Take Kyrie Irving out of a King-sized shadow and the light will shine on who he really is. If that sounded like fake-deep philosophy, welcome to the new Kyrie: a Boston Celtic who provides conceptual quotes (“If you’re very much woke,” Irving said on First Take last month, “there is no such thing as distractions”) and, oh yeah, in-game dunks:
Kyrie with a dunk off of the give and go! pic.twitter.com/pwNcQzjCor— BATTLES NBA™ (@BattlesNBA) October 2, 2017
Irving made his TD Garden debut Monday night, playing against the Hornets for the Celtics’ first preseason game. It was Gordon Hayward’s first outing in white and green, too; both finished with unelectrifying preseason point totals. “It was just so wide out there,” Irving told reporters after the game. “I don’t even know if you’ll understand what I’m saying — when we start off the game, my eyes were just wide.”
The 25-year-old was talking about the challenges of adjusting to a new team (a routine Q&A topic for a recently traded player); his delivery was, as is common for Kyrie now, abstract. For one, he was wearing a hat that read “Popularity contests are not truth contests” with the text flipped sideways. The internet perceived that Jaden Smith meme of an expression as another jab at LeBron James. But nothing Irving has said post-trade has been insulting to his former teammate — on that First Take appearance, he refused to either slam or compliment LeBron, instead offering impalpable quotes like “time will tell” — which makes it worth wondering whether Irving is just playing the public rather than slighting Cavaliers.
Then again, if it is coded, he’s not the only Celtic to speak that language. In a recent Complex interview, Jaylen Brown called the trade — losing Isaiah Thomas and gaining Kyrie — a change to the team’s dynamic.
“We’ll see if it’s for good or bad, time will tell,” Brown said. “But it’s still a little weird to me, to be honest, because when I came in everything they stressed was culture, environment, Celtic basketball. Now, it’s like what is the environment, the culture, what is Celtic basketball?”
That sounds like the gentle questioning of a franchise’s loyalty to me. And even on the Cavaliers, coded language is king. On media day LeBron said he “tried to give [Irving] everything,” while also referring to the grown 25-year-old man multiple times as “the kid.” Tristan Thompson said that the Dwyane Wade signing was good because he “[hadn’t] had a lob since Delly.” (OK, that, pretty clearly, is a slight aimed toward Kyrie.)
Kyrie’s sideways “popularity contest” hat is much more cryptic than anything any other player has said over the summer. After all, this is the same guy who explained last week that he really does not believe the earth is flat, after watching the (round) world laugh at him for a summer. Irving called his fake-out an “exploitation tactic” to expose how people would react. “Does that knock my intellectual capacity?” Irving said on Toucher and Rich, “or the fact that I can think different things than you can?”
Enigmatic, right? Just like the hat. And being “very much woke.” Irving is at once your toked-out sociology-major college roommate and the professor laughing at us all. And leading up to the season opener on October 17, Celtics at Cavs, Irving will continue stepping into this own light, being so evasive that we’ll be left searching for meaning between the lines.