When Kyrie Irving came into the league the player he wanted to know and establish a relationship with was Kobe Bryant. Bryant and his isolation game, his shot making and me first mentality, resonated with the young Duke point guard. One summer, during the USA Basketball camp, when Irving was on the Select Team and Bryant was on the Olympic team, Kyrie was boasting about his skills. Kobe then put him to the test. One-on-one me and you. But there was a catch. $10,000 on the line. In other words, put up or shut up. Bryant was always confident in his ability. It was Kyrie who sheepishly backed off, unwilling to bet on himself when money was at stake.
That 20 year old has disappeared. In its place is an often cynical and tough minded star that can be unlikeable when he mocks Thanksgiving and the people who celebrate it, declares a flat earth and then changes his mind, hates being in the shadow of LeBron James, despite the benefits of such a relationship.
Kyrie has reconnected with his Native American ancestry and it has matured him. However, there is Native American wisdom from Shooter Teton Sioux that Irving needs to embrace: I have seen that in any great undertaking it is not enough for a man to depend simply upon himself.
That is where Irving is still running head first into a wall, this belief that everything, including team excellence, is about him. It is not. It is about the group. Kyrie is selfish which makes him a great, great player when the game is on the line. But then he is required to back up a bit from that ego when team is involved, his teammates in particular. Sometimes, he has to drown out his own voice and listen to others.
It’s the listening part that is the Irving challenge.
Kyrie wanted everyone to know how magnanimous he was in reaching out to the one person he couldn’t stand to be around, so much so, LeBron James was shocked when he saw who was calling. He passed the phone around the table. “I wonder what he wants” LeBron said because it truly was a mystery. Kyrie couldn’t wait to escape him and now he was reaching out. For what? The time for that was last season.
The only way we know the LeBron-Kyrie conversation took place was because Kyrie told the world. The way he told the story was befitting of who Kyrie is. He started with the pronoun “I”. I called LeBron. I apologized. Kyrie always has to be the star of his own story, the star of his own team, just the star. But you know what leaders do. They use the word us and the word we.
Perception is reality. It feels as if Kyrie is already putting distance between himself and his teammates. The more critical he is of them, the more he allows himself to be in his own private country with boundaries he draws. It means he can walk away, there are no ties keeping him in Boston.
If he had the guts to leave LeBron James and more Finals appearances, he would leave anyone, even the kids in Boston. Especially the kids in Boston.
When the Cavs were trying to trade Kyrie, one of the destinations was Phoenix. Kyrie was concerned about what that would be like and so he called Kobe Bryant to ask him about playing on a team with a lot of young players that weren’t good enough, skilled enough, or developed enough to get to the Finals. Their conversation wasn’t leaked by Bryant who keeps all his convos quiet. Nor was it leaked by Kryie. Kyrie respected the Bryant relationship and its privacy.
So why let the world know he apologized to LeBron? So he could be the hero in his own story of failed leadership? To let everyone know he was mature while others were not? To hijack the news cycle and the victory over Toronto by what he had done?
But wouldn’t a mature player respect a private interaction with the games most important player? Kyrie could have told reporters he was young and immature once upon a time without revealing the phone call. But being the star of everything is what Kyrie is about.
Recently, discussion of Kyrie as a Laker took shape. Cynics didn’t buy Kyrie’s apology one bit. They saw it as one more Kyrie Irving manipulative thing. He had to publicly make up with LeBron, be the one who falls on his sword. The air had to be cleared. And then he walks back into LeBron James’ life, if the Lakers are unable to secure Anthony Davis, Klay Thompson or Kawhi Leonard.
Kyrie misses LeBron. Like Michael Jordan once said of Scottie Pippen, “it’s hard being me.”
It’s hard being LeBron. His footprints are near impossible for a single minded scorer like Kyrie who is great at making the shot that wins everything, but struggles at teammate building. The game’s sum. The game’s parts. Leading from the rear and not from the front. Silence is leadership too.
Kyrie is more than capable of breaking Boston’s heart. He has the Kevin Durant disease. Constantly on the move, happiness a work in progress, city _____ here I come.