BOSTON (CBS) — Late in Wednesday night’s 117-108 win over the Toronto Raptors, Celtics guard Kyrie Irving threw up a three-pointer from near the logo at half-court. The shot dropped, the roof blew off the building, and Irving celebrated by pointing to the word “BOSTON” written across his chest.
As it turns out, that wasn’t the only long-distance connection that Irving made this week.
Irving told reporters after the game that, in the middle of his leadership crisis this past week, he made an unlikely phone call to a former teammate to apologize for once being a young player in the league who did not always take easily to veteran leadership.
That teammate? It was, of course, LeBron James.
“Well I mean, I’ll tell you one thing, and obviously this is something, it was a big deal for me. I had to call ‘Bron and tell him like, I apologize for being that young player that wanted everything at his fingertips, and I wanted everything to be at my threshold, I wanted to be the guy that led us to championships, I wanted to be the leader, I wanted to be all of that,” Irving said Wednesday night. “And the responsibility of being the best player in the world and leading a team is something that’s not meant for many people. And ‘Bron was one of those guys who came to Cleveland and tried to really show us what it’s like to win a championship. And it was hard for him. And sometimes getting the most out of a group, it’s not the easiest thing in the world. And like I said, only few are meant for it or chosen for it, and I feel like the best person to call was him, because he’s been in this situation, he’s been there with me, where I’ve been the young guy, being a 22-year-old kid and wanting everything. And wanting everything right now. You know, coming off an All-Star year and starting, and then this is a heck of a presence coming back [to Cleveland], and now I gotta adjust my game to this guy. And you take it personal, but at the end of the day, he just wants what’s best, and he has a legacy he wants to leave, and he has a window he wants to capture.
“And so what that brought me back to was like, all right, how do I get the best out of this group with the success they had last year? And then helping them realize what it takes to win a championship.”
Irving said he made the call to James after the loss Saturday night in Orlando, a game that ended with Irving gesturing angrily at Gordon Hayward after an inbounds pass went to Jayson Tatum for the last shot. That loss came after Irving had made some public comments about the younger players on the team not understanding what it takes to be a championship-level team. Those words weren’t received too well in the locker room, and Irving admitted as much.
“I did a poor job of setting an example for these young guys of what it’s like to get something out of your teammates,” Irving stated. “You go and you say something publicly and it ends up being received in so many different ways. And you never know how fragile or what guys are going through and you say things like that and you’re expecting results, but at the same time I should’ve kept it in house. Going forward, I want to test these young guys, but not publicly like that. I want to get the best out of them, but I can’t do it publicly like that.”
Irving put forth a dynamic performance to beat the Raptors, who have the best record in the NBA. Irving scored a team-high 24 points while also dishing out a career-high 18 assists.
“You know, that was a learning experience for me of being in this position, of really realizing the magnitude of my voice and what I mean to this group of guys,” he said of the missed messages to his younger teammates. “And if I want to see them do well, I gotta empower them. [Jaylen Brown] was right. I gotta do the right things and really not point fingers at individuals and realize what we can do as a group, despite what we’re doing on the road or the mishaps we may have. I’ve been there in the championship, I’ve tasted it, but I can’t expect that they’re going to get it right away either. So just really working on my patience and coming in and helping these guys realize we can do it against the best teams, but in order to be that championship-level team, we’ve gotta do it every single night against every single team. To prove to not just the Raptors and Golden State that we can play with them, but we’ve gotta prove it to every team in the league that we can really bury them. So that’s just the confidence that we’ve gotta have and the mind-set.”
Irving told reporters that he had to swallow his pride to make the phone call, but he’s happy he did it.
“It takes a real man to go back and call somebody and be like, ‘Hey man, I was young, I made some mistakes, I wasn’t really seeing the big picture like you were. I didn’t have the end of the season in mind; I just wanted to get my stats and make All-Star Games.’ And in his career it means [not much] at that point,” Irving said. “So it’s good, and it gave me peace of mind to go about what I gotta go do.”
But for any Celtics fans who may be worried about a deep relationship between a Celtics star and the leader of the Lakers, fear not.
“I mean, our history runs a little bit deeper than the rivalry, but obviously when they come here, I’m trying to kick his ass,” Irving said. “And he knows that.”