Posting Up with the Celtics’ Kelly Olynyk

Heading into the NBA playoffs this month, Boston’s most popular 7-footer tells us why the team is finally poised to make a run, the best part of being a Celtic, and the secret to eating a burrito in a single bite.


Photograph by Ken Richardson

Sea bass isn’t on the lunch menu at Strega Waterfront, but that doesn’t matter when you’re Kelly Olynyk, the Celtics’ beloved big man. Part of a ragtag roster this season built on youth, Olynyk and the Celtics have excited fans and emerged as one of the NBA’s most surprising teams heading into the playoffs this month.

It takes only a few minutes for Olynyk’s off-the-menu order to arrive in fashion: a flaky fillet the size of a porterhouse, with a generous side of gnocchi topped with asparagus branches that resemble small trees. The center’s eyes grow wide as he brushes back his signature long hair and digs in.

So I have to ask, what’s the story behind the long hair?

I’ve been growing my hair since my junior year of college at Gonzaga. I moved from Ontario to British Columbia in grade seven. And since grade seven, I’ve only gotten my hair cut by this one lady, and I stick with her. I used to come home to get my hair cut every Christmas, and after the season, and right before school started. But the Christmas during my junior year, I didn’t get to go home, so it kept growing and growing.

And you liked it?

I lived with these two guys and they’re both really big soccer fans, so they got me into watching soccer. My favorite player was Sergio Ramos, who plays for Real Madrid in Spain. That’s when he had the long hair and he wore the little headband. I was like, “Man, I want my hair like that, for sure.” So I grew it out after that whole year, and I wanted to get it like that. The next year we played and my hair was long and everyone was talking about it, and we were playing well—we were number one in the country. So I was like, “I can’t change this now.” Then I got drafted into the NBA and it was kind of my thing, so I couldn’t mess with it.

Do you still get your hair cut by only this lady?

Absolutely. I went home during the All-Star break to see family for a little bit and got a little trimmed up.

What’s the hardest part about being an NBA player?

You get pulled in a lot of different directions: “Do this, do that. You should do this, you shouldn’t do this.”

You mean in terms of your style of play, or in terms of marketing and endorsements?

Not marketing and endorsements, but people always want something from you or want you to do something. It’s great because you have the power to give people stuff, and you have the power to make kids smile, make someone’s day, but sometimes you just kind of want to chill out and relax. You can’t ever get away from being an NBA player. In time you will because people will forget who you are probably, but at the moment it’s all go-go-go and business. Sometimes you just really need a chance to sit back and relax.

What’s the best part of being an NBA player?

Right now, I would say being an NBA player in this city. It’s unbelievable. The fans are unbelievable, inside the Garden and outside. Everyone treats you with the utmost respect. Everyone just loves you. Being in this city is probably the best part.

Given the names the Celtics have had—Bill Russell, Larry Bird—do you feel pressure that you may not have felt if you were playing for the Bucks or Magic?

It’s hard to say because I’ve never played for the Bucks or the Magic, or anybody else for that matter. But when you walk in the Garden and you look up and you see 17 banners and all the retired numbers, there’s an aura above this place that’s unlike anywhere else. You just walk in and you feel that deep-rooted history of success and tradition, and legacy. It’s special to be a part of it, and it’s something you want to contribute to because once you do, you’re up there forever.

Boston is a very old city with some very small places. Have you come across any buildings or old pubs where you just couldn’t fit inside?

You know, off the top of my head I can’t think of any. Doorways are hazards. There are a couple people’s apartments that have really low ceilings, but it’s not too bad.

A lot of people are pretty surprised by the Celtics’ success so far this season. Are you?

Not at all. We had a great core group of guys last year, and they had a huge run at the end of the year to push them into the playoffs. Now we have that core group back and added some key parts. The more familiarity you have with each other—that chemistry’s just growing every game. We’ve had our ups and downs this year, definitely, but as a team we’re moving in the right direction.

Your 2015 playoff appearance against the Cavs was pretty intense, so intense that you earned yourself a one-game suspension to start this season off. What lessons can you bring from last year’s playoff run to this year’s?

It’s really just experience. If you’ve been in this situation before, you’re going to be better off. For us as a group, getting a taste of the playoffs, you just want to get back and not have it end in four games. We’re trying to put ourselves in a position to get a home-court advantage where we could really make a move in that first round, second round, and see what goes on.

You were born in Toronto. Do you know what Canadian rapper Drake is talking about when he says, “I was running through the 6 with my woes?”

Well, the 6 is Toronto. The woes, I’m not sure what he’s referring to there.

I read that your mom was a referee for a long time. Did she ever yell at any refs who made bad calls against you?

No, she would always side with the refs every time. Unbelievable. But it was good for me because she’d come watch my games, and I’d do something and they’d call a travel. And I’d look up into the stands and she’d be like “Yes, you traveled.”