If you’ve closely followed this offseason’s Kyrie Irving saga — which wound up with him moving from Cleveland to Boston and shaking up the NBA’s Eastern Conference and inspiring millions of keystrokes — Irving’s philosophical, didactic and occasionally contentious appearance on ESPN’s “First Take” Monday morning may have been subtly revealing.
If you haven’t closely followed the saga? You must have been scratching your head at monologues like this one, during which Irving objected to the way his request for a change has been portrayed and rejected the perception that he wanted his own team.
“The actual story line of everything that was created from a variety of sources, a variety of people — whether it be from my circle, whether it be from anywhere else — the last person that everybody kind of forgot about was me,” Irving said. “I didn’t say a damn word. And it was all because that was never reality for me, because I know the type of person I am and I know who I’m developing into and who I want to become. It never came from the fact of me wanting to be absolutely selfish and absolutely putting myself first and wanting to be the man.
“I don’t really have an ego,” Irving said, memorably. “I have a presence and aura about me that’s very reality-based. It didn’t come in the form of living in this false world and not being able to tell the truth to somebody and look ’em in the eye [and say], ‘I don’t want to do this anymore. I’m ready to move on. I’m ready to be on my own. I’m ready to try out a new situation and be in an environment where I felt like I could be happy.’ “
Surely only someone without an ego would be so in touch with their presence and aura. If that sounds like a bit of word rubble, you aren’t the only one. Let Max Kellerman’s eyes speak for you here.
And so at various points during this appearance, the program’s hosts attempted to pin down Irving on some specifics of why exactly he wanted out of Cleveland, and what he meant when he talked about perfecting his craft in another city, and why he was moving away from LeBron James. That didn’t always go too well.
“Now you’re answering cryptically a lot of the time, and in kind of generalities, and that makes me think that maybe there’s something personal going on behind the scenes that you can’t or don’t want to talk about,” Kellerman said at one point. “If that’s the case, that is perfectly fair. You can say, ‘Guys, there’s stuff behind the scenes, it’s none of your business,’ and I respect that. So if you’re saying that, fine. If you’re not saying that, then I’d like to know what you have to say about the idea that perfecting your craft seems to be, at this moment, put ahead of the pursuit of championships?”
“I’m sorry, Max, that absolutely made no sense to me,” Irving replied.
Kellerman also pushed him about his relationship with James.
“If you’re playing on the Chicago Bulls, it was about Michael Jordan,” he said. “If you’re playing on the Cleveland Cavaliers right now, it’s going to be about the relationship of the second-best player on the team to LeBron James. Am I wrong in that assessment?”
“I just think that you just care entirely too much,” Irving responded. “I get it, I get it, ask the questions, relationship, here it is, here it is, but you keep forgetting: Basketball is a team sport. I’m around different players all the time. … There is no personal issue. There is no, like, let me figure out what’s going on, let’s dive in and maybe we’re missing something here. I made the decision as a man, and as a man over there, Max Kellerman, just respect it and leave it alone.”
Irving brought up on his own how Kellerman has criticized him in the past for being one-dimensional, and then explained why that was incorrect.
“I don’t understand how you’re a basketball enthusiast or however you want to call it, and the understanding of the game is a lot deeper than what meets the eye, and if you understand the game, you can understand that,” Irving said. “And when you see a player that’s able to have some of the talents that I’ve been blessed with from my mom and dad — which I thank them for every day, for meeting in Boston — and able to put me on this earth to be a very, very special individual on the court, and going to perfect my craft, and I had to figure out a way to still be effective without having the ball in my hands. … And as you respect other peoples’ greatness, that also shows how great you are.”
Stephen A. Smith attempted a query about the focus that Irving will now receive in Boston, and that didn’t work either. Smith said the biggest stories in the league this fall will be the Warriors, the Thunder with Paul George, the new Cavaliers and “Kyrie Irving in Boston.”
“Not the Celtics; it’s going to be ‘Kyrie Irving in Boston,’ okay?” Smith said. “Because you’re not a scrub. You are a star in this game. So because of that, are you prepared, or how prepared are you rather, to deal with — unintentional or not — how prepared are you to deal with the distraction that you are going to be? Just because you’re that good, and you decided to leave Cleveland, and you ended up in Boston.”
“Honestly, Stephen A., I didn’t hear anything that was reality-based in all of that,” Irving said. “I didn’t hear one thing. I heard noise, I heard distraction, and then there was one important thing that I think that you failed to realize: that the Boston Celtics have existed without myself prior to me getting traded there.”
Irving later said that distractions don’t exist, because “I live a very much real life outside of all this.”
“Distractions are real, though,” Smith said. “You do know that. C’mon now.”
“Oh, if you’re very much woke, there is no such thing as distractions,” Irving disagreed.
Irving possibly said the most when he said the least, answering “no” when asked whether he spoke to James before his request for a trade.
“Why not?” Smith asked.
“Why would I have to?” Irving replied.
“If you don’t speak to somebody about it, they might take it personally,” Smith said.
“Yeah,” Irving agreed.
“Do you care about that at all?” Smith asked.
“No,” Irving said.
That’s good aura.
Irving also said several kind things about James and Cleveland and expanded on the much-shared video above.
“I don’t think that you owe anything to another person in terms of figuring out what you want to do with your life,” he said. “And it’s not anything personal, I’m not here to tirade anybody, I’m not here to go at any particular person or the organization, because I have nothing but love for Cleveland. I have nothing but love for the times that I spent there. It’s nothing about that.
“It’s just there comes a time when you mature as an individual. It’s time to make that decision. And there is no looking back from that standpoint. There is no time to figure out how to save someone’s feelings, when ultimately you have to be selfish in figuring out what you want to do. And it wasn’t about me not wanting to win. It wasn’t anything about that. I want to be extremely, extremely happy in perfecting my craft. And that was the only intent that I have in all of this.”