Ex-Celtics Star Kyrie Irving Comes to Terms With Being ‘On the Outs’ in Boston

Celtics foe Kyrie Irving (left)

Getty Celtics foe Kyrie Irving (left)

BOSTON — Kyrie Irving knows he’s going to get hooted on when he takes the floor for Game 5 of the NBA Finals Monday night. He accepts it.

And when it comes time to identify the person in the delivery room for the birth of the boos, the uber-talented Maverick seems more willing than ever to look into a mirror.

On the afternoon before what could be the last game of the season with the Celtics holding a 3-1 series lead, Irving didn’t utter the words, “I’m sorry.” But, yeah, he sort of did.

More introspective and conciliatory than he’s been during a series in which he’s spoken in such terms regularly, he expressed regret for how he approached his two years as a Celtic. “Doing it to myself,” is how the eight-time All-Star put it.

‘Depression, Anxiety, Mental Health Issues’

Speaking of his evolution since leaving the Celts and dribbling through a Brooklyn minefield he helped arm, Irving said, “I think I’ve just figured out in my life, a lot of people just want the time and space to be heard. They want to be listened to. And then if they respect you and you respect them, then they’ll listen to you and give you the space to say how you feel as well.

“I’ve talked about it over the past few months, just where I was in 2017 or ’18, when I first got traded here to Boston. I wasn’t in the place to be able to vocalize my feelings or know how to do that. I was learning how to be a man, learning how to be a father. So part of that evolution came from that, taking the time to go inside and figure out who I wanted to become.

“But also,” he continued, connecting on the money ball, “I had to accept some of the things, some of the choices I had done in my life. When you look at yourself in the mirror, sometimes you don’t like what you see, and that could lead to some depression or lead to some anxiety or lead to other mental health issues.”

Kyrie Irving’s Rocky End in Boston

Irving was certainly a complicated package in Boston. His teammates say good things about him, but there were undeniable moments of friction as younger players sought to spread their wings or at least be listened to.

A few months after saying before the 2018-19 season that he planned to re-sign with the Celtics as a free agent that next summer, there was a report that maybe that wasn’t necessarily the case. As a small group of media types gathered around him in Madison Square Garden prior to a February 1 game-day shootaround. He was asked if his mindset had shifted.

Ask me July 1st,” he replied tersely.

There was a lot more to the discussion, mainly with Irving saying he was just focused on the current season and that he was going to do what’s best for himself and that he had maybe been caught up in the excitement when he had told Celtic season ticket holders he was staying with the club.

A veteran player stopped me as I walked away from Irving.

“What did he say?”

“He said my life is going to be miserable for the next six months,” I responded. The story, once thought to be tucked in and needed just contract terms, was back open and subject to the hot and cold Kyrie winds.

The player knew what that meant and rolled his eyes.

Celtics ‘One of the Winningest Franchises in Sports’

On Sunday, Irving admitted his mind wasn’t pointed in the right direction from the start of his Boston residency.

“When I look back, getting traded here, it wasn’t one of my options,” he said. “It wasn’t like No. 1 on my list. So when the trade opportunity got approached to me, instead of going back and appreciating the Celtics’ history, I just came in with an open mind and just kind of like, all right, I’m just going to go with the flow into this. But I think that was the wrong approach. Just being young.

“Now being older with hindsight looking back, I definitely would have taken time to know the people in the community and talked to some of the champions that have come before me and actually extend myself to them instead of the other way around, expecting them to be there giving me advice. Because they have been through this. They have championship pedigree herehey have shown it for years. They are one of the most winningest franchises in all of sports.

“So you have to show your respect here. 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 and also leading a team and selflessly joining the Celtics’ organization or the cult that they have here. That’s what they expect you to do 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, uh, I’m one of the people that’s on the outs,” he added wryly to the accompaniment of laughter.

“I’m perfectly fine with that, you know what I mean? I did it to myself. They don’t welcome me with a warm embrace, even though I know a lot of people in the organization and I’m friends still with some of them. But, yeah, doing it to myself. And that’s what I was talking about in terms of accepting the choices. But looking back, I would have shown my respect and have more of a counsel around me from some of the Boston Celtics that came before me to explain what the pressure is like.”

Struggling With the Magnifying Glass

Asked what it is like to be part of a team that plays its home games beneath 17 championship banners, Irving took a larger view of players as part of the city.

“You just expect to have a magnifying glass on you everywhere you go,” he said. “I don’t think Boston appreciates being kind of second class to New York in terms of the media capital of the world, but this is the media capital of the world, as well. There’s a lot of history here off the court.

“The community has integrated into the Celtics’ team. That’s probably the best way I could say it. The community is what makes the Celtics great here, the Boston pandemonium. That’s what makes this space so loud and so special, and they take pride in it.”

Part of the Game 5 loud will be in the form of crowd generated Irving invective. But on the assumption that the Kyrie we’ve been hearing these last weeks is sincere, his trespasses should be moderated by time, perspective and contrition — even if not entirely forgiven by some. It might be fair to suggest the lung capacity could be better spent elsewhere.

Remember, after a bad break-up, living well is the best revenge. One victory away from an NBA championship would seem to qualify as such.


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