There’s something to be said about the public perception of a professional athlete in any major sport. When it comes to the NBA, we sit down, turn on the TV and watch a bunch of people making millions of dollars dribble and shoot a basketball. When they do good, we cheer. When they disappoint, we shred, rend our garments.
What we often forget is that there’s a person behind the basketball player, behind the millionaire and all the glitz and glamour that comes with it. There are problems they deal with just like regular people. There are things going on in their lives that we don’t get to see on TV but that they have to deal with.
Just like you and I.
This is where Kyrie Irving comes in, and why his abrupt move to Brooklyn means so much more than the game of basketball. Irving told Boston Celtics’ season ticket holders last October, “I shared it with some of my teammates as well as the organization and everyone else in Boston: If you guys will have me back, I plan on re-signing here next year.”
He discussed how he wants his No.11 in the rafters and the honor that would come with it hanging with all the legends. He made an emotional NIKE commercial with his father, in which they played a 1-on-1 at TD Garden. “He’s the reason I want to wear No.11, and nobody else will,” Irving said about his father at the end of the clip.
It stayed with Boston and its fans all throughout the season. Pressure mounted when the team didn’t meet expectations and Kyrie was at the forefront of it all, taking the blame and being shown the door by his teammates and the fans.
So, he came home.
Irving sat in front of a gym filled with reporters with a big smile on his face Friday. Coming from New Jersey, Irving grew up a Nets fan and rocked the jersey of the franchise he once loved as a kid.
He went into great detail about his issues in Boston and why Brooklyn is a better fit, explaining not just to the New York writers, but to one who came down from Boston, what that meant in long and thoughtful answers. Kyrie Irving simply wanted to come home, be with his family, after a tragic moment that plagued his professional career and personal life while playing in Boston.
“The number one thing was acknowledging the fact of the steps it took to get here,” Irving replied when he was asked about his decision to sign with Brooklyn. “That was the first step, eight years of really hammering home being in a team environment, being an NBA basketball player and trying to be successful at a sport that sometimes for the most part spills over into my personal life and then allowing that to really put me in a place where I’m able to make a decision for me and my family for the long haul. Like I said it was very, very trying this entire eight years of being in the NBA and learning as much as I could about the business and personal side. I wanted to remove all that and really take a step back and not be an advocate for people not being treated fairly, especially from different outside sources in the way the NBA product works. For me it was just about honing in on what was important, and that was coming back home. That was the important staple that I had in my mind.”
He was open about the depression he faced, and how he could have handled the situation better.
“Mind you, it took months and months, it almost took a year and change for me to even come to that decision because nine months ago I was sitting in front of a Boston crowd saying that I wanted to re-sign. After that a lot of things happened in my personal life that really changed the landscape of how I felt about the game of basketball and actually playing in a team environment, and that really affected me as a human being. I didn’t share it with anyone. I didn’t want to come out and say that this is bothering me or I’m in a depression at this point in dealing with the death of my grandfather. So when all this happened, and the pressures – I put in quotations – from this basketball game came into free agency and what I was doing with my future, I wanted to dispel all those things but I don’t think I did it in the right way of being honest about how I felt.”
He stressed the importance of separating the basketball player from the human – and not feeling bad when his actions result from something traumatic that happened in his real, not basketball life. Sometimes, a fresh start is what we all need. And oftentimes, during times of adversity, you just want to be back home with your loved ones. Again, a natural —human— reaction.
“I just wanted to come here with a very fresh mindset and make sure that I’m honest with my teammates going forward and also reverting back to apologizing to guys that I’ve been with, been teammates with, to make sure they know that this is a game, but also our lives come into this and when it affects our livelihood and it affects our happiness to play basketball, then the product or our service on the floor is not great, and that’s just what it is. Personal lives, it seems like it’s not as important, talking in terms about relationships and coaches and all this other stuff that goes into the team environment. I think the important thing is to realize that the human being, as a basketball player, or any human, struggles as well dealing with personal issues. For me I just wanted to come in with that mentality, hey, I’m going to be honest about who I am and what I’m doing going forward and my goals for myself and then apply that to the environment here that we have in Brooklyn.”
Irving looked comfortable. Yes, it’s only Media Day, but he looked calm and relaxed. He looked... happy.
And so, he was open about his entire situation with Boston, which he now admits was plagued by his own issues. These are the things that we DON’T get to see or hear about. Not everybody can be Isaiah Thomas.
He explained how he loved the idea of being embraced by the Boston faithful. When he said he wanted to re-sign, he meant it. But it was premature given the circumstances he would eventually deal with. After a game in Phoenix in late October, he attended his grandfather’s memorial. The joy of the game was “sucked away.”
“A lot of basketball and the joy I had for it was sucked away from me and it 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. Never dealt with anything like that. So for me I responded in ways that are uncharacteristic.”
“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. Just keep being a basketball player. So throughout that year just being rocky and a lot of the battles that I thought I could battle through in 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. So, my relationships with them personally were great, but in terms of me being a leader in that environment and bringing everyone together, I failed. So, for me, it’s just a huge learning experience just to slow down and acknowledge that I’m human in all this.”
The last line is the most important thing to take from all of this. These basketball players are human, whether you want to believe it or not. Showing frustrations towards a player who let you down is obviously understandable from a fan’s perspective. But it’s time we start separating the basketball player from the human, especially someone is acting out of character.
There’s usually a reason why.
It’s our job as decent people to listen. Kyrie Irving — or anybody for that matter — should not need to explain themselves.
The past is the past and he appears ready for a fresh start back home with his family and friends.
Kenny Atkinson, who is known throughout the league for working with players on their real needs, said he’s in love with his 27-year-old point guard.
“It’s as good as it can be,” Atkinson said of his relationship with Irving. “His basketball IQ is a very high level. I can’t wait to see where that relationship goes.”
There’s something we can all learn from his story – and so many others, whether they’re the best basketball player in the world or the mailman in your neighborhood.
- Kyrie on decision to leave Boston (Video) - Ryan Ruocco - YES Network
- Kyrie Irving came to Brooklyn in search of the happiness he couldn’t find in Boston - Stefan Bondy - New York Daily News
- Kyrie Irving details how personal struggles impacted decision to leave Celtics for Nets - Ian Begley & Corey Hersch - SNY