Boston Celtics

Kyrie Irving, Gordon Hawyard share a Kobe Bryant connection

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Kyrie Irving, Gordon Hawyard share a Kobe Bryant connection

BOSTON – Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward share more than just the same March 23 birthdate.

They also share a connection with Kobe Bryant who for years was a pain the Celtics you-know-what, but since retirement has been a voice of encouragement and assistance to past Celtics, such as Isaiah Thomas, as well as Green Team newcomers.

MORE: VIDEO: 1-on-1 interviews with Irving, Hayward and Ainge

One of the many reasons the Celtics made Hayward a top priority this summer when he became a free agent was because of the steady growth in his game that, in part, was aided by Hayward spending time with Bryant last summer.

Part of that growth came about last summer when he spent a week working out with Bryant.

“He's one of the best to ever do it," Hayward told ESPN’s Zach Lowe. “And it was one of my best weeks ever."

Hayward wanted to become a more diverse, more efficient scorer.

In addition to averaging a career-high 21.9 points per game, which garnered Hayward his first All-Star selection, he also shot a career-high 50.6 percent on his 2-point attempts.

And as Hayward struggled with the tough decision between leaving the Utah Jazz after seven seasons to play elsewhere, Bryant (as well as LeBron James) was part of a six-minute video put on by the Celtics highlighting how great a sports town Boston was, even for visiting foes.
 
That would eventually become one of the many influences that ultimately played a factor in Hayward’s decision to sign a four-year, $127.8 million deal with the Celtics.
 
As for Irving, his relationship with Bryant really took off in 2012 when Bryant was part of Team USA and Irving was on the Team USA select team of younger players who practiced against Team USA.
 
Irving’s respect for Bryant was evident from the very beginning.
 
But don’t get that confused with deference or fear of the Black Mamba, whom Irving challenged to a game of 1-on-1.
 
Bryant wasn’t interested.
 
“He thinks he’s talking to a high school kid?” Irving says into the camera.

Kobe’s response?
 
“You just came out of high school, kid,” Bryant said. “You played two games [it was actually 11] in college.”
 
That exchange set the foundation for a mentor/mentee relationship that has led to Irving reaching out to Bryant in his highest moments, like having a FaceTime moment with Bryant in 2016 when the Cavs won the NBA title or in 2015 when foot and knee injuries made him ineffective in Cleveland’s second-round series that year against Chicago.
 
“During the Chicago series he was the first person I called when I had my knee issues," Irving told reporters. “I asked him a few things. He knew a little bit about [Tom] Thibodeau's defense and how they are going to corral me and what they are going to do knowing I'm hurt and he just told me how to be more effective in the scoring areas as well as on the defensive end.

Irving added, “We talked for about 30 minutes and he gave me as great a talk as I needed at that time. I was in a terrible mental space knowing I couldn't be as effective as I wanted to be. He was the first person I called and we've had a great dialogue over the last few years so it's been great."

During Thomas’ amazing playoff run for Boston shortly after the untimely death of his younger sister, Bryant was once again assisting a Celtics player.

Thomas described how Bryant would help him break down video to see things that, frankly, only Bryant would see.

“He’s definitely helped,” Thomas said during the Celtics’ second-round series against Chicago last season. “Tells me what he sees and what I should be watching for on film.”

Other players throughout the league have from time to time called upon the Black Mamba for assistance.
 
But to know how passionate the rivalry between Boston has been before and during Bryant’s time with the Lakers, it’s refreshing to see he’s not the least bit stingy with his basketball wisdom.
 
“Every time we played since I was a rookie, I was just trying to earn his respect," Irving told reporters earlier. "Guys that have come before me, I never forget their groundwork. Even guys that have come before Kobe, that allowed him to leave a legacy on this game that will last forever."
 

30 teams in 30 days: Grit-and-Grind days are over in Memphis

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30 teams in 30 days: Grit-and-Grind days are over in Memphis

We’ll take a look at all 30 teams in the next 30 days as they prepare for the 2017-2018 regular season, which is when the real fireworks begin! Today's team: The Memphis Grizzlies. 

Memphis is no different than any other NBA team when it comes to making changes.
 
It’s an inevitable part of the NBA.

 
There are changes, and then there’s losing Zach Randolph and Tony Allen to free agency.
 
They didn’t lose the face of their franchise.
 
They lost its backbone.
 
And when you throw in the departure of Vince Carter, the Grizzlies are getting younger and more athletic and maybe just as significant, further removed from the physical, rough-and-tough brand of basketball they played for years.

You’ll have to go to YouTube to see Grit-and-Grind anymore.
 
Still, this isn’t all that surprising when you consider they brought in a new coach last year, David Fizdale, who came from Miami but also spent time on the bench as an assistant in Atlanta and Golden State.

Those teams played a more position-less, free-flowing brand of basketball compared to the Grizzlies.
 
So what we’re starting to see now is a Memphis team that will eventually look and hopefully play, more akin to what their coach envisions.
 
While the DNA of this team has changed dramatically, the Grizzlies will still be among the teams battling for one of the last playoff spots in the West this season.
 
They return Marc Gasol who still ranks among the best centers in the NBA. They also have point guard Mike Conley Jr., who unfortunately still holds the title for the best veteran player to not be named to an NBA All-Star team.
 
He’s coming off his best season as a pro when he averaged career highs in scoring (20.5 points per game) and shooting (45.9 percent from the field, 40.7 percent on 3’s) along with 3.5 rebounds, also a career benchmark.
 
In addition, Conley’s 6.3 assists per game were just 0.2 assists away from tying his career best in that category.
 
