
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