Sometimes, all it takes is a simple talk with your friend over the phone
Photo from NBA
Kyrie Irving had a specific reason on why he left Cleveland: He wanted to be the centerpiece of a team.
Throughout his playing years with LeBron James in Cleveland, the catchword was always “LeBron and Kyrie.” With James running the show, Irving was recognized as the king’s little brother. The kid.
Irving, being the young player who wanted to be at the driver’s seat, eventually grew tired of being Robin to James’ Batman. The 23-year-old guard who had barely reached the peak of his prime forced his way out of James’ spotlight, confident that he can lead his own empire without having to live in someone else’s shadow.
He took his destiny into his own hands when he moved to a young Celtics team. In his first two seasons, he stood out as the organizing principal they needed. Little by little, he shouldered the responsibility he asked for pretty well—at least that’s what he thought.
In a league where depth and talent matter more than ever, the Celtics are equipped with the right pieces that complement a championship team. But even with the talent they possess, Boston still spent most of the season struggling to close out games.
Having been thrusted into a leadership role turned out to be a reality check for Irving. More than halfway through the season, the Celtics started to show cracks not just on the court but also in the sidelines and the locker room.
First, a frustrating loss to Orlando Magic where Irving looked as though he was squabbling with coach Brad Steven’s play-calling, then the post-game on-court altercation with Gordon Hayward’s indecision in the most crucial part of the game, which eventually led to a loss, and then followed by multiple interviews where he called out his teammates’ lack of experience. These circumstances alone bared that the Celtics, with the so-called leadership of Irving, are still in disarray.
“We had nothing to lose last year. We had nothing to lose, and everybody could play free and do whatever they wanted, and nobody had any expectations. We were supposed to be at a certain point, we surpassed that. Young guys were supposed to be at a certain point, they surpassed that. We come into this season, expectations, and it’s real. Everyone from the coaching staff to the players, it’s very much real, every single day, so that’s new. It’s tough,” Irving said.
As the unhinged Celts continue to fall into the pit of despair, Irving knew it was time to press the panic button—no, he did not lash out on his teammates during practices nor did he suggest to trade players—he simply dialed a number and talked to the only man he was confident knew everything about the issue he’s facing—LeBron James.
After spearheading Boston’s victory over the Toronto Raptors where Irving scored 27 points and tallied a career-high 18 assists, the man who was questioned for his ability to direct a team told the media something momentous and baffling:
“I had to call Bron and tell him, like, I apologize for being that young player that wanted everything at his fingertips, and I wanted everything to be at my threshold. I wanted to be the guy that led us to a championship. I wanted to be the leader. I wanted to be all that, and you know, the responsibility of being the best in the world and leading your team is something that is not meant for many people,” Irving told reporters.
As unthinkable as it could get, Irving manned up and apologized to James for not understanding the responsibilities of becoming a leader.
To witness Irving learn from his mistakes is great. Patching up things with James is what fans have been longing to see. Getting advice and coming to terms with his old pal is one thing, but lifting Boston out of the abyss is a totally different story. But now what?
One thing is sure: Irving’s all fired up. Coming off three straight losses against lottery teams, Irving flipped the switch by guiding the underwhelming Celts to a three-game winning streak to push his team back to fifth in the East. His assist average jumped from 3.7 to 11.3, while scoring 27, 38, and 32 points, respectively.
Irving just went rogue—from shot selection to his playmaking abilities. He orchestrated that mini run looking like a man on a mission. As he and the Celtics geared for consistency with a little over 40 games left in the regular season, there is still one important thing that Irving has to do: stop blaming his teammates when things go south.
As much as it’s frustrating to get beaten by star-less squads, Irving has to understand that telling the public that his teammates do not know what it takes to be great will do more harm than good. “I did a poor job of setting an example for these guys of what it’s like to get something out of your teammates,” Irving said post-game.
We still don’t know—and perhaps we’ll never know—the words of James that woke up Irving’s leadership spirit. All we know is that Irving was sorry and he’s dying to win. Whatever went down with that phone call, it just goes to show how great a person James is, and that their brotherhood never died in the first place.
We never know, we might see James and Irving team up again someday to tear up the whole league. Only that, we’ll witness an experienced Irving and the same old James. And if that isn’t the most beautiful comeback story of a dynamic duo ever, I don’t know what is.