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A Conversation with NBA Boston Celtics in London 2018

Kyrie Irving

 Is coming to London a good way of securing more votes for the All-Star fan vote?
Kyrie: I’m appreciative of all fan votes. It’s great to meet fans of basketball and fans of sport and I get to mark off my bucket list playing at the O2 Arena. I can’t wait for that experience. To have the opportunity to come to London and grow the game of basketball for the NBA. The world of sport has a way of connecting people all over and I appreciate being one of pioneers of that.

 What are your expectations on tomorrow’s match-up?
Kyrie: It’ll be an up and down pace – those guys are young and active and they do a great job. Ben Simmons especially is doing a great job and playing at an unbelievable pace and being aggressive. For us, we just have to play with our unique intensity on the defensive end and make them uncomfortable and really put on a show for the fans and bring the Celtic pride over here in London.

Is it a different animal now wearing the Celtics green?
Kyrie: The expectations when you wear the green are high. As I explained yesterday, you don’t have to wear the green to understand or be a fan of the organisation to understand what Celtics pride actually stands for. You see some of the players that have come through the organisation. You get a sense of it by what they talk about the organisation and the conviction with which they speak. Just being out there with Boston across your chest means a lot.

How much does your relationship with Nike mean to you?
Kyrie: It’s an unbelievable thing I feel truly blessed and I take full advantage of being able to create something that’s great for the culture, something that I can be proud of and something that I could show my family for years to come. To be with the best brand in the world, Nike and to have the freedom to create and do things that inspire others. Innovation on their end always wanting to be the leading brand and their technology, in terms of performance and I’m really fortunate to be a part of that. So many athletes have come through Nike and I’m just glad my name is in there alongside them.

How do you make sure this game isn’t a distraction?
We’re just going to go back out there and acclimate ourselves to playing NBA basketball again. We’ve been off for about three days now and I know the guys are pretty fresh and ready to get back out there. Focus is on the game, we’ll prepare as we always do and it’s our job to go and put on a show.

What are the differences playing against the 76ers this year compared to last year?
The flow – of course Brett Brown does a great job of everyone ready. The pieces are coming back and they’re really forming a team that they want to have for the future and I’m pretty sure that the guys behind the scenes – the head honchos at the organisation are trying to make moves either at the trade deadline or in free agency so we’ll see what happens but a young team like this is going to be great for years to come. You’re always excited to go up against teams like that.

 

Jaylen Brown

Jaylen how are you enjoying your time in London?
Jaylen: I love it, it’s probably one of my favourite cities that I’ve ever been to for sure. Just the atmosphere is dope, I love the music here too. I’m a fan of a lot of artists here; Giggs, Skepta, 6/7 – I don’t want to leave any of those guys out. All of those guys I’m a big fan of.

What have you been able to do so far?
Jaylen: I did all my sight-seeing this summer, it’s my second time in London so I don’t have to do any sight-seeing. Just hanging out with the guys and using it as a team-bonding experience and that’s pretty much it. We’re still here for business, getting ready to play a big game – it’s something we definitely do not want to lose. I’m looking forward to that, I’m excited.

What are the expectations for tomorrow?
Jaylen: We expect to come out and play basketball. We had a few days of rest, we had a few days to scout the 76ers and I’m sure they’re going to come out with a lot of energy. So we’ve got to come out and play well, they’ve got a lot of talent over there. Ben Simmons, Joel Embid so we’ve got to come out and play hard or they’re going to beat us. So we need to be ready to play.

Will tonight be your first Premier League match?
Jaylen: Yeah this is like a dream come true, I would say soccer is up there with basketball. I love soccer very much so. I remember I had a dream when I was like seven years old that I played in the Premier League for Man United. I had a dream that I was running on to the soccer field and they were all screaming and chanting my name so hopefully that comes through but I doubt it.

Did you have a team?
Jaylen: Not really, I like a lot of players. A lot of my friends like Arsenal so I’ve kind of developed into an Arsenal fan and so it’s going to be really dope to get to see Arsenal vs Chelsea. It’s a historic match-up, I don’t think it’s a Premier League game, it’s a cup game and some of the starters aren’t playing but it should be fun.

Did you get to do anything last night after the dinner?
Jaylen: Me and the guys hung out. After the dinner we got back, we talked and chopped it up. I had a good time out here in London. Today I’m trying to get as much sleep as I can so I can be refreshed for tomorrow. I’m getting more adjusted to the time zone and time period but I’m adjusted quite yet. After this soccer game I think I’m just going to go to sleep.

Can you imagine what this team will be like when Kyrie feels he has it together?
Jaylen: Yeah it’s scary, especially how young we are. It would be great to have this group together for 10 plus years, you never know because there’s a lot of politics that goes in to the NBA. I really have grown fond of this group, we get along really well. We don’t step on each other’s toes, I think we like playing with each other. So I hope this group sticks together for a long time.

