BOSTON (CBS) — At this point, Kyrie Irving’s tenure in Boston is ancient history. He was acquired by Boston via trade in August 2017, and though he declared an intent to remain with the Celtics for a very long time, he left at the first chance he got, signing with Brooklyn in free agency in the summer of 2019.
While the All-Star Game meeting between Irving and Kevin Durant has garnered lots of attention in the years since it happened, a new book details the origins of the joining of superstars in Brooklyn.
In an excerpt posted online from the book “Can’t Knock The Hustle,” author Matt Sullivan details a night Durant spent at Irving’s Massachusetts home in January 2019, where the two players had one of their first serious conversations about making a tandem move in free agency in the upcoming summer.
“That night in the suburbs, [Durant] even ate a vegan burger for the first time. ‘I could f— with this,’ he said. A super-team was starting to be formed, over a side of kale salad and… clink,” Sullivan wrote. “KD and Kyrie went upstairs to the playroom, shared a vegan smoothie, shot a Nerf ball into a toy hoop and played NBA2K. Controlling miniature versions of themselves and their teammates, like marionettes, they wondered how else they could string together a team that was going somewhere. ‘And from that point,’ Kyrie said, ‘we took the power back and put it in our hands.’”
Previously, Sullivan had shared a page from his book, in which a close friend of Irving explained that conversations with Bill Russell as well as general knowledge of Boston’s racial history factored in to Irving’s decision to leave the Celtics.
Brett Carroll, Irving’s friend, told Sullivan: “And then he also realized, ‘Wait a minute: I’m trying to champion Boston, but now that I’m looking at the history of Boston, is this a city that I want to champion? In terms of their racial history and stuff like that … is Boston the type of place I want to represent?’”
Did Kyrie leave the Celtics because of racism in Boston? His close friend recalled it was a factor:
“In terms of their racial history and stuff like that… is Boston the type of place I want to represent?”
— Matt Sullivan (@sullduggery) May 26, 2021
Irving obviously brought racism into the discussion during the Nets-Celtics playoff series, when he said that he hoped there would be no “subtle racism” directed at him when he played in front of fans in Boston for the first time since leaving the Celtics.
“I’m not the only one that could attest to this. But it’s just… you know… it is what it is. The whole world knows it,” Irving said.
On Friday, Sullivan appeared on Toucher & Rich on 98.5 The Sports Hub and spoke about how this factor has weighed on Irving’s mind for some time.
“That gets into a lot of the discussions we’ve been having in this season that Ky has kind of teed up in terms of race, in terms of fans, and that dynamic. Which I think really began in his head in that heady summer of 2018 and is still playing out today. He’s not afraid to provoke, and we all know that,” Sullivan said.
Sullivan said that Irving “thinks he’s smart” and is well-read on a number of topics.
“He’s certainly well-read, whether that’s kind of heebie-jeebie conspiracy-oriented things, or really interesting Black history. I think he’s not afraid to push what the history books should say and he’s not afraid to provoke — obviously with with the Earth being flat, which is kind of how he does his thing,” Sullivan said. “He thinks he’s smart enough to provoke a conversation beyond the game.”
While Boston’s history factored in to Irving’s decision, Sullivan said that Irving felt a strong pull to return near his home of New Jersey, to a place where he could have more of a role in shaping an entire franchise.
“His dad grew up in the Bronx, and his family was growing. He wanted to have another kid — which, he recently had a son. He wanted to build a house for his family, and really control a franchise. And I think Boston as a city maybe felt out of his grasp,” Sullivan said. “And so, we’ve seen the Zapruder film of him and KD talking about two max slots, right? But the conversation really dated before that to two best basketball friends who really wanted to take control of a franchise. I think we’ve talked a lot about player empowerment, and that probably has more to do with it than Bill Russell and him talking race in the ’50s and Black history back in the gym in Seattle.”
Sullivan expounded upon Irving’s thought process from 2018 into 2019, which included the moment when he told Celtics’ season-ticket holders that he planned to sign a long-term extension with the Celtics.
“I think I basically found out that his issues with some of the younger guys — Jaylen [Brown] and Jayson [Tatum] — were were real, but so was the stuff going inside his head, coming out of that bad knee injury in the summer of ’18,” Sullivan said on T&R. “He goes to Vegas with KD and their entourages, he goes to Seattle to rehab at these secret pickup games with guys like Zach LaVine from the Bulls. And then one day, who shows up in the bleachers at the secret pickup games but Bill Russell? So they talked about Boston, they talked about race — and we can get into that in a second — but then he goes to the Standing Rock Reservation where he kind of sets his spirits straight with with his Sioux roots,” Sullivan said. “He promises the fans up there in Boston that he’d sign an extension and then his grandfather died. So that, he ended up ended up telling KD, quote, ‘Anything I was doing in basketball, I didn’t really care. ‘ And then poof, he was done with Boston.”