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Though it’s been nearly 17 months since Kyrie Irving’s requested/demanded departure from the Cleveland Cavaliers, the Boston Celtics’ point guard continues to attempt to explain why he wanted out of LeBron James’ monstrous shadow.
“It’s definitely a challenge,” Irving told ESPN, when asked what it is like playing on the same team as James. “You now become part of a championship-caliber team based on a unique talent. LeBron is so smart, so talented, such a strong leader. And you’re trying to implement who you are, and grow as a player and learn every single day. And it can be difficult because it demands a lot of you.
“Certain times, young players — and even older ones — find it a big transition, because you’re playing a certain way, and growing as a player, and you have a vision of what your career will look like. And then this player of such great stature arrives, and you’re still trying to be great, and he’s already great. And you find yourself asking, ‘OK, what are the steps to get there?’ So now do you learn by example from watching him? Do you learn by the way he treats his body? By the way he treats his business off the court? By his philanthropic path? So you just watch and you observe.”
James, Irving, Kevin Love and the rest of the Cavaliers won the NBA championship in 2016, making history along the way by becoming the first team in Finals history to rally from a 3-1 deficit to win the crown, defeating the Golden State Warriors — winners of a record-setting 73 games during the regular season — in seven games, Irving hitting the deciding shot in Game 7 — a 3-pointer in the face of two-time NBA MVP Steph Curry.
Even so, after reaching a third-straight Finals alongside James in 2017, Irving wanted out and he and his representatives had a meeting with Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert to deliver the news. Of course, word got out. According to reports, Irving threatened to have knee surgery and sit out the entire season if his request to be dealt wasn’t granted.
The Cavaliers granted him his wish Aug. 22, 2017, sending him to Boston for Isaiah Thomas, Jae Crowder, Ante Zizic, Brooklyn’s unprotected 2018 first-round draft pick (which translated to Collin Sexton) and a second-round choice.
“You also have to be aware of the expectations from the outside and how that can infiltrate your thinking,” Irving said. “Somehow, it ends up where everybody wants to play the blame game when things don’t go right. So it’s just a lot to get used to. It comes with a lot of pressures. I believe the very, very special ones, the unique ones, gladly take on that challenge, and they relish it. You can’t be afraid to challenge another great person. That’s how greatness is achieved.”
Irving said it simply became too much.
“It was a lot for me to figure out,” he said. “The belief I have in myself goes way beyond anything that could deter me from what I want to accomplish. You can never ever, ever, ever, ever lose your sense of self while you are playing alongside a great player.”