Kyrie reflects on Celts’ tenure: ‘That wasn’t a great reflection of who I am’

As Kyrie Irving prepared for his third playoff series versus the Celtics since departing Boston, this time in the NBA Finals, the 13-year veteran superstar reflected fondly on his brief time with the franchise and expressed regret about some of his previous reactions with the passionate fan base that has been hostile toward him.

Irving, who is unanimously considered by his Dallas Mavericks teammates to be the team’s vocal leader, played two seasons for the Celtics before departing in free agency to join his friend Kevin Durant with the Brooklyn Nets during the 2019 offseason.

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Irving’s Nets twice faced the Celtics in the playoffs, eliminating Boston in five games in the 2021 first round and getting swept in the 2022 first round, which ended up being his final postseason appearance for Brooklyn. Some of those series’ most memorable moments were interactions between angry Celtics fans and Irving, such as when a fan was arrested for throwing a water bottle at him after Brooklyn’s Game 4 victory in 2021 and when Irving was fined $50,000 for flashing his middle finger at fans during the Nets’ Game 1 loss in 2022.

“I think I’m better at consolidating kind of the emotions now or being aware of what it’s going to be like,” Irving said after the Mavericks’ Monday practice. “We call it animosity, we call it hate, we call it, ‘It’s going to be hell in Boston.’ I mean, there are real, live circumstances going on in the world that are bigger than the basketball, kind of the competitive side of things and answering those questions.

“But I will say last time in Boston, I don’t think that was the best — not this regular season, but when we played in the playoffs and everyone saw me flip off the birds and kind of lose my s— a little bit — that wasn’t a great reflection of who I am and how I like to compete on a high level. It wasn’t a great reflection on my end towards the next generation on what it means to control your emotions in that type of environment, no matter what people are yelling at you.

“I’m built for these moments, to be able to handle circumstances like that, and I’ve been able to grow since then. So of course it’s going to be a hectic environment, but I’m looking forward to it and I see it as a healthy relationship that I have with the fans. I almost think about ‘Gladiator,’ just winning the crowd over. It is good to hear the TD Garden silent when you’re playing well. They still respect great basketball.”

Irving was an All-Star both of his seasons with the Celtics, arriving in Boston after requesting to be traded by the Cleveland Cavaliers on the heels of three successive Finals appearances, highlighted by winning the 2016 championship.

An injury sidelined Irving for the entire postseason in 2018, when rookie Jayson Tatum and sophomore Jaylen Brown led the Celtics to the Eastern Conference finals.

Irving’s looming free agency and lack of a long-term commitment to Boston loomed over the franchise throughout the next season, when the Celtics were eliminated by the Milwaukee Bucks in the second round.

Irving said that seeing Tatum and Brown develop into one of the league’s elite star duos has made him “nothing short of proud,” adding that he tried to share as much advice and wisdom with the tandem as he could during their time as teammates. He stated he has continued to have brotherly relationships with Tatum and Brown in the years since, but they have not communicated since the Celtics and Mavericks clinched their bids to the Finals.

“This basketball stuff is going to be competitive,” Irving said. “No matter what, we’re going to go at each other. But getting to know them as human beings, they’re really special people alongside other people that I got a chance to know in the Boston organization.”

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