Irving made it clear last week that he has no regrets about that power move, publicly thanking the Celtics for “getting me out of Cleveland.” On Wednesday, in comments published by Bleacher Report, the five-time all-star said of making his trade demand, “I think it was the best thing I’ve done, honestly.”
Most observers would likely posit that the best thing Irving has done in the NBA was hitting the Game 7 shot during the 2016 NBA Finals that propelled him, James and the Cavs to Cleveland’s first major professional sports title in 52 years. However, in Bleacher Report’s lengthy profile, Irving claimed that finding his happy place has only “come in the last year."
That’s because, after entering the NBA as a 19-year-old No. 1 overall pick expected to turn around a floundering franchise, then suddenly playing second fiddle for four years to the league’s resident alpha male, Irving has landed with a team as young as it is talented. In other words, his experience and maturation process have prepared him to play a leadership role that, this time, feels very comfortable.
“Just be you,” he told BR’s Howard Beck of his mind-set in Boston. “It finally hit me. It finally hit me at 26 years old, eight years in.”
At some point during his final years in Cleveland, it hit Irving that his best play was to hit the door before, as he anticipated, James himself did. Otherwise, he ran the risk of being stuck on a squad with far lower expectations of success, surrounded by teammates who had been chosen to complement the talents of a very different star player.
“Like, keep it real,” Irving said. “If I was still in Cleveland, I would be . . . like, everything that was foreseen to happen, happened.”
“Change is hard sometimes, man,” he added, chuckling at the overwrought reaction to his trade demand. “And deciding to do what’s best for you is not going to look the same for everyone else. So you have to willfully accept that.”
Irving has shown, though, that he recognizes how valuable his time with James was, not just in terms of on-court success but in showing him how to achieve it. On Tuesday, he said (via Yahoo Sports) that it “was the first time I had watched film, get ready for the playoffs, learn how to be competed against.”
He nonetheless offered this summation of that period: “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.”
At the time of the trade demand, it wasn’t at all clear that Irving would be moving on to the Celtics. He was reported to have been most interested in joining the Knicks, Heat, Spurs or Timberwolves, but he told Beck that personal ties he has to Boston led to an emotional moment when he was told of the trade.
“Went outside and cried, let it all out, let go of all the emotions and just really, finally, it just hit me,” Irving says a year after the trade. “And when I found out I was going to Boston, I was like . . . I couldn’t believe it. Out of all places.”
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