Why Kyrie Irving declined to be on the cover of Sports Illustrated with Gordon Hayward and Al Horford

"He’s a different guy."

Kyrie Irving
Kyrie Irving during a Celtics preseason game in 2018. –AP Photo/Charles Krupa

Ahead of the new season, Sports Illustrated launched its traditional NBA preview. Celtics fans will enjoy seeing Gordon Hayward and Al Horford standing tall in the cover photo, though they might have a lingering question.

Where is Kyrie Irving?

The 26-year-old guard is unquestionably one of Boston’s pillars in the upcoming year, yet is conspicuously absent from the cover.

As usual, Irving made a deliberate choice regarding the Sports Illustrated omission.

“Big three, big four. . . ,” Irving told Sports Illustrated writer Andrew Sharp. “With this team, it just can’t happen. We all play a huge role in making this a championship-caliber team. I’m grateful for the opportunity, but if it’s not all of us, it’s none of us.”

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His commitment to a total team concept begins with Boston’s younger talent.

“It’s helping out the younger generation,” Irving told Sharp. “They are the future of our league. Obviously, I’m presently here. But those guys are really, really special. I’m not the veteran that’s mad that everyone is taking more shots. Nah, man. I want to see a great team.”

Described by Sharp as “difficult to read” for outsiders, Irving presents a similar challenge to his own teammates.

“I mean, I think he’s hard to read among insiders,” said Horford. “You know, he’s a different guy.”

Never one to be uniformly categorized, however, Irving also alluded to a slightly different approach regarding the possibility of another NBA Finals against the Golden State Warriors:

I can go get a bucket. And the Warriors know it too. Going against them for three straight years, you develop that sort of competitive rivalry. But the respect is there. Obviously, they’ve been the victor two out of three times. You give respect where it’s due. They’re a special unit. But sometimes special units can be beat by special individuals.

Irving has been on the SI cover on several occasions. This includes 2014, when he posed with LeBron James and Kevin Love as part of Cleveland’s version of a “Big Three.”

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