As a guy that came into this league at a very young age, what’s the key when you’re that young when you don’t have the benefit of experience that some of your older NBA teammates have, of being able to come in and really make an impact?
Jaylen: It’s tough, every situation is different. Me and Jason were the same pick but our situations were very different. I just came in and tried to adapt, that’s the key word. Coming in to the league whatever you’ve got to do to fit in and stick and find your niche. Adaption is the key to survival in the league.

How much does it help to have in your team veterans that aren’t passed it?
Jaylen: It’s been great especially the guys that we have. Al Horford – I’d give anyone a hundred bucks to find something bad to say about him and I doubt you’re going to find it. That’s just the type of guy he is, he does everything the right way and he’s a great person to learn from to have in the locker room for us to ask questions about our off-the-court life and on-the-court life. He’s been an All Star a few times, everything he does is just the right way so I really appreciate Al in the locker room. Al’s a great guy.

You had an outspoken conversation with The Guardian are you concerned about any backlash and how do you view your role in social issues?
Jaylen: I’m not really concerned about any backlash, I feel like the piece was written a while ago so I don’t remember what I said. That was probably just my opinion, a lot of people reached out to me on it and said it was well written and that I should read it. I think it did a good job depicting what I wanted to say.

 

Al Horford
What are you doing to enjoy your time here?
Al: Last night we had a team dinner, that was really nice. We went out to a restaurant – staff, players, family and we just got together and had a great meal so that was really good. Today probably go out to dinner again and then probably just walk around the city and so something like that low-key before the game.

It’s a unique situation when you can have dinner in season with players, coaches, family and staff – what can you take from that?
Al: I think it’s just great anytime you get a chance to get together with everybody, outside of the court. We get to spend time, get to know each other a little more in a different country, trying different foods and things like that. I think it’s pretty cool, it makes our group tighter. So it was a good experience. It helps to bring our group even closer being out here, spending more time together. I think it’s all for the better of the group.

Kyrie has talked about how he’s still got a lot to learn, does it seem like he’s reached a learning curve to you?Al: I think everybody goes through that because I remember last year we kept talking throughout the year and people kept asking ‘are you comfortable?’, ‘are you good?’, ‘do you have it figured it out?’ and it took me all season until the play-offs to really find my way. With a new team that’s what happens. I mean he’s so talented and coach puts him positions that he’s going to be successful in. I think that when he really, really figures it out and gets comfortable and we get comfortable with him – you’re going to see his game go up even more.

Can predict what you guys are going to look like?
Al: I have no idea. I think that there’s a chance that we’re going to be a very special group but we need to get everybody together and we need to just keep working.

Gordon Hayward has taken off his ankle brace – what do you make of that?
Al: That’s great news, I’m happy for Gordon. It’s difficult when you go through injuries and every little step like that is a milestone. The biggest thing for him is to just be healthy and to be able to walk and do everything he needs to do and start building. We don’t have any expectations but we hope that he recovers quickly.

The number of international players has increased significantly, does that kind of register when you come on a trip?
Al: The way that we look at it is first of all we feel pretty lucky to be out here playing but second you are aware that basketball is more of global game now. Now we’re at a point, at least I am, but I’m looking at other leagues here in Europe to see how players are doing, seen some games – they’re styles of play are very unique. There’s a lot of up and coming young players so it’s pretty amazing how, since I’ve been in the league, not only are a lot of international players here but there’s also a lot of players that are playing in all these European leagues are really, really good.

How are you enjoying London?
Al: We’re having a great time here in London. It’s a great city, my wife and I are really trying to make the most of it. We’ve been to some great restaurants and doing a lot of walking, a lot of sight-seeing.

So you’ve got family over here to watch you?
Al: Yes I have some family in France, we were planning this trip for a long time so we’re very happy to be here. Now that I’m here just excited and enjoying our time here and looking forward to that game.

Abdel Nader

Have you spoken to any of the Egyptian coaches?
Abdel: Yeah I’ve spoken with one of the coaches through my agent but at the same time I haven’t made any decisions yet. I’m just waiting to see how my season pans out, then I’ll make my choice.

What’s your perspective on the interest of basketball in your home country?
Abdel: At the moment I think it could be better not just from a playing standard but from the whole country. It’s not really a basketball country, it’s more like soccer just more the European field with sports. Basketball is growing globally around the whole world so hopefully Egypt can catch on that way and I think me being in the NBA will help to grow the fan base.

Are you available to represent your country in June/July?
Abdel: We’ll see how the rest of the season goes. I’m thinking about it but I haven’t made any decisions yet.

What’s the significance for you of playing for your country?
Abdel: Just being able to represent my country in that manner, especially for an Olympic qualifier would be amazing for me, it would mean a lot. I’m just waiting until the end of the season to make a decision.

