BOSTON – Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward engaged in genial banter Friday morning when they gathered with Boston media for an introductory press conference at TD Garden. The dapper duo exchanged playful jokes and nudges as they yielded questions from reporters and soaked in their first collective experience as members of the Boston Celtics.
The pair of All-Stars have been teammates for just one day, but judging by their jubilant interactions atop the podium, it seemed as if they had been colleagues for years.
Midway through the introductory presser, Hayward labeled their unification as “destiny,” comically noting the fact that he and Irving share a March 23 birthday. While the statement was made somewhat in jest, Hayward may be onto something; their genuine chemistry throughout the 32-minute presser was obvious, and that should continue to enhance as they move forward as the two newest faces of the Celtics franchise.
Friday was not the first interaction between Irving and Hayward. In fact, this wasn’t even the first time that the pair pursued fellowship.
Irving attempted to recruit Hayward to Cleveland during the summer of 2013 when Hayward was a restricted free agent. According to Hayward, they were keen on potentially becoming teammates.
“Kyrie came in and said how much fun it would be if I would be on the team and he kind of recruited me to go there,” Hayward recollected. “And then LeBron (James) [signed with Cleveland] and that kind of squashed that whole thing. But it came full circle and here we are now.
“I think we’ve always had a good relationship,” Hayward added, noting that they played together on the USA men’s basketball team. “I haven’t spent too much time with him, but I’m looking forward to doing that and learning from him.”
The concept of learning and developing is what drew Hayward and Irving to the Celtics. They both saw something special brewing in Boston and wanted to be a part of it as the organization pursues its 18th championship.
Irving spent his first six seasons in Cleveland, where he won a title of his own and had the opportunity to play alongside an all-time great in James. This summer, he expressed a desire to move on from the Cavaliers so that he could begin a new chapter in a new city where he could maximize his fullest potential while building a championship-caliber team.
“I wanted to be part of something bigger than myself,” said Irving. “And when Boston came knocking, I was answering.”
With the Celtics, he saw a young, promising core, a mastermind of a coach in Brad Stevens, a go-getter of a general manager in Danny Ainge, and a basketball culture and fan base that is unparalleled to any other in the NBA. He saw it as the perfect environment for him to develop as he enters his prime basketball years.
“When you have the unique opportunity of having special people and being a part of an organization like this, and they do everything possible to put themselves out there to make such a great thing happen, you’re just appreciative,” said the 25-year-old four-time All-Star. “I’m grateful and I can’t wait to get on the floor and maximize my potential. I just want to be around those incredible coaches and those incredible minds and incredible individuals … Boston came right at the exact time and it was meant to be that way.”
For Hayward, the opportunity seemed meant to be as well. Joining the Celtics allows the 27-year-old to reunite with Stevens, who was Hayward’s college coach at Butler University.
After spending his first seven NBA seasons with the Utah Jazz, Hayward sees his transition to Boston as a chance to fully develop, just like Irving hopes to do.
“I think that I’ve kind of scratched the surface of what I can become,” said Hayward, who averaged career-bests of 21.9 points and 5.4 rebounds per game last season. “And I think that being here in the city with the fans, it’s just really exciting to be here. I think it’s going to be a great year, and for sure I think that we can all improve and get better.”
Adding two All-Stars places high expectations on the Celtics, who had the best regular-season record in the East last season and are coming off of a trip to the Eastern Conference Finals. That being said, Boston is the third-youngest team in the league and will return only four players from last season’s squad.
That places some pressure on the newest, veteran additions, but Irving and Hayward are ready to take on whatever responsibilities are thrown their way.
“We’re all in this together and we understand that a lot of responsibility of growing this team and making this team go will predominately be on [Gordon and I],” Irving said as he looked out at the throng of media members. “But at the same time we’re empowering our teammates and elevating them.”
Irving then turned toward Hayward and told him, “This will get very real, and we’ll be tested in a number of ways, ‘G.’ But I can’t wait, man, because the fact that already everyone is trying to put all this pressure on our team that we just put together and we’re just incorporating ourselves into is Step 1. And that starts in Day 1 of training camp, and it will extend throughout. And our identity will be formed and the existing culture that they have in Boston will only grow from here.”
As of now, Boston’s identity is far from formed. The Celtics are sporting almost an entirely different roster from last season, and it will take time for the players to grow with each other in order to maximize each others’ potential.
Friday marked the beginning of it all, as Hayward and Irving began to build a bond off the court. It’s the first step in building something special on the court, as they look to help lead the Celtics franchise back to glory.