The interplay between and among superstars is never perfect. You don’t get to be a true superstar in the NBA (or other professions) without an enormous ego. The trick is subjugating it for the team. That’s how you win.
And even if you keep things in check while playing together, it’s probably best not to make it public even years later.
Back in September, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant recorded a podcast on KD’s “Etcs” in which Irving tried to compliment Durant. Instead it was construed as an insult to LeBron James, with whom he won a title back in 2016, hitting the dagger of the decade in the Cavs historic comeback.
“One thing I’ve always been comfortable with is, I felt like I was the best option on every team I’ve played for down the stretch,” Irving said. “This is the first time in my career where I can look down be like, ‘That motherf***** can make that shot, too.
“It’s not so much deferring, because in past situations where I didn’t take the last shot, I felt guilty. I want this game-winning shot, but also, you want to trust your teammates. Not that I didn’t trust my teammates, but I felt like I was the best option.”
Of course, Irving played with LeBron in Cleveland, going to the Finals three times and winning it all once, in 2016. Irving has, of course complimented James as well in the past. At the time, when the Lakers and Heat were playing in the Finals, James declined comment but on Monday, he spoke extensively about the comment and suggested he saw it as a dis. “it hurt me a little bit,” said James.
James, appearing as a guest on the Road Trippin’ podcast with Richard Jefferson, Channing Frye and Allie Clifton, addressed Irving’s comments, as ESPN’s Tim MacMahon reported.
“I was a little like, ‘Damn.’ Once I got the whole transcript, I was like, ‘Damn,’” James said, adding that he made sure to read Irving’s full comments. “I wasn’t like, ‘Oh, you trippin’. I’ve hit game-winning shots my whole life.’ I was not like that. I was like, ‘Damn.’ Because ... I played with Kyrie for three seasons. The whole time when I was there, I only wanted to see him be a MVP of our league. I only cared about his success. And it just didn’t align. It just didn’t align. And we were able to win a championship. That’s the craziest thing. We were still able to win a championship, and we could never align. But I only cared about his well-being, both on and off the floor.
“And it kind of hurt me a little bit.”
James also noted that the timing —as he was preparing for Game 2 of the Finals— was bad as well.
“It was a f---ed up time. It was a f---ed up time,” James said. “Because it was the Finals ... the middle of the Finals...
“It’s always been something that, when I’ve been in the Finals, that comes out to try to distract me from my mission. So I was already ready for it ... I’ve always been prepared to know that there’s going to be something said or done to try to knock me off of my mission,” James said. “When I was seeing that and I read it, and then I got the full transcript and I heard it, I was like, ‘Man, f---.’ I was like, ‘Are you f---ing kidding me?’ ... I was like, ‘God damn.’”
James also allowed that Irving is one of the most talented players he’s ever played with ... and could wind up as an MVP someday. Moreover, he said that Irving was a key reason for him to leave Miami and return home to northeast Ohio.
“Ky is one of the most talented players I’ve ever played with in my life. The kid — I don’t even want to call him ‘kid.’ He’s not a kid anymore, but back then, he was. He was a young kid still growing into his own, and the s--- that he was capable of on the floor I had never seen before,” James said. “I had so much confidence in him. I actually told Kyrie, I told him at one point when we were playing together that if you were not a league MVP someday, then you were selling yourself short. Because that’s how much I believed in him.
“And it was part of the reason why I came back home. Besides the unfinished business, I came back home because I saw the talent in him.”
He also noted that he tried to serve as a “buffer” between Irving and the media, a relationship that’s always been fraught with controversy. Witness last week’s decision not to speak with the press during “Media Week.”
“Anytime the media would ask questions about Kyrie — and we had multiple times when the media wanted to s--- on Kyrie — I was the buffer,” James said. “I was like, ‘No, listen, you guys are tripping. This kid is young, he’s great, he’s going to learn, I’m here to help him learn, and I know what he’s going to become.’
“And sometimes, you know, you put yourself out there, and you get hit in the mouth when you’re not ready for it.”
Of course, it should be noted that in the days after the comment, Irving went on Instagram to try to explain what he meant, using the opportunity to suggest coverage of it was a “false narrative” made for a “clickbait society.”
“Why must it always be brother against brother? Why? If I’m addressing anyone, I’ll say their name,” Irving said. “Come on y’all; don’t listen to the false narratives. Let people live their lives. It’s just a game. Talk about the art, talk about the sport, we talk openly, we talk freely. But, because we live in a clickbait society, it becomes something bigger.
“You don’t have to defend it. That’s just what media is — its entertainment. I’m not going to let it put me against anybody anymore at any point, because that’s not what it’s about. We talk freely, openly and that’s our society. Say how you feel. Don’t have to put me against anyone else. It’s never been about that. It’s about the love. Peace.”
All that said, is there another aspect of this that’s very subtle and about the interplay of James and Durant? KD didn’t play last year, out with a ruptured Achilles suffered in the 2019 Finals. So James had one fewer superstar to contend with, both on and off-the-court. Don’t forget, in Finals match-ups, Durant is up 2-1 over James. So, in the rarefied air of superstardaom, will KD see these comments by LeBron as a dis of his ability to hit the big shot, win the big game?
Stay tuned. The Nets play the Lakers February 18 at Staples Center. It will be nationally televised, as it should be.