The Celtics’ annual Fan Appreciation Night is generally a low-key event. Players take part in some skills challenges. Lucky the mascot dunks off a trampoline a few times. And some players hold microphones and talk about how excited they are for the season.
But on Thursday night, point guard Kyrie Irving turned a simple evening into something more significant when he told the crowd that he intended to re-sign with the Celtics at season’s end.
On Friday morning, with the buzz from his surprising announcement lingering, Irving stood in front of a wall in the team’s practice facility and offered more context about his decision to tell the world that he had made a decision.
“I’m happy here,” Irving said. “Every single day is at an all-time competitive high. What more can you ask for from an organization than taking a chance as far as getting me out of Cleveland? Really taking a chance regardless of whether I signed back or not.
“They had the same attitude. They just wanted to show me what being a Celtic is about, and that I was going to come around, and I absolutely did. I believe in it. I believe in the franchise.”
Irving had been planning to opt out of the final year of his current five-year deal at season’s end. And rumors had swirled that he was seriously considering leaving Boston, perhaps to join the Knicks. At the end of last season, Irving did little to suppress that narrative when he gave interviews.
But based on his statements Friday, it sounded as if he was simply unsure then. After all, he’d been with the Celtics for less than a year, and that season had ended in March because of his knee troubles. The team’s sparkling new practice facility had not even opened yet. Boston was not home.
“I needed just some time to kind of be back in Boston and feel great about different things I wanted to explore in my career,” Irving said Friday. “But I think the important thing was just being happy and having an environment where I’m challenged on a physical level as well as mental.
“I can get better as a basketball player, as a man, and grow here. I do have a dream of putting my No. 11 in the rafters one day, if I’m so blessed to do that. Obviously, a lot of great players have come before me, but to grow my name in Boston Celtics tradition and history is something I’m glad I can do, and I plan on.”
Earlier this week — somewhat out of the blue — Irving told some Celtics executives that he wanted to re-sign with the team. The Celtics had not had recent conversations with him about that, and they were caught a bit off-guard by the timing. Irving told them that he just wanted to let them know.
He shared his news with several teammates, too, and coach Brad Stevens said Irving told him Thursday afternoon, after practice.
Irving, who had hinted in several recent interviews that he was leaning toward remaining a Celtic, huddled with team officials Thursday and decided he would make some kind of announcement during his media session prior to the Fan Appreciation event. He spoke for nearly nine minutes while standing in the visitors locker room at TD Garden, but it did not come up then.
Then, while taking part in a brief question-and-answer session moderated by Celtics television analyst Brian Scalabrine, Irving was asked how important it was for him to have his No. 11 retired by the Celtics one day. Irving stood up from a barstool on the court, with a microphone in hand, and said he planned to re-sign with the Celtics. The fans roared.
“I know I made a lot of guys comfortable,” Irving said. “Our management, coaching staff, they don’t have to worry about recruiting me the whole season and telling me how great it is to be a Celtic and be here. I came to that myself.
“Me asking the Celtics if they would have me back, that was the first question. I just wanted to make sure. And then at that point, it was an easy decision.”
Of course, a pronouncement is one thing, and signing a contract is another. Things could change between now and July 1, but for now that appears quite unlikely. The main discussion now figures to center on the terms of Irving’s new deal.
He would be in line to receive a five-year, maximum salary contract totalling approximately $189 million. Irving will turn 28 next season, and with a player with his injury history, it could be important to lock up that long-term security.
But he also could push for a shorter deal, like a two-year contract with a second-year option, such as the one Kevin Durant signed with Golden State. That would give him extra flexibility in the short term while also putting him in line for an even bigger long-term payday later on.
But those conversations will happen at the appropriate time. For now, Irving is a Celtic, and he has pledged that he would like to be a Celtic moving forward.
“Honestly, it just was like, ‘Man, I do not want to move again,’ ” he said. “I do not want to uproot my family and just be dealing with anything new again. No disrespect to other organizations, but here is perfect for me.”
Adam Himmelsbach can be reached at adam. firstname.lastname@example.org.