BOSTON (CBS) — Kyrie Irving has never really wanted to talk about his time with the Cavaliers, and even more so, his relationship with LeBron James.
But the Celtics guard appears to have a new approach toward just about everything ahead of the 2018-19 season, his second in Boston after last summer’s surprising trade from the Cavs. Irving has opened the vault to his life, and letting everyone get a look inside. He’s got a new hairdo. He told Boston fans that he’s going to sign long-term with the Celtics next summer. And now, he’s evening opening up about Cleveland.
During his chat with reporters ahead of Tuesday’s practice in Brighton, Irving was asked about being “the man” in Cleveland followed James’ initial departure for the Heat back in 2010. Even at just 19, Irving was indeed the face of a rebuilding franchise, although the No. 1 overall pick didn’t feel the way at the time. And according to Irving, the Cavaliers didn’t want him to feel that way, either.
“I wasn’t the face of the franchise,” said Irving. “They made that very clear. I was just a great piece in Cleveland, which I gratefully accepted. … They weren’t giving me the keys to the franchise. They weren’t. I was too young, man. I didn’t deserve them.
“But after a while I felt like I earned it, and I took a lot of that responsibility on myself. Still wasn’t ready to do it, but learned a lot from that point to be at this position now,” he added.
When James brought his talents back home in 2014, Irving took a backseat to the best player in the game. One reporter said Tuesday that Irving was essentially James’ lieutenant in Cleveland, but Irving quickly said he did not see things that way.
“I saw it as a point in my career where I could grow. I took as much knowledge as I could and moved on with my career. From that point I learned a lot about myself and how much of a competitor I am,” he explained. “The biggest thing when I see the young guys we have here is how young I was. The experience component; I had to learn a lot about the game of basketball like being with LeBron, being with Mike Miller and James Jones, being around veterans like that. It was the first time I went from being one of the youngest to being one of the oldest.
“Whether it was lieutenant, sergeant or whatever you want to call it with LeBron, being around him with basketball knowledge and all of the other veterans was something we needed,” he said. “I was my fourth year in, just signed a $90-million contract, and thirsty for everything. For the most part, I had just been taught roll out the ball and go play. That was the first time I had to watch film, get ready for the playoffs, learn how to be competed against. I had now became the hunted, and that was the biggest change.
He hopes that experience pays some big dividends this season, as the Celtics are now considered the “hunted” in the Eastern Conference. Irving will make sure to relay his experiences to Boston’s promising young core, and hopes they too use this opportunity to learn and improve their game the way he did in Cleveland. They are, after all, now his lieutenants.
“Our effort has to surpass other team’s talent and effort at times,” he said. “That’s going to distinguish us.”