The frosty relationship between Kyrie Irving and LeBron James has apparently been greatly exaggerated, because this week Irving reached out to his former mentor and teammate because he finally understands the position of authority James took with Irving five years ago when he returned to Cleveland.
Irving resented James for his overshadowing presence and stern advice. Irving acknowledged that after accomplishing his primary goals of reaching the All-Star Game and emerging as a top-tier point guard, he wasn’t necessarily open to advice and criticism.
Fast-forward to this week, and there he was, Kyrie Irving, offering stern advice and criticism to his younger teammates with the Celtics, and it essentially backfired. The irony wasn’t lost on Irving. He reflected back to his Cleveland days, his refusal to follow James’s directions, and decided to call James late Saturday night after another disheartening Celtics loss, to the Orlando Magic.
After that game, Irving was visibly angry because he didn’t get the ball for the final shot in regulation. He continued by airing out his younger teammates for their inexperience and insistence on doing it their way. You know how kids are.
And yes, Irving does know how kids are because he was a cocky, overconfident talent when James returned to Cleveland in 2014. And after the Celtics’ loss in Brooklyn on Monday, third-year forward Jaylen Brown made strong suggestions that Irving should also consider himself as part of the problem in terms of the team’s inconsistency and lack of focus.
Brown suggested that older doesn’t always mean right. Isn’t that something we’ve said to our parents (directly or under our breaths) hundreds of times?
“I’ll tell you one thing, obviously it was something that was a big deal for me because I had to call ’Bron and tell him I apologize for being that young player that wanted everything at his fingertips and I wanted everything to be at my threshold,” Irving said after the Celtics’ 117-108 win over the Raptors on Wednesday night. “I wanted to be the guy that led us to a championship. I wanted to be the leader. I wanted to be all that, and the responsibility of being the best player in the world and leading the team is something that’s not meant for many people.
“ ’Bron was one of the guys who came to Cleveland and tried to really show us what it’s like to win a championship. It was hard for him. Sometimes getting the most out of the group is not the easiest thing in the world. Like I said, only few are meant for it or chosen for it, and I felt like the best person to call was him because he’s in this situation. He’s been there with me where I have been the young guy, being the 22-year-old kid and wanting everything, wanting everything right now, coming off an All-Star year starting, and this heck of a presence coming back [James] and now I’ve got to adjust to this guy?”
Irving and James reached three consecutive NBA Finals, and won Cleveland’s first professional sports title in 52 years in 2016. But their relationship remained fractured, partly because Irving never felt valued as a leader or voice in the locker room.
He has that value in Boston. He is a leader, and last season he made sure he didn’t single out the younger players as James did to him years ago. He wasn’t even comfortable calling them “young.” But that changed this season as expectations for the Celtics have risen dramatically, and finally he said he went too far by calling those guys out for their growing pains and perceived selfishness.
“There was a lot of responsibility that I had to take as a young player being in those shoes and then understanding where [the Celtics’] young guys are,” Irving said. “And how much responsibility I have to help teach them things and help them do the little things to win a championship.
“I don’t think [my statements] were hurtful because my intent was really just set in stone that I want to win. I don’t think it probably came out the best way I wanted to. Coming to that point, I have been on a team where things have been said publicly. It’s not the best way to get the most out of the group. You do everything as the leader of the team to get the most out of the group and sometimes it may not be received as well as you would like, and you’ve just got to live with that.
“Being in this position is something new for me. So I take it with a grain of salt and I just enjoy all of this. Having a moment to be able to call a guy like that where we’ve been through so much, we won a championship together. It took a lot to think our road could have been easier and now I’m this position and I asked for this and I want this and I will take it on full force, but it’s also good to reach out for help. It takes a real man to go back and call somebody and be like, ‘I was young. I wasn’t seeing the big picture like you were.’ ”
What we’re seeing in Irving is not only the growth of a player but of a man, which should make acquiring him even more rewarding and fulfilling for the Celtics.