Kyrie Irving already has passed one of the stiffest tests of his basketball career.
The Boston Celtics point guard detailed the challenge of co-existing with a legendary player like LeBron James in an article ESPN’s Dave McMenamin published Wednesday. Irving had three years of NBA seasoning and was the face of the Cleveland Cavaliers when James returned to the team in 2014, prompting his teammates to adjust their games and personalities, in some cases, in order to bolster the team’s hopes of winning a championship.
“It’s definitely a challenge,” Irving said. “You now become part of a championship-caliber team based on a unique talent. LeBron is so smart, so talented, such a strong leader. And you’re trying to implement who you are, and grow as a player and learn every single day. And it can be difficult because it demands a lot of you.
“Certain times young players — and even older ones — find it a big transition, because you’re playing a certain way, and growing as a player, and you have a vision of what your career will look like. And then this player of such great stature arrives, and you’re still trying to be great, and he’s already great. …”
Irving averaged 21.7, 19.6 and a career-high 25.2 points per game in his three seasons playing alongside James. The Cavs also won the NBA championship in 2016 and lost in the NBA Finals in 2015 and 2017 with James and Irving in tow.
However, Irving’s desire to escape James’ shadow and become the focal point of his team again drove him to request a trade from the Cavs in the summer of 2017. Cleveland accommodated Irving’s wish by dealing him to the Celtics, where he continues to thrive.
Now, 26, Irving reflects on his stint as James’ sidekick as a personal and professional education.
“It was a lot for me to figure out,” Irving says of playing with James. “The belief I have in myself goes way beyond anything that could deter me from what I want to accomplish. You can never ever, ever, ever, ever lose your sense of self while you are playing alongside a great player.”