NEW YORK — On this sun-splashed fall morning, Kyrie Irving is standing in the Brooklyn Nets’ practice facility that sits on the eighth floor of a warehouse along New York Harbor.
It’s media day, and in addition to answering reporters’ questions for the first time since the Celtics were punted out of the playoffs by the Bucks last May, Irving must go through a series of photo and video shoots.
He is holding a basketball and standing in front of a large white screen that probably will have some skyscrapers superimposed on it. Two cameramen ask Irving if he can do a spin move. He chuckles as if to say, well, duh. He does the spin move.
When they tell him to turn quickly and give a serious look, he turns quickly and bursts into laughter. They do another take, and everyone is satisfied.
Across the room, Kevin Durant is doing some similar things. For the first time, for the world to see, two of the NBA’s biggest stars are here together, somewhat improbably connected on a team that has never even had top billing in its own city.
There had long been a sense around the NBA that Durant would seek a new home when his contract with the Golden State Warriors ended, ostensibly to show that he does not need Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson at his side to win big. But Irving’s future with the Celtics had seemed more solid.
Last October, he told a large group of season ticket-holders at TD Garden that he intended to re-sign with the team at season’s end. He had just watched the Celtics soar to the brink of the NBA Finals without him, and now he was healthy again, away from what he viewed as a toxic environment in Cleveland, and he saw no reason to go anywhere else.
It seemed that the Celtics and Irving were set for a lasting partnership. Irving said it all felt incredible.
“Boston crowd was immense,” Irving said Friday. “It was crazy. They loved me in Boston. I loved the Boston fans. Then, two weeks later, things just got really, really rocky for me.”
Irving was referring to the death in late October of his grandfather. Irving missed Boston’s game against the Jazz Nov. 9 to attend the memorial service, and he was flattened by the realization that he had spent so much time focused on basketball rather than family.
He said that, in retrospect, he should have gotten some counseling or therapy. And as time passed, the cloud over his season — and the Celtics’, for that matter — grew darker.
“It started becoming more and more clear that my relationship within my home life has way higher precedence than the organization or anyone,” Irving said. “And I barely got a chance to talk to my grandfather before he passed, [because I was] playing basketball.
“So you tell me if you would want to go to work every single day knowing that you just lost somebody close to you doing a job every single day that everyone from the outside or anyone internally is protecting you for. Like, ‘Hey, just keep being a basketball player.’
“So, throughout that year, it just became rocky, and a lot of the battles that I thought I could battle through from the team environment, I just wasn’t ready for.”
Throughout a challenging year, Irving frequently criticized his young teammates, and eventually some began to bite back. In February, Irving began to back away from his pledge to the Celtics, and the distance only widened after that.
“I failed [my teammates] 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,” Irving said. “My relationships with them personally were great, but in terms of me being a leader in that environment and bringing everyone together, I failed.
“For me, it’s like just a huge learning experience just to slow down and acknowledge that I’m human in all this.”
Irving grew up in West Orange, N.J., which sits about 20 miles from the Barclays Center. Brooklyn presented an opportunity to go home. And in addition to being closer to friends and family, for the first time in his career, Irving had a say in who joined him.
“It’s very rare,” Durant said, “that we could meet up at this point and have a decision in front of us where we could control our destiny.”
Irving, Durant, and another close friend, center DeAndre Jordan, had talked about playing together. Jordan said Friday that the casual conversations began a few years ago. But all three players said the final decision, the final push, came during a FaceTime video call at 4:16 a.m. on July 1, the day free agency began.
“We were just like ‘Are we ready to do it?’ ” Durant recalled. “And everybody was like, ‘Yeah.’
Added Irving: “Then later on the day we decided, we’re doing this together.”
And so now Irving is a Net. And for now, everything is perfect.
Nets coach Kenny Atkinson said his bond with Irving is forming quickly. He said they have talked about life and basketball, and that Irving’s work ethic has been impressive. Atkinson has spoken to some of Irving’s former coaches about him, but he declined to reveal which ones, or what they told him.
“I can’t wait to see where the relationship goes,” Atkinson said. “But it’s really gotten off to a great start. But the real test is when the pressure of games comes and all that stuff. That’s the test of a relationship.”
On Friday, of course, there were no tests. There was just optimism and hope.
Irving walked around the room and shook hands and posed for pictures and made small talk with team employees who seemed happy that he was making small talk with them. With Durant’s recovery from last June’s Achilles’ tendon injury potentially keeping him out all season, there is a sense that this will be Irving’s team for now.
After one photo shoot near the end of his obligations, a woman in charge signaled for him to toss the basketball back to her. Irving put some sizzle and spin on the ball as it bounced off the floor and landed in her hands.
“That was a good pass,” the woman said, sounding almost surprised.
Irving smiled and put his palms in the air.
“I do this for a living, you know that? I do this for a living.”