Forsberg: Stevens, Smart reflect on Brady's role in famous KD recruiting trip


Five years later, the snapshot is still preposterous.

A Boston Celtics contingent including president of basketball operations Danny Ainge, coach Brad Stevens, and co-owner Steve Pagliuca, along with players Isaiah Thomas, Kelly Olynyk, and Marcus Smart, had converged on the Hamptons to pitch free agent Kevin Durant.

And they brought along a secret recruiting weapon: Quarterback Tom Brady.

As Brady returns to New England Sunday with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, it’s not just football fans who feel nostalgic. The random photo of Brady and Boston’s contingent strolling outside a restaurant on their way to pitch Durant is like a time capsule to a bygone era that sure feels a lot older than a half decade for Celtics fans.

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Brady’s presence wasn’t enough to sway Durant, though the 2014 NBA MVP later admitted that Brady sure made him think about Boston a bit harder in the moment.

So what was it like for the Celtics on that trip?

"I was just trying to calm a couple of our young players that were there with us down there. They were all excited. No, I’m kidding. It was fun," said Stevens, who has since elevated to Boston’s president of basketball operations.

"We went out to eat right before [the pitch]. Sat in a little corner of a restaurant and [Boston’s young players] grilled [Brady] with questions. It’s funny because I was fortunate enough to live in Indy, and be around Peyton [Manning]. When those icons of other sports walk into the building, even with the best players in our league, they draw the ultimate attention and ultimate focus. I just think there’s that respect for their diligence and their consistency and their stamina and all the things that go into being great."

Brady looked every bit the part of Hamptons tourist in the photo. White pants, a blue jean button down shirt, and a Boston-approved scally cap. Celtics brass wore team polos (though Ainge did don a pair of Durant’s signature shoes) while players were summer casual at best.

The random picture -- which has fetched its owner a pretty penny from media organizations through the years, but that’s a whole ’nutha story -- landed on social media and quickly went viral.

Right after the Celtics finished their pitch to Durant, Al Horford agreed to a four-year, $113 million deal to join the Celtics and green-teamers were even more delirious (even Boston brass delayed takeoff from the Hamptons to celebrate on their private jet).

Durant, of course, soon signed with the Golden State Warriors and won a couple titles there. He’s now Boston’s biggest impediment to title contention having formed a new super squad in Brooklyn.

But members of the Celtics organization still marvel at getting Brady to come along for the pitch.

"It was unreal. To hear him talk, to hear his mentality and the way that he thinks, it was incredible,” said Smart. "To be able to get that, first hand, is a pretty unique opportunity. I’d advise anybody who has the opportunity to talk to him: Sit there and listen. I don’t care how long it takes, sit there and listen to him."

What was it about Brady that resonated with Smart?

"Just his mentality,” said Smart. "He wasn’t always the best player. He was told this and that. Look at him now. He’s come out and he’s probably one of the greatest to ever do it at that position and that sport."

Stevens is only 11 months older than Brady. Stevens was merely dreaming of coaching and working at Applebee's right around the time that the Patriots drafted Brady in the sixth round of the 2000 draft. Stevens has done quite a bit in the 21 years since then and yet Brady is still out here slinging darts and winning Super Bowls.

"Tom is a special guy. He’s a special competitor. He loves teams. I always think, if he were just about him, he wouldn’t be able to do it this long,” said Stevens, who said he was fortunate enough to sit in on some quarterback meetings with Brady because Josh McDaniels, offensive coordinator of the Patriots, brought Stevens to Foxboro on a few occasions.

"It wouldn’t be at that level, it wouldn’t be all of the residual championship and residual winning that he’s accomplished. He, like some of the best I’ve ever seen in different sports, it’s about the team and the team’s success. I’m happy for him, like the rest of New England."

And Stevens, even with his Indianapolis roots, keeps on cheering for Brady.

"When he was playing in the Super Bowl last year, I was rooting for him. It’s going to be fun, I’m sure in Foxboro, for him to walk onto that field," said Stevens. "That tells you how great he is, right? He decides to go somewhere else and everyone here is still cheering for him. He’s what good about sports."

So just how much did Brady’s presence influence Durant?

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"I was ready to just say, 'All right. Let’s go. I’m ready to go,' seeing Tom Brady there," Durant told the Boston Herald in 2016. "Just seeing someone so successful at his craft and just a great ambassador for the game of football and the city of Boston, it was just great to be in the presence of greatness. But, at the same time, I knew I couldn’t let that distract me. But he was great. It was great to see him.”

Years later, Durant would temper that suggestion while telling The Athletic, "I mean, I love Tom Brady, but I don’t know if he can help me if he was on the court with me right now. I love that people wanted me on their team, but at the same time, I just wanted to hear from the coaches and the players about what they needed or why they wanted me on their team and what I needed to do as a player."

It’s still wild how much has changed for the Celtics since that summer meeting. Horford spent three seasons here, dispatched the notion that big-time free agents wouldn’t sign in Boston, then just got traded back after two years away. Smart is the only "core" piece of that group remaining, and he was coming off just his second year in green at that point.

Thomas and Crowder personified the grit and desire of those overachieving Celtics teams that positioned the green to get meetings with the likes of Horford and Durant. The team eventually landed higher-level talent by signing Gordon Hayward and trading for Kyrie Irving in 2017, but the Celtics are still chasing title aspirations, now with Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown (who had been drafted less than a month before the Hamptons visit) at the forefront.

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Boston is hoping that Tatum/Brown core can lead the franchise where it once hoped Horford/Durant might take them. With Brady’s departure, that Tatum/Brown duo is slowly becoming the face of Boston sports.

So the Celtics probably won’t need Mac Jones to go on any recruiting trips if the team needs to woo a third star any time in the near future.

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