By Ty Anderson, 985TheSportsHub.com
I’ll never forget the first time we were truly introduced to Kyrie Irving.
At the podium at a 2017 Celtics Media Day held in the break room of an office park in Canton, Mass., Irving spoke at great length about a number of topics. This was in the immediate aftermath of Irving’s “reality-based” First Take appearance, too, so everybody in the room simply stopped and listened. You had to stop typing up your Jayson Tatum feature. You had to stop tweeting about a noticeably skinnier Marcus Smart. You couldn’t afford to miss whatever thoughts — from a realm of the human mind you could never reach, either — your ears were going to be gifted. While it was happening, I remember thinking, “Wow, this guy might be the most interesting athlete in Boston.”
Once Irving stopped speaking and exited the podium, though, finding the value or meaning in the subsequent playbacks was a struggle like no other. It was full of nonsensical, vapid ramblings and fake-deep bullshit. It was basically like being your friend’s first conversation after he just sat through a four-hour toxic cocktail of conspiracy and self-help videos on YouTube.
But you didn’t pick up on that within the moment. You were too enamored with the idea of Irving — a champion in Cleveland and one of the game’s legitimately unmatched talents — being exactly what the Celtics needed to take that next step and become NBA champions. So you ignored everything, assuming the best. Even if what you actually got was largely confusing (or inconsistent at the very least), and did nothing to enhance your view of the team.
It really was the perfect encapsulation of Kyrie’s two-year run in Boston.
A run that ended with dueling mega-contracts on Sunday, one for Kyrie in Brooklyn and one for Kemba Walker in Boston, and solidified Irving’s place as the greatest conman we’ve come across in the golden age of Boston sports.
Now, living up to the legends of Tom Brady, the fire of Chris Sale, and even the leadership of Patrice Bergeron and Zdeno Chara is a tall task for any athlete stepping into the bright lights of 93’s standstill traffic. But when push came to shove, everything about Irving turned out to be fraudulent. And I truly mean everything. You woulda thought he had put Brockway, Ogdenville, and North Haverbrook on the map with monorails with the way he conducted himself in Boston.
He was Lyle Lanley, and Celtics president of baseball operations Danny Ainge was Mayor Quimby.
Just one year into the con, Irving decided to tell an arena full of Celtics fans that he would re-sign in Boston following the conclusion of the 2018-19 season. It was as perfect a moment as Irving and the Celtics could have asked for, really, as he essentially calmed a year of worrying. He even filmed a Nike commercial with his father, concluding the ad by saying that he wanted to be the last Celtic to wear No. 11. But just four months later, Kyrie told the world that what he planned to do in the summer wasn’t any of our business, and that we would have to ask him on July 1. Fast forward to that date and Irving’s July 1 Instagram post, with him dribbling a basketball on the Brooklyn Bridge and fawning over returning home “where he always wanted to be,” sang a much different tune than the October line that earned him a standing ovation.
When we read into Irving and Kevin Durant clearly talking about “two max slots” at the 2019 NBA All-Star Game, connecting the dots that we all had a feeling would lead them to New York, Irving snapped (because he got busted), got back on his fake-deep nonsense, and scolded us that the Internet is not real. It was just two friends talking about life. Friends! Like his shoes and tattoo! But Kyrie reportedly followed Durant around during the NBA Playoffs, and Durant signed with the Nets when free agency officially began. Not real though! Just two normal dudes hanging out, chatting, casually talking about how they’re going to leave their then-current teams high and dry in the summer while also demanding respect from their current cities.
Then there was Irving getting mad about a national TV camera filming him as he walked into TD Garden before a nationally-televised game against the Rockets this season. Irving, who ‘didn’t care’ that he swore into a hot mic, made it known that he was excited to no longer be filmed by cameras once he was done playing. He wanted us to know he didn’t sign up for cameras filming him. But Irving’s Uncle Drew full-length movie hit theaters last summer, and Irving had announced that he was going to both star in and produce a movie about a haunted hotel in Oklahoma City just a month before the blowup. Makes sense.
You could almost live with all that off-court nonsense and sometimes-overblown drama (this is the NBA, after all), so long as Irving made good on his promise to be the No. 1 piece of a championship-level team in Boston.
Winning with Irving as the focal point of your team seemed doable at times, especially in Irving’s first season. But as things got truly serious for the win-now Green, the Celtics emerged as an undeniably better team without Irving. I thought this was insane when it was first floated out there when the Celtics posted a 12-3 record with Irving out of action during the 2018-19 regular season, but the Celtics won 11 playoff games without Irving in 2018, and just five (four of which came against an Oladipo-less Pacers team, so how could you possibly care or put any sort of stock in its meaning with him as their No. 1 in 2019. The teams and their competition were different, but Irving was supposed to be the piece to put you over the edge. He thought he was, too; when people questioned why the Celtics would be OK in an undeniably up-and-down season Irving cockily responded “because I’m here.” But from the moment the Celtics went up 1-0 in their second-round series against the Bucks, ready to make every idiot with a hot take look like exactly that, Irving was downright dreadful, converting on just 25 of the next 83 shots heaved on net. They were bad shots, too. He was a liability. When pressed on those struggles hurting the team’s chances to dig their way out of a series deficit, Irving offered an absurd “who cares?” and suggested that he should shoot even more.
And as emotional detachment set in en route to a season-ending loss, all Irving said was that he was excited to watch the Bucks continue their postseason run. Yikes. “Because I’m here” turned out to be the exact reason why the Celtics were not OK.
This was the theme throughout Kyrie’s two-year run with the Celtics: He wanted the responsibility and the weight of the franchise — or whatever was there to claim as his own — on his shoulders. Until it was time to live with or act on it. Then it became everybody else’s problem — often expressed through bitchy postgame press conference answers — or not our business despite his previous (and unprompted) willingness to share everything about his world and views on it with us.
Now, perhaps Kyrie bit off more than he could chew when he came to the Celtics.
At his age, and after thumping the Warriors for a title, successfully outshining LeBron James in the process who could blame him? Boston gave Irving the perfect situation to achieve all of the goals he had established for himself, too. You weren’t going to find a more supportive base than Celtics fans, you weren’t going to find a market with more caring (and bigger spending) eyes than Boston, and you couldn’t find a better win-now team that also featured a long-term window like the C’s.
But it was Irving who never quite delivered. Not as the No. 1 needed to win, and not as the on and off the court leader this team needed with Isaiah Thomas out of the picture. But at one point or another, we all fell for it. We all did. Hell, Kyrie even tricked his own teammates into thinking they were something they were not. Just ask Jaylen Brown and his five rings.
The truth, however, is that for two years, you always had more questions than answers with Kyrie. For two years, we were duped into believing that every single ounce of BS sold to you from No. 11 had some sort of greater meaning.
But in the end, you were unable to find it, and were almost happy to quit looking.
That’s the real Kyrie Irving.
Ty Anderson is a writer and columnist for 985TheSportsHub.com. Any opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of 98.5 The Sports Hub, Beasley Media Group, or any subsidiaries. Yell at him on Twitter: @_TyAnderson.