“He’s never coached any player like me.”
— Kyrie Irving on Brad Stevens
Out for a cold morning jog a couple of days ago, I came across two neighbors on their daily walk, and they insisted I take a pause from my hideous daily mile.
“Please, answer one question,’’ said one of the walkers. “What’s up with Kyrie?’’
We were just seconds into a discussion about the mercurial Celtics guard when another hearty soul, the guy who delivers the morning Globe in our hood, wheeled to a sudden stop, rolled down his window, and said, “Dan, are we gonna trade Kyrie?’’
Have we had a more talented, more annoying, more egocentric, less likable star player in our galaxy of Boston sports supernovas?
Seriously. What a player! What a diva! What a coach-killer!
Today is a great day in the Celtic neighborhood. Late Tuesday night on the Left Coast, the struggling Celtics snapped out of their doldrums and thrashed the defending world champion Warriors by 33 points. It was Golden State’s worst home loss in almost a decade. And Kyrie was right in the middle of things, scoring 19 points with 11 assists. The Celtics played at Sacramento Wednesday, and in the words of Kevin Garnett, “Anything’s possible.’’
Good or bad.
Maybe the Kyrie-led Celtics are about to launch a 12-game winning streak and surge to the NBA championship. Or maybe they will flame out in spectacular fashion.
It’s all up to Kyrie. And that’s what scares me.
There is no denying Irving’s ability. He has the best handle we have ever seen. He is the best below-the-rim finisher we have ever seen. The Celtics this year will not be able to beat the Bucks, Raptors, or Warriors in any playoff series unless Kyrie plays well. He is a game-changer.
He is also a royal pain in the butt, and I’ve been racking my brain to think of another Boston star who can match Kyrie’s mix of sheer talent and abject crazy.
Manny Ramirez comes to mind. Manny was at once Jimmie Foxx and Dennis Rodman. But he rarely said anything of any substance, and most of the time his production far outweighed his nonsense.
Randy Moss was a bit of a handful, but he produced and toed the line during almost all of his time in Foxborough.
The Celtics had a couple of beauties in the horrible late 1970s when Sidney Wicks and Curtis Rowe prowled the parquet, but those Green Teams were not good enough to get our attention.
Roger Clemens? He combined greatness and goofiness on a par with Kyrie, but managed to be a league MVP, took his team to a World Series, and never came close to matching Kyrie on the quote sheet.
Carl Crawford, Carl Everett, Adrian Gonzalez, Al Iafrate, Adalius Thomas, Curt Schilling, Pedro Martinez, Nomar Garciaparra, Chad Johnson, David Price, and the Brothers Thomas (Isaiah and Tim) all delivered weirdness with their greatness, but those guys have nothing on our man Kyrie. I truly think it’s safe to say that Irving is in a League Of His Own in the pantheon of Boston sports divas.
Kyrie’s second season in the Hub has been a funkhouse festival of frustration and foolishness. One long bleepshow. Kyrie’s Boston Story could still end in glory, but at this hour it is hard to see Kyrie as anything but a wildly talented NBA guard who hates the media, doesn’t seem to like his young teammates, places himself above everybody else, and gives his coach a giant headache.
Where do we start? Irving hasn’t been right since he got on board with science and grudgingly conceded that the world really is round. He presents as a guy who cannot wait to get out of here.
He called LeBron James (whom he fled from in Cleveland so he could have his own team) to ask how to handle Boston’s young stars. After pledging his loyalty to Boston at a Celtic season ticket-holder event, Irving went to New York and walked back his promise to the Hub.
He was not healthy enough to play the final two games before the All-Star break but was able to play in the All-Star Game. Then he complained when it was reported that he was talking (recruiting for NY) to his friend Kevin Durant at the All-Star Game. A future Knick? Irving has done everything shy of putting an “I (heart) NY” sticker in his locker.
Sunday was a Kyrie Diva Tour De Force. He complained about TV cameras when he paraded into the Garden for work. He was on the bench for most of the Celtics’ futile comeback in a horrible loss to the Rockets. After the game, Kyrie went Full Belichick with a series of non-answers to layup questions.
Kyrie with the media after the loss to the #Rockets don't blink, you might miss it. #Celtics pic.twitter.com/FYL8eNjTQE— gary washburn (@GwashburnGlobe) March 4, 2019
Monday in California (the same day Jaylen Brown spoke of a “toxic” environment on the Celtics), Kyrie opened up to the media. Some samples:
On Stevens: “He’s never coached any player like me . . . now I’m on his team, and he’s putting me in his system. That’s a big transition for anyone to do.”
On media criticism: “I’m tired of all this stuff. It’s a constant battle because the media has just gotten outrageous . . . nobody should ever question what type of winner those guys [LeBron and Durant] are, what type of winner I am, or whether or not I have the ‘team-first’ mentality.’’
On teammates: “I try to stay patient and not get too high or too low, but obviously I get annoyed pretty quickly.’’
I was reminded of something Kyrie said to the Globe’s Gary Washburn at the All Star-Game:
“I’m a great player. Like I know that. Nobody else is going to take that away from me . . . There’s not going to be another player like me and I understand that.’’
Some of us grew up watching Bob Cousy and Bill Russell. We watched Larry Bird, Kevin McHale, and Dennis Johnson. In 2008, the Celtics had Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett. Those guys never spoke or behaved like this.
Kyrie is a great player. He has won an NBA championshp. He seems to have a real social conscience. He has deep thoughts and wants to be taken seriously as a role model and a leader.
The win over the Warriors is a reminder of just how good these Celtics can be. But it’s hard to trust. There’s always a storm brewing on Planet Kyrie.
Dan Shaughnessy can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org