When Kyrie Irving was traded from the Cleveland Cavaliers to the Boston Celtics ahead of the 2017 NBA season, he knew he would be looked at as the leader of the team.

And while things seemed to go well the first year despite Irving missing the entire playoffs due to knee surgery, things have been different during the current campaign.

During Boston’s incredible postseason run that saw the team come within a game of the NBA Finals, players like Terry Rozier and Jaylen Brown really stepped up in Irving’s absence. Rozier in particular knew his role would be diminished at the start of the year with a fully healthy Irving, and that’s led to some “competition” between the two teammates.

But at the end of the day, Irving is the leader of the Celtics. He didn’t realize just how difficult it would be, which prompted him to call former teammate LeBron James to apologize and “move forward.”

The six-time All Star now knows what it takes to lead a team of younger players after being in James’ shadow, and in an exclusive interview with ESPN’s Rachel Nichols, Irving opened up about what he’s learned about being a leader in the locker room.

“You don’t have to try to be a leader,” Irving told Nichols. “You naturally propel yourself to this position. You naturally start listening to outside advice like, ‘hey, how’d you deal with this? How’d you deal with that?’ And at the end of the day, I’ve always had the tools. Now it’s just about going out there and just doing it and proving it and just being myself. That’s the best version of me.”

The C’s certainly will need Irving to be that best version of himself Thursday when they play the Milwaukee Bucks in their first game since the All-Star break.

Thumbnail photo via Erik Williams/USA TODAY Sports Images