Kyrie Irving provided plenty of insight on Friday into what led him to re-consider a pledge to re-sign with the Celtics and, ultimately, join the Brooklyn Nets.
Irving said one of the most important factors for him in signing with the Nets was returning home. He grew up in West Orange, NJ. He said the death of his grandfather early last season impacted him significantly. In the aftermath of his grandfather's death, Irving began to re-think the idea of re-signing with the Celtics. Prior to the season, he said in front of the crowd at Celtics home arena that he planned to re-sign with the club.
"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 it in a team environment and that really affected me as a human being," Irving said. "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. So I just wanted to come here with a very fresh mindset and make sure that I'm honest with my teammates going forward."
Irving shared in detail on Friday how much his grandfather's death impacted him.
"After he passed basketball was the last thing on my mind. So a lot of basketball and the joy I had for it was sucked away from me. It was a facial expression that I carried around with me throughout the year. (I) 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.
"So throughout the year it started becoming more and more clear that my relationships within my home life have way higher precedence than the (Celtics) organization or anyone. I barely got a chance to talk to my grandfather before he passed. So you tell me if you would want to go to work every single day knowing that you just lost somebody close to you?"
Irving also said he 'failed' his young Celtics teammates as a leader.
"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," Irving said. "So for me it's just a huge learning experience just to slow down and acknowledge that I'm human in all this."
The Celtics had championship aspirations but fell shy of those goals, losing in the second round of the playoffs.
"We were all internally trying to great. And I don't think we were trying to be great as a team to meet at the top," Irving said. "And that happens in team 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. Everyone has a role to play and you see the most experienced team send up playing in the championship because they all buy in and 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 to players that really have to earn different things in this league to be at that level, including myself."
In Kevin Durant's absence, Irving will be relied upon to be one of the leaders for Brooklyn this season. He said on Friday that he reached out to the Nets early in free agency to inform them that he had 'high' interest in signing there and bringing Durant and Jordan.
"This is the perfect place to do it. This has been a very hard-working place the last four years of putting together a team here in Brooklyn, transferring from New Jersey, transitioning from New Jersey over here to Brooklyn, it's been an incredible journey to observe from afar," Irving said.
Just when those conversations took place - and who they were with - doesn't really matter now. But going forward, the NBA said it will police potentially tampering infractions with greater scrutiny.
Nonetheless, Irving cited the Nets' family atmosphere and the way their view of players as reasons why the Nets were attractive.
"They reached out to my family as soon as I committed and it felt like they were very inclusive with everything that they had going on here....I think sometimes that can get confused in this league about who we are as human beings. I'm always going to be an advocate for that, and they are advocates that we're humans first and then we're basketball players," Irving said.
"They made us feel like All-Stars," Irving added of the Nets. "They made us feel like we were supposed to be treated fairly, the way we're supposed to be treated. From the media component, to our teammates, from the first-class service that they give here."
Irving addressed a few other topics on Media Day:
Here's Irving on when he, Durant and Jordan decided to sign with the Nets: "That morning of free agency, we still had no idea what we were doing. Because we didn't know the rules, we didn't know, 'OK, what are the things that we have to do going forward to make this thing happen.' We just want to care for one another in a way where we can build toward the next four years on. We want to end our careers together, we want to do this as a team, and then what better place to do it then Brooklyn with all these guys that have worked their tails off to be where they are now to even be in position in Brooklyn. It all meshed well together, but we talked in detail that morning and then later on that day we just decided hey, let's break this, we're doing this together, and then formulate a plan around that. It basically just happened in the spur of the moment that day.
Here's Irving on how Nets coach Kenny Atkinson factored in to his decision: "As we got along, I just started imagining different lineups, who would be implemented this way, how can Kenny teach us in a way that gives us freedom out there on the floor and we're not so structured but we have an expectation for who we are as a team, day-in and day-out. He's gonna tell you like it. Kenny's known for telling it like it is, which I appreciate. So it just meshed very well at the time."