When Kyrie Irving made the dagger of all daggers, in Game 7 of Cleveland’s incredible comeback against the Warriors back in 2016, he was all of 24 years old. He could have just as easily been the MVP of the Cavaliers first NBA championship, but of course, LeBron James, hometown hero won it. Nevertheless in 21 playoff games, he averaged 25.4 points and in the Finals, 27.1, tenths of a point less than James.
But by the next year, things had changed. The Warriors got their revenge, beating the Cavaliers in five games. Irving had an even better Finals though, averaging 29.4 points. But things weren’t right and Irving wanted more, his own team, and during the off-season in a meeting with team officials, he said he didn’t want to be part of the Cavs plan going forward.
Now, in an interview with “I AM ATHETE,” Irving describes how things worked with an acknowledgement that maybe he should have done things differently, maybe he wasn’t mature enough at 25 to handle things. Regrets? He has a few.
“If I was in the same maturity line and understanding of who I am, and I look back, we definitely, definitely would’ve won more championships, because there would’ve been a better man-to-man understanding about what I’m going through,” said Irving. “I didn’t know how to share my emotions,” Irving said. “I didn’t know how to do that. So instead of sharing, I isolated myself.
“I just started pouring myself more into the game — I had one of my better seasons but I wasn’t connecting with everybody as much during the championship year. So 2017, it was a different year for us. We went against Golden State, we went against a great team. When you’re not a great team and not clicking on all cylinders and together, you’re easily defeated. You’re defeated before you can get to the arena.”
From there, Irving went to Boston where he played two years, punctuated by injuries and disappointment. His superstar teammate went from Cleveland where he didn’t win another title without Irving, then signed with the Lakers where he won the NBA title again in the “bubble.”
The regrets aren’t limited to not being part of something bigger in Cleveland. Some are personal, like how his relationship with James suffered, partly because the news of his plan to depart “the Land” leaked before he could talk with James. In fact, he said, the two weren’t talking much at all back then.
“We didn’t talk during that time,” Irving admitted. “When I look back on what I was going through at that time, I wish I did, because it would’ve been a good understanding of what the future will hold for both of us and we know how much power we both had together. Me and him in the league together running Cleveland, and then being able to put a better team together every single year would’ve definitely been worth it.”
The other problem, Irving said, was the timing of the leak. He was in China for a Nike marketing tour when news broke. The whole episode led to him rethinking things, like his religion, his heritage, his role as an athlete.
“I’m not even on American soil so I can’t even get on to defend myself … and I didn’t have a sense of how to manage that when all the media’s coming after me,” Irving said. “It took me six years to even talk about it openly because I’m comfortable with my decision. Before I was questioning, ‘Yo, did I do this the right thing? I left one of the best players in the game.’ And I started listening to that.
“That’s where the mental health comes into play, because when you start believing what other people say about you, you become a shell of yourself. … You’re trying to be perfect for others that don’t really give a f–k about whether or not you breathe another day. ‘You’re just another motherf—er we can just troll or hate on.’ So I had to make the shift. … I started digging deep into Islam.
“I went through that span where I was reclaiming my power. I found my tribe, I reclaimed my identity. I stopped listening to everybody else was saying about what an athlete is supposed to be, the image that we’re supposed to be every day, why we’re supposed to be doing the things we’re doing. I had to find that purpose.”
Does any of this have any relevance to his situation now? After all, he and the Nets have a big negotiation coming up. He can opt in to the final year of his four-year deal and earn $36.9 million and become an unrestricted free agent or extend his stay in Brooklyn for another four years and quarter billion dollars.
As of Wednesday, Sean Marks said the two sides haven’t talked and there’s been tons of speculation that the Nets will try to add incentives, options, etc. to protect themselves. Irving, of course, has said repeatedly that he wants to stay. He and his family are comfortable in West Orange, N.J. and he’s specifically cited his relationship with Kevin Durant as a reason why he wants back. So it appears it will be up to the Nets and despite some criticism from Marks, Irving has excellent relationships with both Joe and Clara Wu Tsai. So his situations in Cleveland and Brooklyn are hardly the same.
There’s something else here as well. Irving seems to be the midst of a public relations campaign. He spoke last week with another friendly interviewer, Eddie Gonzalez of “The Etcs,” he spoke at length about his season with the Nets, specifically on his decision to refuse to get the COVID vaccine. He admitted some regrets there as well.
Did I feel like I was letting the world down or letting Nets fans down, letting my teammates down?” he asked aloud at one point. “Yeah, part of that letdown feeling definitely seeped in.”
Interestingly, Irving hasn’t responded to Marks comments that the Nets want ‘selfless’ and ‘available’ players in comments clearly aimed at Irving. He’s apparently decided to keep things low-key. All for the best, no doubt.
Speaking of LeBron James, He referenced his former teammate on Twitter Monday when in an AMA on Twitter, he was asked who he would choose as the “one teammate (past or present)” to go up against Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen...
Kobe, KD or Kyrie— LeBron James (@KingJames) May 17, 2022
“Past or present??” Why not future?? #Bronlyn
- .Kyrie Irving: My immaturity, isolation cost Cavaliers ‘more championships’ - Brian Lewis - New York Post