Do you feel a lot of support from your home country?
Abdel: Yeah definitely, I constantly have people on Instagram, Facebook – all social media, always hitting me up, talking about how they’re proud of me stuff like that. I just want to continue that trend, continue making people proud and continue growing the fan base in Egypt for the NBA.

What’s it like being in London?
Abdel: It’s great, it’s a beautiful city. Hopefully I’ll be able to go and so some sight-seeing today.

Are you a soccer fan?
Abdel: Yeah I am, I’m a Ronaldo fan. I know some people here will kill me for saying that. But I’m a big time Ronaldo guy, player of the year.

Do you follow the Premier League?
Abdel: A little bit yeah. Chelsea are probably my favourite team.

Is there any Egyptian basketball player that you’ve been in touch with or know of?
Abdel: No to be honest I haven’t. Especially in the NBA, there’s not many of us. I’m just trying to pick it up and learn as I go.

 

Coach Brad Stevens

On the NBA London Game
Brad: It’s always fun to play in an NBA environment and play against another NBA team and have the fans there. Obviously, there will be a lot of excitement as anytime to get the chance to see the players on our team or the 76ers players… it will be fun!

Have you ever reached out to soccer managers to pick out their brains on their coaching style?
Brad: Our sports science people do that quite a bit. I have spent more time with American Football and baseball, but maybe that’s because of where I grew up and those were the main sports around. I try to read as much as I can to learn as much as I can and I think as a coach you’re always trying to steal good ideas from people. I usually look at psychology, management, tactics and scheduling.

On the Boston Celtics fans
Brad: Boston fans don’t change, they were in there five years ago when we weren’t as good. You could feel that at home games when we didn’t have a chance to go to the playoffs and the atmosphere and that’s one of the things that I appreciate the most about being here, because Boston is a special place.

Do you think that Gordon Hayward’s injury helped Jayson Tatum become an important player for your team?
Brad: I think everybody has to be able to raise their level a little bit to make up for the absence of a guy of Gordon’s calibre, but there’s no question that we’d be better with Gordon.

Are players out of high school now the exception rather than the rule?
Brad: I’ve been really impressed with our two guys who came from college, they’re obviously ready for a lot of the demands of the NBA. I think it’s a great discussion to have as those guys would probably have been fine at high school too. I think there is going to be continued discussions between the NBA and college basketball and everybody else, but I think there are people who are ready to play after high school. It will be interesting to see how that all goes.

Is this game a good showcase for young talent?
Brad: I think there’s a lot of young talent in general but you’re right that Philadelphia is very young and there are a lot of players who are doing it at 19/20/21 years old, which is pretty amazing and those guys as you watch them, and hopefully our guys feel the same, you can see month by month they’re getting better.

What improvements have you seen from the Sixers?
Brad: I think with the experience they’re getting from the older guys, they’re going to continue getting better and better. Simmons looks more comfortable every time he plays and his ability to put pressure on the ball keeps getting better. Obviously Embiid didn’t play against us the second time but played against us the first and he’s had games that just make you shake your head. We talked about the sixers yesterday and one of the best things they did was surround those guys with really good veteran players, and when you look at what Redick’s doing, Amir’s positive impact, you look at Covington now growing into his role and having more experience doing that. Those guys are good players and like with our situation, those older guys alleviate a lot of the pressure off the younger guys.

Can this game give a nice change of pace from the monotony of the NBA season?
Brad: Yes it could, there’s no doubt about it. That story will be told down the road, we really don’t know, it’s good to spend time together and have a chance to go to dinner together. It’s great to be abroad and play in London, experiencing a brand new city, not knowing where you’re going to eat, unlike the other NBA cities where you know exactly where you’re going to eat, where you know all the running trails from a coaching perspective. There’s a lot of positives but most importantly it’s an opportunity to represent the game globally.

Kyrie talks about how he’s only been here six months, whereas he was at Cleveland for six years; does he still have a lot to learn from a teammate perspective?
Brad: “It’s been four and a half months since the trade I think and he’s done a great job. The one thing I don’t think you can do is rush these things, you have to get to know each other and learn what each other do well. We’ve made some tweaks that were positive after Gordon’s injury and done some things that didn’t work as well with our guys, that’s about all getting to know each other, that’s not one guy. As far as his transition goes I can’t imagine anything going smoother in terms of his ability to impact the game, and yet we still have a long way to go with our whole team. I feel good about the transition, we haven’t tried to rush things you can’t rush.

Are overseas games a chance to showcase the best players?
Brad: All 30 teams have tremendous players, when you look at the NBA you’re playing against people every night who make your jaw drop, and I think that’s something that is special about the league. Obviously we get a chance to represent the league in London this year, and obviously the Sixers are a great team, but all the other 28 teams are really good too. No question it’s great for fans to see those guys in person.

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