‘To play an NBA game like that? He’s different’ – Boston Herald

Kyrie Irving would like to keep it private.

Ramadan for him is a spiritual journey to be shared exclusively between himself and God. So when basketball fans on social media refer to him as “Ramadan Kyrie” between April 1 and May 1, Irving appreciates the recognition, but it’s a sacred period of time.

“It’s the protection I feel for my brothers and sisters that are doing the same with me,” he said after the Nets’ play-in victory over the Cleveland Cavaliers on Tuesday. “It’s a blessing to be able to do it and still be able to perform.”

But the question only intensifies as Irving’s game improves. How is a professional athlete playing an up-and-down game like basketball supposed to survive — let alone thrive — during these conditions?

Those who observe Ramadan do not eat or drink while the sun is up. The sun, for example, rose sometime around 6:20 a.m. on Tuesday and didn’t set until 7:30 p.m. The Nets had an early tipoff on Tuesday at 7 p.m., which meant Irving — who would usually be spotted eating fruit and drinking water on his first trip to the bench — couldn’t consume anything until the second quarter.

Yet somehow, his focus was sharpened. Irving didn’t miss until his 12th shot. He finished the game 12-of-15 from the field for 34 points to go with 12 assists. It was as if he never missed a step, as if he had eaten the perfect pregame meal.

“Everybody who does Ramadan and is playing through it, you’ve gotta commend them while they’re going through it,” said Irving’s superstar teammate Kevin Durant. “That’s tough to do, especially when you have a job like this. So many people [are] sacrificing to get closer to a higher power, I respect that.

“But to play an NBA game like that? The last week or so? That shows that he’s a different human being. Hopefully he keeps it up. He was great tonight.”

Irving isn’t alone. At least not in NBA history. Ex-Knicks and Celtics big man Enes Kanter is Muslim and plays while fasting for Ramadan. NBA legends Hakeem Olajuwon and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar also observed Ramadan while playing NBA games. Both logged some of their best performances during the period of fasting.

For Irving, the day starts earlier than 5:35 in the morning. He has to go through his routine and make sure to fuel his body before the sun rises. As an added curveball, the sun rises earlier and sets later every passing day for the month of April.

“It’s not easy by any stretch of the imagination,” he said on Tuesday. “So, you can’t really take any moment for granted during the day. I don’t really have time or the attention to give. I come in here and I just pay attention to the details and remind myself that I’m breathing and that’s enough.”

For Irving, there is an increased sense of gratitude.

“It really simplifies life,” he said. “And puts it in a greater perspective.”

Whether or not he can sustain perfect or near-perfect shooting remains to be seen. In the 14 regular-season games he played during Ramadan last season (April 12 to May 12), Irving averaged 25.9 points and 6.7 assists on 47% shooting from the field, 39% shooting from three and 95.5% shooting from the foul line. In the 38 games he played before Ramadan, he averaged 27.6 points and six assists on 51% shooting from the field, 39.8% shooting from downtown and 90.7% shooting from the foul line.

Ramadan, however, isn’t about basketball or shooting efficiency or advanced metrics. It’s about one’s own spiritual journey with God, a journey that extends well outside of the workplace.

“I just have respect for all you guys [media] in here, and everyone who came into the arena, and being able to show up and play well,” said Irving. “The day starts at 5:35 in the morning or even before that. You can’t really think about being hungry or anything like that. It’s just a fun journey. I’m enjoying it. Again, I’m not alone at this.”


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