But for Memphis to surprise many and extend its playoff run to eight years in a row, the Grizzlies’ inside-outside tandem of Gasol and Conley, will need help.
 
A healthy Chandler Parsons would be a huge boost.
 
One of the more versatile wing players in the league, injuries have left Parsons a shell of the player that he once was.
 
He has had each of his past three seasons end prematurely due to injuries, so it’s hard to imagine Memphis will be banking on him to be healthy enough to make a major impact on the team this season.
 
They added Ben McLemore and Tyreke Evans, both from Sacramento, to the roster this season.
 
Both come into training camp competing for a starting job.
 
The Grizzlies also have high hopes for 6-9 forward Rade Zagorac, a second-round pick in 2016 acquired from Boston who spent an additional year overseas before coming over to the NBA.
 
The new faces will be critical to the success of Memphis in those post Grit-and-Grind era.
 
Key free agent/draft/trade additions: Ben McLemore (Sacramento); Tyreke Evans (Sacramento).
 
Key losses: Zach Randolph (Sacramento); Tony Allen (New Orleans); Vince Carter (Sacramento).
 
Rookies of note: Rade Zagorac; Ivan Rabb; Dillon Brooks.
 
Expectations: 33-49 (fourth in the Southwest Division, 11th in the West).
 

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Blakely: Light up a birthday cigar for Red

Blakely: Light up a birthday cigar for Red

BOSTON -- He stood just 5 feet and 10 inches off the ground, but make no mistake about it.
 
Arnold “Red” Auerbach, the architect who shaped the Boston Celtics into a dynasty of the likes the NBA has not seen before or since, was a basketball giant who still casts a tremendously large shadow over the league.

MORE ON RED

 
Today marks what would have been Auerbach’s 100th birthday, a milestone worth noting for a man who did so much for the game.
 
Auerbach, who passed away on October 28, 2006, did more than make the Boston Celtics a household name.
 
His up-tempo brand of play made the Celtics -- and the NBA, for that matter -- must-watch basketball at a time when the league was still establishing itself.
 
But the true measure of Auerbach’s worth goes far beyond the 16 NBA championships (nine as a head coach, seven as an executive) or the countless Hall of Famers who played for him.
 
His greatest accomplishments can be seen in the lives he impacted, the players who got to know him beyond as a head coach, and the opponents who had little choice but to respect him for what he accomplished.
 
“As I reflect on when I was playing . . . I completely trusted Red Auerbach,” Bill Russell said in an earlier interiew. “That he would not do anything at my expense to make himself look better. I had that trust and it was a bond. So whenever he said something to me, I took it that he was trying to help. And that’s very difficult to get with players and coaches.”


 
Russell shared a story about Auerbach wanting to talk to him after a team dinner shortly before the start of the 1958-59 season.


 
“So we go up to his suite and [Auerbach] says, ‘Listen, tomorrow morning, when we start practice I’m going to be all over you,’ ” Russell recalled. “ 'Don’t pay any attention to it. If I can’t yell at you, I can’t yell at anybody. I’m yelling at you, but it’s not really aimed at you. It’s for the other guys.' ’”
 
Russell went along with it, but he acknowledged it wasn’t easy.
 
“So the next day, it’s like I gave him an unlimited budget and he went over it,” said Russell who immediately broke out into laughter.”
 
A few years later, Auerbach thanked Russell for allowing him to do that.
 
“I said, ‘Red, I came this close to attacking you,' ” quipped Russell.
 
Auerbach’s players weren’t the only ones who held him in high esteem.
 
“Red Auerbach helped the Celtics to win, immeasurably,” Los Angeles Lakers great Wilt Chamberlain said prior to his death in 1999. “I’ve never been a huge Red Auerbach fan. He was the adversary and sometimes he really ticked me off. [But he] was able to do things with his team that no other coach didand he helped to make them the best franchise in sports. Just like [John] Wooden did for UCLA . . . Red did so in spades in basketball professionally.”
 
The NBA logo himself, Jerry West, also had high praise for Auerbach.
 
“He was one of the first coaches that commanded a lot of attention,” said West, now a consultant to the Los Angeles Clippers. “The thing that was most noticeable in my mind was how hard he got the players to play for him every night. His players played so hard, it was unbelievable. His teams played a very aggressive kind of game, both offensively and defensively. They played with a confidence that was hard to believe sometimes. You’d have some guy come down and shoot one on four. He encouraged that style of play. He wanted an open game. He knew how to play with the officials. His demeanor on the sideline was very interesting. He knew how to motivate his players and he was just one of those people, sometimes they’re hard to describe how they get the most out of people. He had a skill very few coaches have been able to emulate.”
 
Added former Celtic Bill Walton: “There is no franchise that has contributed more to the NBA than the Boston Celtics. And to me, that all comes from Red Auerbach. Red’s ability to identify the talent to put the team together.”
 
But as much as Auerbach embraced the spotlight that shined so brightly for so many years on him and his players, it was those quiet moments to himself, when the final ashes of yet another victory cigar have smoldered down, that were times to reflect on what was an amazing basketball journey that took this scrappy kid from Brooklyn to the highest of heights in professional basketball.

“The best moment was when you win your first championship,” Auerbach recalled in an interview prior to his death. "And after the game I went home, I sat in a room, a chair, ‘you’re one lucky S-O-B,' talking to myself. 'Imagine a guy like you, what you did, your background, you’re the coach of the greatest basketball team in the world. How good can it get? You’re one lucky guy.' ”
 
Maybe.
 
But Celtics fans and the NBA are the really lucky ones who have benefited greatly from this 5-foot-10 basketball giant.
 
“His legacy," said West, "will be there forever."

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