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Kyrie Irving Is the New Kobe Bryant

He’s mastering the craft of basketball and the self-serious press conference in a way his one-time idol would recognize  

Boston Celtics Introduce Kyrie Irving Getty Images

I have a problem. I’m a New Yorker who believes Earth is round, and yet the Boston Celtics’ Kyrie Irving has won me over. Is it October 17 yet?

On Friday, Boston flew Gordon Hayward in from his summer abode in San Diego and Irving from the Uncle Drew movie set in Atlanta to formally introduce both as Celtics. I look forward to the day when the Selfless Gordo narrative begins with how he waited nearly two months for an introductory presser, and when the time finally came, he agreed to share it with Kyrie Irving. But that story is for the future.

Today we are here to discuss Kyrie’s first Boston press conference. It’s difficult to remember the last time he faced the media for more than 30 minutes as the primary focus. In most of his media encounters over the last three years, he typically spoke for less than 10 minutes, often grudgingly, and answered in platitudes while flanked by LeBron James. Boston Kyrie is a new guy. First, he shaved. Second, he seems affable. Third, he already has nicknames and reverence for his teammates.

I’ll continue calling Hayward by the moniker “Gordo,” my own personal tribute to Adam Lamberg’s character on Lizzie McGuire, but I encourage Kyrie to write his own language. Meanwhile, Irving is already showing some affection for Al Horford. Horford is beloved around the league, but who knew Kyrie was in the Al hive?

Previously, the most affinity Irving had shown for his teammates was going to clubs with Iman Shumpert and appearing on Channing Frye and Richard Jefferson’s podcast.

NBA players form relationships through common endorsements, shared college teams, offseason workouts, USA Basketball camps, and a host of events that civilians (and media) like me don’t understand. Hayward explained that Kyrie was recruiting him to come to Cleveland in 2013, but LeBron’s eventual return precluded that move, so perhaps they have a friendship. But is there any reason to believe that the Celtics collegiality evinced by Irving is shared by his new teammates? There’s no evidence otherwise, but there was another famous player who referred to collegial relationships that were never born out.

As far as I know, Kobe has no close NBA friends. And that’s all right! He’s one of the best players of all time and he shaped an entire generation of basketball fans and maintained a firm grip over Southern California’s collective psyche for more than a decade. He won over non-Californians by taking Brandy to her prom, being an incredible individual talent, playing in a huge market, and in his latter years, speaking with a frankness and cerebralness we rarely see from professional athletes. Kyrie is on this track now.

Irving used this press conference to establish himself as a man of the world (the shape of it was not discussed), while he foreground his obsession with both getting better at basketball and watching videos of himself.

This is what a player who feels free to pursue his own game sounds like. He’s hyperaware of what is said about him. He’s a narcissist, driven by the desire for individual greatness. Hopefully for the Celtics, his greatness will power the team as Kobe did for his Lakers after Shaq left. Boston hasn’t had a main guy since Paul Pierce departed for Brooklyn. Isaiah Thomas undoubtedly carried them last season, but they’ve been a largely team defined by Brad Stevens’s coaching potential and Danny Ainge’s absurd collection of assets. No single player has been in the spotlight for extended stretches. If the introductory press conference was any indication, Kyrie has arrived to pursue his “craft” while speaking with a candor he never indulged in while in Cleveland. And if that’s the case, Irving has at least one new fan.