Kyrie Irving Says He's Grown Since Last Playoff Matchup Against Celtics

Dallas Mavericks guard Kyrie Irving (11) dribbles during the second quarter against the Minnesota Timberwolves.
Dallas Mavericks guard Kyrie Irving (11) dribbles during the second quarter against the Minnesota Timberwolves. / Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

The Dallas Mavericks and Boston Celtics will be squaring off in the 2024 NBA Finals, meaning star guard Kyrie Irving will be up against one of his former teams with a championship on the line.

Irving spent two seasons with the Celtics from 2017-19, and his exit from the franchise was anything but ceremonious. After joining the rival Brooklyn Nets in '19, the relationship soured further over the next few seasons, including one infamous moment in which Irving could be seen "flipping the bird" at a fan in the TD Garden crowd after a Game 1 loss back in the 2022 playoffs.

Irving was fined $50,000 for that incident, and he admitted to ESPN's Tim MacMahon that he doesn't feel his actions then were strong reflection of who he is now.

"...when we played in the playoffs and everyone saw me flip off the birds and kind of lose my s--- a little bit–that wasn't a great reflection of who I am and how I like to compete on a high level," said Irving, via ESPN. "It wasn't a great reflection on my end towards the next generation on what it means to control your emotions in that type of environment, no matter what people are yelling at you."

Since pairing up with Luka Doncic in Dallas, Irving has earned nothing but rave reviews from teammates, who often look to him as the team leader. His leadership culminated in the franchise's first NBA Finals appearance since 2011, and it's a trait he feels he truly honed in on while with the Celtics, who were a young and upcoming team during his tenure.

"...the greatest thing I learned from Boston was just being able to manage not only my emotions or just what's going on on a day-to-day basis of being a leader of a team or being one of the leaders, and having young guys around you that have their own goals, but you have to learn how to put the big picture first," he said.

Four wins separate Irving from the second ring of his career, and although his past with the Celtics figures to be a prominent storyline in this NBA Finals matchup, he'll look to demonstrate the growth he's made as a leader and help guide Dallas to a championship.

Karl Rasmussen


Karl Rasmussen is a writer on Sports Illustrated’s Breaking & Trending News Team. A University of Oregon alum, his work has appeared on 12up and ClutchPoints. He’s a loyal Tottenham, Jets, Yankees and Ducks fan.