It's early October and the Boston Celtics are hosting an event for season-ticket holders at TD Garden. Included is a question-and-answer session led by player-turned-analyst Brian Scalabrine, appearances by legends like Paul Pierce and lots of schmoozing. The very nature of the evening is to make the most faithful, and wealthy, fans feel special. You pay thousands of dollars to support and cheer on the team, here's a night that's just for you.
With Kyrie Irving, Gordon Hayward and Al Horford seated a few feet beyond the free throw line, Scalabrine sets Irving up to send Boston fans into a frenzy. While musing that Kevin Garnett's #5 will one day hang in the rafters, the Red Mamba asks Irving, at the time just 60 games into his Celtics' career and coming off a season-ending injury, how important having his jersey retired one day is to him.
This is where the 26-year-old makes what could become his most famous public mishap. Instead of gushing about the rich history of the Celtics, pointing out that he has a lot of basketball in front of him, or even putting the goal of winning a championship above of else, Irving took it upon himself to pledge his allegiance to Boston nearly nine months before his future could officially be resolved.
"It's quite important," he said of having his #11 hang in TD Garden. "I appreciate that Scal, but I've shared it with some of my teammates as well as the organization and everyone else in Boston. If you guys will have me back, I plan on re-signing here next year."
Those last seven words sent the crowd (and Twitter) into a frenzy, while removing any speculation about Irving's long-term future. The rest of the NBA could forget about fitting the superstar guard into a max-contract slot, Irving's free agency in July quickly became boring.
The news not only seemed to take Irving off the board this coming summer, but it also armed Danny Ainge with a vital recruiting tool. Come to the Celtics, either via free agency or trade (cough, AD, cough) and play alongside Irving for the next handful of years. Contend for titles; maybe wrestle the throne away from the Golden State Warriors.
While Boston hasn't dominated as expected this season, Golden State might be the only team with a brighter outlook over the next few years.
That future potential took a hit on Friday afternoon.
Less than 24 hours after the New York Knicks traded Kristaps Porzingis to the Dallas Mavericks, creating a second max-contract slot in the process, the Celtics conducted shootaround at Madison Square Garden. Amid a report of growing uncertainly surrounding his future, Kyrie was asked about his commitment to the Celtics beyond this season.
"At the end of the day I'm going to do what I feel is best for my career and that’s just where it stands," he answered. "My focus this season is winning a championship with the Boston Celtics. Obviously we had goals coming into this season and the primary goal is to win a championship, so that’s where my focus is."
When pressed, Irving gave a blunt response: "Ask me July 1."
He also conceded that he got wrapped up in the emotion of things back in October and that he's already frustrated by the free agency process in general. And really, who could blame him?
Kyrie is famously introspective and thoughtful -- flat Earth anyone? -- but that doesn't mean he didn't become a prisoner of the moment in front of Boston's season-ticket holders, with two All-Star teammates beside him and Pierce just a few feet away. Maybe he got ahead of himself, or maybe he's changed his mind. Either way, he shouldn't have to justify anything said five months before he can sign a contract of any kind.
The October declaration that he'd planned to re-sign with the Celtics was no different than when a coach, general manager or owner promises his or her fan base that they'll bring a championship to their respective city. It occurs all the time, almost never happens and only sometimes surfaces as a blemish when that person leaves or gets fired.
Kyrie hasn't yet left the Celtics and even if he does, guess what? Things change.
At one point not too long ago, Isaiah Thomas was a franchise cornerstone in Boston, then Ainge changed his mind and that was that. Just last summer Masai Ujiri told DeMar DeRozan not to worry about a potential trade, then promptly sent him to the San Antonio Spurs when Kawhi Leonard became available.
That's NBA basketball and it's also why Kyrie Irving has done nothing wrong.