OAKLAND, Calif. — Draymond Green has heard the criticism lobbed in Kyrie Irving’s direction. He’s heard how Irving was selfish for wanting to leave the side of LeBron James, how he was foolish for wanting to prove he could strike out on his own and do his own thing.
Green, though, took Irving’s trade request, which led to him being dealt from the Cleveland Cavaliers to the Boston Celtics, in a far different vein than most: His level of respect for the all-star point guard rose.
“That’s tough to do,” Green said of Irving’s trade request. “I don’t think people take into account that he put so much pressure on himself by doing that. But the willingness to do that, knowing the pressure that comes with that and saying, ‘I’m ready to do it. Let’s do it.’ That’s what stood out to me more than anything.”
Green’s Golden State Warriors teammate, Kevin Durant, said something similar in a recent appearance on Bill Simmons’s podcast. Both comments get at the heart of a mentality that exists throughout the NBA — and explains why Irving ultimately made the tough decision to leave a three-time Finals team.
To reach the NBA, the 450 players who comprise the league’s 30 rosters throughout a given season have not only to possess athleticism and skills few mortals can match, but those attributes also must be paired with a competitive streak necessary to fight through the millions of people who also grow up dreaming of claiming one of those select spots.
It’s Green’s competitive streak that allows him — despite standing at 6-foot-7 on a good day — to defend every position on the court and has been a key factor in Golden State’s run to winning a pair of championships in the past three seasons.
So, of course, Green can understand why Irving, after aptly playing the role of James’s sidekick the past three years — including hitting the championship-clinching three-pointer in the 2016 NBA Finals to lead the Cavaliers to Cleveland’s first title in a half-century — was ready to spread his wings and prove he can do more.
“Most people would probably say, ‘LeBron is the greatest player in the world,’ ” Green, who faced Irving in the past three NBA Finals, said. “I don’t say this in disrespect to LeBron … but speaking of Kyrie, to say, ‘I don’t want to play with him no more. I want to do my own thing.’ You have to deliver with that.
“He’s basically saying, ‘I’m ready to deliver.’ That’s big. That says a lot.”
Most players yearn to have the opportunity to play alongside an all-time great performer such as James, the kind of player who — when healthy — virtually guarantees his team a spot among the league’s elite. It’s why James has reached seven straight NBA Finals and still is favored to make it to an eighth straight even after Irving was dealt to his biggest competition in the Eastern Conference.
Irving, however, decided he wanted something more. He chafed in Cleveland at not being treated with the same level of deference as James when it came to expressing his views on social issues. In Boston, as the focal point of a team with plenty of media following it around, he’ll now be expected — and called upon — to discuss anything and everything. And everything he says off the court will be scrutinized far more than it was when he was in Cleveland.
It’s this — as much as anything Irving will get the chance to do on the court in Boston — that spurred him to leave Cleveland. It’s a tall task — one Irving very easily may fail to live up to. That certainly is the conventional wisdom surrounding his decision and heading into this next chapter of his career in Boston.
After all, if presented with the opportunity to play alongside the greatest player in the sport and one of the greatest in its history, most of us would leap at the opportunity and hang onto it for dear life.
Most of us, however, never had a shot at getting to the NBA — let alone being the first overall pick and one of its best scorers. That’s why Green not only sees nothing wrong with Irving’s decision to move on from playing next to James, but appreciates it.
Doing so means taking the harder path and taking on the odds in a way most wouldn’t think of doing — much like the odds of making it to the NBA in the first place.
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