Kyrie Irving talks exit from Celtics, acknowledges that he 'failed' as a leader

Sep 27, 2019; Brooklyn, NY, USA; Kyrie Irving (11) poses for a portrait at HSS Training Center. (Nicole Sweet/USA TODAY Sports)

By Ty Anderson, 985TheSportsHub.com

Sitting down for his first media day as a member of the Brooklyn Nets, Kyrie Irving spoke at great length about his final season in Boston, and the crumbling of what at one point seemed like a happy marriage with the Celtics.

After marching to the 2018 Eastern Conference Finals with Irving on the shelf, and led by the youthful promise of Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum, it seemed like the Celtics were ready to rise to the top of the league and challenge the Golden State Warriors as the premier NBA superteam. With a healthy Kyrie and Gordon Hayward back, Irving seemed to get ahead of the potential drama that'd undo the C's and on Oct. 4 told a packed TD Garden that he planned on re-signing with the Celtics.

"They loved me in Boston, I loved the Boston fans," Irving said.

But everything seemed to change for Irving following the death of his grandfather early in the 2018-19 season.

"Things just got really really rocky for me in terms of when I left after the Phoenix [game]," Irving began. "I went to my grandfather’s memorial, and he passed on Oct. 23 and, after he passed, basketball was the last thing on my mind."

"A lot of basketball and the joy I had from it was sucked away from me," Irving said. "There was a facial expression that I carried around with me throughout the year. Didn’t allow anyone to get close to me in that instance, and it really bothered me. I didn’t take the necessary steps to get counseling or get therapy or anything to deal with someone that close to me dying. I’ve never dealt with anything like that. So, I responded in ways that are uncharacteristic and, like I said, I had to acknowledge that fact. And I had to acknowledge that fact to the organization first. Because that was our internal bond and trust that we had.

"I talked to Danny [Ainge], I wanted to re-sign. So throughout the year, it started becoming more and more clear that my relationship within my home life has way higher precedence than the organization or anyone and I barely got a chance to talk to my grandfather before he passed, from playing basketball," Irving continued. "So you tell me if you would want to go to work every single day knowing that you just lost somebody close to you doing a job every single day that everyone from the outside or anyone internally is protecting you for. Like, ‘Hey, just keep being a basketball player.’ Throughout that year,  just became rocky and a lot of the battles that I thought I could battle through from the team environment, I just wasn’t ready for."

In essence, Irving -- trying to be a leader for the first time in a career largely spent in the shadow of LeBron James -- was going through an existential crisis while also in a contract year and on a team that never quite met their championship-level expectations.

It's not hard to see why this didn't work. And it appears that Irving is owning that part of it all.

"I failed those guys in a sense that I didn’t give them everything that I could have during that season, especially with the amount of pieces that we had," Irving admitted. "My relationship with them, personally, were great but in terms of me being a leader in that environment and bringing everyone together, I failed.

"For me it’s like just a huge learning experience just to slow down and acknowledge that I’m human in all this."

Irving and the Nets will come to Boston on Nov. 27.

Ty Anderson is a writer and columnist for 985TheSportsHub.com. He has also been a member of the Boston Chapter of the Professional Hockey Writers' Association since 2013. 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.