Years before his Monday night disaster, Kyrie Irving was annoyed and it had nothing to do with LeBron James and it had everything to do with Steph Curry. Dismayed like a kid with a toothache, there was nothing Irving could do but watch as the effervescent Curry treated basketball like he was in his driveway playing a game of H-O-R-S-E. That year his career took off, Steph was everywhere, and he was adored, while Irving was stuck being LeBron James little brother in Cleveland.
If they were twins, an impossibility since Steph is 2 years older, Kyrie and Steph would be as fraternal as you could get. Steph in those early years was preternaturally happy, the boy next door, a bomb thrower with a cute kid leading a team no one penciled in to start a dynasty. Steph made these crazy off the bounce shots. He entertained pre-game like Barry Bonds used to do. He understood basketball was a business but the fans wanted to feel like they were a part of something. Steph was always engaging and humble.
Kyrie was moody while Steph was even keeled, willing to let everyone else take the credit. The ultimate teammate, passing out wisdom and patience to Draymond Green who often butted heads with Kevin Durant, embracing the we and not the me.
Kyrie didn’t have time to be wise. Even though he and Steph were in the same draft, Irving was the number one pick. He was out to prove something. Kyrie wanted to be the best player ever.
But he didn’t have best player talent. He wasn’t a MVP in the making and his size relegated him to great scorer but average in other aspects of the game. Like assists. And leadership.
If Steph Curry was in Kyrie’s head so was Kobe Bryant. His mentor and idol created a blueprint for Irving. It is a world in which Irving thinks if he takes 30 shots then the Celtics will get a playoff win. It’s comical and ridiculous at the same time. If Kyrie had taken 30 shots against Milwaukee, his teammates would have staged a coup. If the Celtics was a ship, they would have thrown Kyrie overboard. Already, they are beyond tired of the Kyrie Irving show.
Regardless of the optics, the NBA is a people business. How you get along with people matters. There are iconic talents who can be brooding and moody and difficult but on the court they transform into someone else.
Kyrie is a shot maker. He can drive to the rim. He can finish with either left or right and you can trust him at the line. In pressure situations, he can be money. Irving is only 6-3. He rarely has the advantage in size. He is not the next coming of Bad Boy Isaiah Thomas.
The good of Kyrie is that he is better than most point guards but Curry, Damian Lillard and Russell Westbrook are better. Kyrie Irving doesn’t know it. Or, maybe he knows it and doesn’t want to believe it.
Taking 30 shots disrespects the game and your teammates. Sure, Jordan and Bryant and even Harden put up those crazy playoff shot attempt numbers but their ability to put the ball in the hole make them all-time greats. Kyrie Irving isn’t that.
The best thing that happened to Kyrie Irving is that game winner over Steph in the 2016 NBA Finals. It gave him gravitas and a bigger ego. He slayed the Steph monster. It was after that moment that Kyrie reportedly wanted a trade but was talked out of it. It would have been a bad look.
The worst thing that happened to Kyrie Irving is that game winner over Steph in the 2016 NBA Finals. It gave him an identity. He was a scoring point but it didn’t match up with his skill level. Yes, Kyrie Irving is a clutch shot maker. But he has never been an elite point guard who makes plays for others. He’s better than Kyle Lowry. And he’s worse. Lowry is figuring out how to make the team go. Kyrie wants to make Kyrie go.
For some ridiculous reason, he came out in the preseason and said to a packed Boston house he was going to re-sign. Perhaps he thought that would take the pressure off. It only created a tsunami. During stretches of the year, he has been uncommunicative, hyper critical of his teammates, angry and sullen.
It’s not that surprising. It’s hard to be the face of the franchise. To be asked to deliver in the most important moments. Charles Barkley once said that star players get too much of the credit and too much of the blame.
If Boston loses the series to Milwaukee, Kyrie Irving will be forced to fall on his sword. He will be blamed. His shot making, his shot taking, his leadership all swirling in this vortex that has him an outlier in a Brad Stevens world. He is an iso player but he is not Point God. He’s Damian Lillard, only he had the luxury of playing with LeBron James. Then again, he’s not Damian Lillard. Ed Davis, a former teammate of Lillard, says that Lillard’s real talent is making the 14th man on the roster feel wanted. Lillard befriends everyone.
Kyrie befriends Kyrie.
It’s been a very strange season. Kyrie and Gordon Hayward didn’t really mesh on the court and the kids weren’t having fun. Their development took a step back. But for all his imperfections, Kyrie isn’t a polarizing player. He isn’t Westbrook. But he has an uneven game. He is an apathetic leader. He is a man on a search. He needs a team that will let him have his way.
Kyrie wants everything but he doesn’t give everything. To give everything you have to take a step back. And allow other people to thrive. And when they do, you are happy. For them.