“Having just a tremendously great player like that come to your team, and you see yourself being one of those great players eventually, and then he ends up joining it, and then now you have to almost take a step back and observe… Finding that balance is one of the toughest things to do because you have so much belief and confidence in yourself… Selfishly, I always wanted to just show everyone in the whole entire world exactly who I was every single time.”
– Kyrie Irving during the most recent NBA Finals
A lot of NBA fans derided Kevin Durant for ring-chasing when he left Russell Westbrook in Oklahoma City to join the historic 73-9 Golden State Warriors. They chided him for not being loyal to his organization or joining the greatest team to not win the NBA Finals. In the end, KD got what he sought: a ring and his defining moment. Now that Kyrie Irving has requested a trade from the Cavaliers, he is getting the same criticism – for doing the opposite.
From the outside, it looks like Kyrie couldn’t possibly be unhappy with his current situation. Since the return of LeBron James to Cleveland in 2014, the Cavaliers have made three straight NBA Finals and completed the greatest comeback in NBA history while down 3-1 against the aforementioned 73-9 Warriors. Kyrie was the one who took The Shot that sealed the championship. What many don’t remember is that Kyrie signed his maximum 5-year extension before LeBron decided to go back home.
What Irving committed to was building the Cavaliers from the ground up and continuing to craft his legacy on his own terms, as the alpha dog of a young team left in ruins after LeBron’s original decision in 2010. Based on Kyrie’s comments during this year’s NBA Finals, it’s easy to see that it was difficult for him to adjust to his new situation right after making a long term commitment to a completely different one. As selfless as LeBron James is on the basketball court, as the greatest basketball player of his generation, it is difficult to make your own imprint while playing alongside him. With a supreme belief in his abilities, Kyrie wants to see how good he can ultimately be.
As the former Cavaliers’ General Manager David Griffin said on a recent “The Jump” podcast, most people don’t have the courage to do what Kyrie did. Playing with LeBron James and having a chance to win every year while being his teammate are not the only factors affecting his happiness. Based on the recent news of his shoe collaboration with Kobe Bryant, Kyrie’s always been more Black Mamba than LeBron.
Imagine working for an organization for a long time, gradually coming into your own, and eventually encountering a circumstance to finally hone your talent, elevate your performance, and take yourself and your team to the next level. You see the possibility of having greater influence and look forward to the challenge of living up to the expectations of the organization and those that you place on yourself. Then, after being given that freedom of agency, your boss decides to recruit someone with vastly more experience and an imposing network within the industry. While this is still a great opportunity to learn from one of the best, you have to take a step back right when you thought your time had come. You had come so close to being able to showcase your abilities only to be overshadowed immediately with no opportunities to be the one most remembered for elevating your organization.
This is how Kyrie Irving feels. He wants the pressure of having to sink or swim. He delivered an iconic moment that brought the city of Cleveland its first championship in 52 years. He has his ring. Now he’s seeking to further cement his legacy.