After Broken Promises, Celtics Turn the Page
“He’s the reason I wear number 11…I want to be the reason that no one else will…”
The line is forever burned into the minds of Green Teamers everywhere. At that moment, it was a powerful message, one that then-Boston Celtics point guard Kyrie Irving teamed up with Nike to make about his father, and to Celtics nation, one about never giving up. A line meant to galvanize fans of the organization, and of the game of basketball itself.
Interesting how things change with time. That commercial aired November 22, 2018. 313 days later, Irving is long gone, and he has not sent out a tweet since.
Although the message holds new meaning, it still serves as a rallying cry of sorts for members of the team. Just in a new manner.
At approximately 5 p.m. June 30, 2019, Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN reported that both Irving, as well as Kevin Durant, were signing deals with the Brooklyn Nets. Almost exactly one hour later, he would also report that Kemba Walker was leaving the Charlotte Hornets for a new home – Boston, signing a four-year, $141 million max deal with the Celtics.
In the blink of an eye, the entire landscape of the league had been altered, and ever since, Walker has been faced with the same questions regarding Irving, and how he plans to take on the newfound role as the leader of one of the nation’s greatest franchises. This was no different Sept. 30 at the team’s Media Day in Canton, Massachusetts. When posed the question as to how he will handle expectations, Walker remained reserved.
“I’m sure there will be expectations,” Walker said. “Just because of the organization. I don’t want to say much about Kyrie, just because of the organization. We have a really good team, so there should be expectations. And I’m very excited about that. That’s something that I haven’t had much throughout my career. So I’m looking forward to trying my best to meet the challenge.”
For other members of the Celtics, most notably “the kids”, which the Boston media refers to them as, it is a chance to turn the page. When Irving re-injured his knee during the 2017-18 season, all the pressure was thrown onto the likes of Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown. The two youngsters not only exceeded expectations, they passed the test handed to them with flying colors, going on an impeccable playoff run, which would end at the hands of LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals.
A common criticism began to gain traction during the 2018-19 campaign however. May that postseason run have created more damage, than it did good? Certain pundits felt that the younger members of the Celtics may have started to become big-headed, that they were better than they truly are. Some felt it may have been the reason that Irving became disgruntled, that the group wasn’t responding to his form of leadership.
After sweeping the Indiana Pacers in the First Round of the NBA Playoffs, the Celtics struggled mightily against the likes of Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Milwaukee Bucks, as they lost the series, four games to one.
Tatum was the first to meet with reporters at Media Day, and gave his thoughts on the previous few months.
“Think that’s the best thing about what happened about last year,” Tatum said. “Just a teaching experience. Especially for me, just being young, in my second year. Something I could look back on, ask myself what I could’ve done better, and try to apply it to this season. You can’t change what happened in the past, just worry about what’s next.”
Then, we have Enes Kanter. Well known for being an outspoken athlete, Kanter managed to use Irving’s exit to his advantage. In a few short months, the recently-signed center has become a fan favorite. During his introductory press conference July 17, Kanter was asked as to why he chose No. 11 for his jersey. His response?
“Well, it was my old jersey number by the way, number eleven,” Kanter chuckled. “And I want to be the reason no one else wears it…I had to say it.”
For now, the page has been turned, and a new chapter in Celtics history has begun. Boston will open its preseason schedule with a tilt against old friend Terry Rozier, and the Charlotte Hornets October 6.
Always a character, Kanter brought a dessert platter into Media Day for reporters, and even announced that he plans on joining the WWE once his NBA career concludes. Then, he was once again asked about his jersey choice, and he was quick to answer.
“I took it,” the 27-year old Turkish athlete joked.
He then gave a full explanation.
“Right after I came here, this jersey number was (for) the ‘guy who shall not be named,'” Kanter said. “But it was just fun, because I’ve got to bring some positive energy, bring something. Not just to the team, but the whole city…Again, I respect the guy a lot as a basketball player. I respect the guy a lot because he’s one of the best point guards in the league. But it was just fun, because now the fans are pumped up, and they’re all fired up to go.”