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Kyrie Irving quietly assumes the role of leader

Golden State Warriors v Brooklyn Nets Photo by Sarah Stier/Getty Images

After the Nets had blown out the Warriors on Tuesday night, players gathered in the locker room for an impromptu ceremony. It was time to honor the new coach, Steve Nash, with the game ball. It was only fitting, star performances on the court aside.

And it was Kyrie Irving who did the honors. Short speech, long hug.

It should not have been a surprise. Kyrie Irving, despite whatever calumny or criticism thrown his way, is the Nets leader. As Brian Lewis writes Thursday, it shouldn’t come as surprise. Irving in the team’s vocal leader. Caris LeVert has called him the Nets best teammate and he was elected players’ union vice-president.

Irving will demure he’s not the Nets leader. Salty Celtics fans will claim he couldn’t lead if he tried. But here’s the thing: The way Brooklyn is built — with Durant’s quiet nature and the departure of several steadying veterans — Irving is going to be looked to whether he wants to admit it or not.

Part of it, of course, is his talent, but Nash points out it’s more than that.

“Kevin doesn’t say a whole lot. He talks when he needs to, but he’s much more a lead-by-example-type guy. He definitely leads by the way he works, the way he approaches the game, the way he supports his teammates. Ky is a little more vocal,” Nash said. “He’s the head of the snake in that respect, and is able to lead guys in talking them through things, pointing and directing...

“So, he also is mentoring players. They’re both great examples. They have different styles. Kevin is much more laid-back. I think Ky is willing to mentor, talk guys through things. … They’re slightly different. It’s amazing when your top players work as hard as they do and set an example. That really is leadership.”

Players do notice hard work by a team’s superstars, Nash pointed out. As for Irving, it’s just part of wanting to win, eschew hero ball, and be rewarded with the league’s biggest trophy at the end of it all.

“We want to be the best team,” Irving said. “We don’t want to be a great collection of just me and KD and other guys that we have. No, we want to be a great team. The Brooklyn Nets team. I’m not the leading voice in the locker room. I’m not the leader here. I’m not this one guy that’s depended upon to get us over the hump. Nah. We have other great players that are developing, that are already established.

“We just need to continue to give knowledge when needed to these players that are thirsty for it. These guys here want to win just as bad as us. We have that winning mentality and attitude. It’s easy for me to fall in line and follow direction.”

And while Boston fans and talk radio gurus have claimed Irving was a divisive figure, the scene after the Nets preseason game in Boston would belie that. Former teammates gathered around Irving, hugging him and exchanging jerseys. That wasn’t theater.