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Kyrie Irving admits he didn’t embrace Celtics history, Jayson Tatum did

2024 NBA Finals - Boston Celtics v Dallas Mavericks

DALLAS, TX - JUNE 14: Kyrie Irving #11 of the Dallas Mavericks and Jayson Tatum #0 of the Boston Celtics looks on during the game during the game during Game 4 of the 2024 NBA Finals on June 14, 2024 at the American Airlines Center in Dallas, Texas. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2024 NBAE (Photo by Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images)

NBAE via Getty Images

BOSTON —Bill Russell. Larry Bird. Seventeen banners. “Havlicek stole the ball.” Bob Cousy. Cedric Maxwell. The parquet floor. Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett. Sam Jones. Lucky the Leprechaun.

No franchise has a richer, more storied NBA history than the Boston Celtics, who are looking to add a record 18th banner Monday night when they host the Dallas Mavericks in Game 5 of the NBA Finals.

Younger players don’t always understand and appreciate that history. How differently Jayson Tatum and Kyrie Irving chose to embrace it helped lead them to different arcs in Boston.

“When you come into the NBA, you just think every organization, every franchise is the same. That couldn’t be any further from the truth,” Tatum said. “I’ve been fortunate to be a part of something that is special, that has had some of the greatest players to ever play wear this uniform. You realize early on that it’s an honor and it raises your level of commitment, I felt like, to this city and to this franchise.”

That’s not how Irving saw it when he came to Boston.

“When I look back on it, getting traded here, this wasn’t one of my options. You know, it wasn’t like number one on my list. So when the trade opportunity got approached me, instead of going back and appreciating the Celtics history, I just came in with an open mind and just kind of like, ‘Alright, I’m just gonna go with the flow into this,’ but I think that was the wrong approach. You know, just being a young. But now that I’m a little older, you know, hindsight looking back on I definitely would have taken the time to get to know people within the community, talk to some of the champions that have come before me, actually extend myself to them instead of the other way around expecting them to be there for me and give me advice. Because they’ve been through it. They have championship pedigree here. They’ve shown it for years. They’re one of the most winning franchises in all of sports. So you have to show your respect here.

“And I think that’s what I struggled with initially was figuring out how I’m going to be a great player here while winning championships while also leading a team and selflessly joining the Celtics organization or the cult that they have here. You know, and that’s what they expect you to do as as a player, they expect you to seamlessly buy into the Celtics pride buy into everything Celtics, and if you don’t, then you’ll be outed and I’m one of the people that’s on the outs.”

Tatum has fully embraced the Celtics legend but admitted that did not come instantly. He was drafted onto a Celtics team that had been the No. 1 seed in the East the season before, and he owned up to it taking him a while to appreciate his situation, the tradition in Boston, and the pressure that can bring.

“I would say just throughout [his rookie] season,” Tatum said his appreciation of the history grew. “I had no idea who Cedric Maxwell was. I thought he was just like a radio guy (laughter). I didn’t know that he played on the team, and he won Finals MVP.

“So there were just different instances throughout the season in my rookie year where I would learn about different people that played an intricate part in this organization — the history throughout the Celtics and what the Celtics mean to the game of basketball. You just grow a level of appreciation through your time here.”

Irving advises any player coming to Boston to get to know the history and try to understand the legend.

“You just expect to have a magnifying glass on you everywhere you go... So the community is integrated into the Celtics team, that’s probably the best way I could say it,” Irving said. “The community is what makes the Celtics great here, the Boston pandemonium. That’s what makes the space so loud and so special, and they take pride in it.

“If any player is coming here, getting drafted here, thinking about coming here in free agency, you’re getting traded, I just think, do your homework and make sure you know what you’re getting yourself into.”

Irving will still be on the outs — and hear it from the fans — when Game 5 tips off Monday night.