Kyrie Irving, making his first public comments Friday since signing with the Brooklyn Nets, suggested his grandfather's death last October impacted his mood and leadership abilities with the Boston Celtics last season, and ultimately forced him to reconsider his priorities when free agency arrived.
Wearing a black No. 11 Nets jersey and a black headband, Irving offered an 809-word response when asked directly about what changed after he publicly declared his intention to re-sign in Boston in early October 2018.
Here is Irving's response in full:
"I think around that time, it felt incredible, in terms of the energy that we were building, especially for the future in Boston. It was something that I couldn't really explain at the time because, personally, I don't think I was acknowledging the things that were surrounding my life as well. And how to lead this group of guys that I had been traded to -- I wasn't drafted by Boston, I had no type of affiliation with Boston before I left Cleveland. There weren't any works, anything that happened, Boston was a surprise team, with [owner] Wyc [Grousbeck] [and [president of basketball operations] Danny [Ainge], that took the chance on trading for me. And, when they did, and the way our first season happened, and also the way the end of the season happened, and having so much youth and so much exuberance and goals set personally, I think that some of the actual knowledge that needed to be had, in terms of being a championship team, takes more than just two years. It takes more than just an environment that you feel just comfortable in. Hey, I think I want to re-sign here, if you guys have me -- Boston crowd was immense. It was crazy. They loved me in Boston, I loved the Boston fans.
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"Then, two weeks later, things just got really really rocky for me in terms of when I left, I believe you know, after the Phoenix [game], 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. 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, for me, 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, 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. 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.'
"So, 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. And 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. 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. Then also take my steps going forward as reaching out to Danny and talking to those guys, and Wyc, and reaching out to them and letting them know, ‘Hey, look, basketball is [inaudible] tomorrow. I care about you guys as human beings. I know this is a competitive environment but let's move past this and let's go forward.
"Marcus [Smart], Terry [Rozier], all those guys just want to be great. We were all internally trying to be great and I don't think we were trying to be great as a team to meet at the top. And that happens in human environments all the time, whether people want to admit it or not. There are personal goals that everyone has, family, friends, media, telling everyone, ‘Hey, you need to be doing this, you need to be doing that.' In actuality, none of that crap matters. So everyone has a role to play. And you see the most experience teams end up winning the championships because they all buy in and they sacrifice. It's usually the oldest teams in the league that make it there every single year because they don't have to deal with the same youthful expectations that are unrealistic for players that really have to earn different things in this league to be at that level -- including myself."
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