When the Cleveland Cavaliers won their first NBA championship in 2016 with a young Kyrie Irving and an older, wiser LeBron James, it looked like the team was set up nicely to contend for more rings over the next several years.
But after they lost in the NBA Finals the following year, it all fell apart when Irving demanded a trade and was sent to the Boston Celtics.
His tenure with the Celtics was a disaster, and three years after leaving Beantown, his time with the Brooklyn Nets has been very lackluster.
Through it all, Irving has been accused of being a team killer, selfish, lacking dedication, immature and uncoachable.
But recently, he finally showed a bit of self-awareness and even, dare we say, maturity while appearing on an episode of the podcast “I Am Athlete?”
Now that he has turned 30, could Irving finally be turning the corner?
Irving’s Time With James Was Too Short And Too Shallow
Irving admitted that he didn’t bond with or open up to his teammates while in Cleveland and that it cost the team lots of success and joy.
“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. 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.”
As one of the greatest ball-handlers ever, one of the better scorers in the league and perhaps its best crunch-time performer, Irving was the perfect player to allow James to age gracefully while continuing to collect championship rings and strengthen his argument as one of the greatest to ever play the game.
In the meantime, Irving could’ve gained genuine respect as a major cog on a team that won multiple titles while gaining more valuable experience in preparation for the day that James left, which would’ve likely been years after 2018.
Kyrie Irving doesn’t get enough credit for his role in the Cavs’ 3-1 comeback in the 2016 Finals
Games 5-7 averages:
Also hit one of the greatest shots in NBA History 🔥 pic.twitter.com/47P6ruoOPy
— Everything Cleveland (@everythingcle_) June 11, 2020
Instead, the guard went into his shell, and he conceded that it hurt the team’s chemistry in his last season in The Land.
“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,” he said. “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.”
When Irving left the Cavs, his relationship with James was cited as a major reason, and whether James forced him out or he wanted to leave because James was planning on leaving already, he regrets not communicating better with the four-time MVP.
“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.”
Afterward, when Irving was a member of the Celtics, there were reports that his teammates there didn’t like playing with him.
“Everyone respects his talent,” one Celtics player told Jeff Goodman of Stadium during the 2018-19 season, “but he’s hard to play with. It’s all about him.”
When they went to the Eastern Conference Finals despite Irving missing the entire postseason, it looked like they were better off without him.
Then, once he moved down I-95 to join the Nets, Irving ruffled feathers yet again when he seemed to imply that they didn’t need a coach.
— AS USA (@English_AS) April 24, 2022
This season, his refusal to get vaccinated against COVID-19 prevented him from playing in many games, which single-handedly ruined team chemistry and was a major factor why they got swept in the first round by, ironically, the Celtics.
If Irving truly has gained perspective and conscience, he can help the Nets do some amazing things next season.