NEW YORK — Much has been and will be made of Kyrie Irving’s comments after the Boston Celtics edged the New York Knicks on Saturday, and rightfully so.
Irving, asked about his decision to plan to re-sign with the Celtics, said New York had gotten strong consideration. He praised Kristaps Porzingis and new Knicks coach David Fizdale. He talked about how being from New Jersey made New York a more attractive destination, but said “there’s nothing like” Boston.
“If you were in my position,” Irving said to a reporter at one point, “I think it would be an easy decision for you too.”
More from Irving: “Obviously, New York held a special place for me, just being from Jersey, and obviously envisioning myself as a free agent and ultimately taking a meeting and playing for Fiz and the great young core they had here, and thinking about playing with KP, that was a big thing before I made my decision to sign back — to plan on re-signing back, I don’t want to get in trouble, plan on re-signing back with Boston. But yeah, of course. New York was a strong consideration.”
Those quotes make for fascinating headlines, and they shine a little light on the rumors that swirled prior to the season. Yes, the Knicks were probably something of a threat to Boston, before he made up his mind. Yes, being from New Jersey — and having grown up 19 miles from Madison Square Garden — made the call of the Knicks appealing.
But as is so often the case with Irving, if you dig a little deeper, you can start to unravel not only the “where” and the “what,” but also the “why,” which goes beyond Boston’s championship potential and lengthy window.
Kyrie Irvin does not like to be bored. He likes conspiracy theories (even some dumb ones). He will think about them, and he wants others to think too. He hates getting asked the same question over and over (LeBron James questions, for example), but he enjoys being asked if he sees basketball as an art form.
But perhaps most importantly: He likes to challenge, and to be challenged.
“He’s gonna challenge you mentally, psychologically, definitely,” Marcus Smart told B/R’s Howard Beck during the preseason. “It comes off as sarcastic, it comes off as arrogant, but it’s just Kyrie. He’s different.”
So if you want to know one of the reasons Irving is so confident in the Celtics, even before he sees a written five-year, $190 million contract in front of him, here’s this.
“It’s a unique role that I’m in this year,” Irving said. “It’s something I haven’t been in my career as of yet. It’s not so much about scoring. It’s not so much about the numbers, anything like that. It’s about the impact I make on the game, and having collectively our group be on the same accord. I’m enjoying it. It’s tough at times, obviously you want to make every shot too. That goes along with it. But playing hard on defense and doing the right things and making sure collectively we’re on the same accord.”
Irving’s NBA career has been a strange one. He was the No. 1 pick in the draft, and the savior/heir-apparent for the Cleveland Cavaliers when LeBron James left. He was forced into a secondary role he never asked for when James decided he wanted to return. He won a championship. He stunned the basketball world with a trade request that proved to be a prescient move when James bolted a year later. He went through a year in Boston harassed by questions about both his past and his future.
But one consistent theme follows Irving: His search for new hurdles to overcome. He wants to grow. He wasn’t content to simply be James’ sidekick, content to ride another player’s greatness to quasi-contention, but he’s happy to be a part of a talented group in Boston where talent and production are more communal.
This new Celtics team is overflowing with talent, and their path through the Eastern Conference cleared a little bit when James opted to join the Los Angeles Lakers. But Irving’s goal for the season is a new one, which suits him well: Find a way to lead and shine at the same time on a contender.
“Man we got 79 more games,” Irving said. “79, bruh. I’m trying to take it one game at a time and enjoy every part of the ups and downs that we’re going to face and the challenges that we face as we continue to build an identity of who we are.”