As Kyrie Irving’s game-tying attempt under the outstretched arms of LeBron James fell short in the Cleveland Cavaliers’ season-opening 102-99 victory against the Boston Celtics on Tuesday night, the two former teammates performed their traditional handshake and embraced on the right wing of the Quicken Loans Arean court. Irving then did the same at halfcourt with several other ex-teammates.
But under that show of unity was some bitterness by the Cavaliers toward the player whose Game 7 shot in 2016 delivered the franchise’s only championship. Irving, of course, requested a trade this past summer due at least in part to a frosty relationship with James, and he got his wish upon being dealt to the Celtics — the same team that Cleveland met in the Eastern Conference finals this past May.
Multiple Cavaliers players and Cleveland owner Dan Gilbert were “upset” upon learning the team planned to play a tribute video to Irving, who spent six seasons on the team after being drafted No. 1 overall in 2011, and the Cavs ultimately ditched those plans, according to Cleveland.com’s Joe Vardon.
The Cavs had a built-in excuse not to play the tribute video, given the atmosphere in the building after Gordon Hayward’s gruesome ankle injury midway through the first quarter, but the team told Vardon and two other reporters that the cancellation of the video was not “directly” tied to the injury.
“We were expecting to run it at a floating opportunity based on the right moment,” Cavs spokesman Tad Carper told Vardon at halftime of Tuesday night’s game, “and we felt that moment never presented itself.”
Apparently, the Cavs were pretty confident the moment wouldn’t present itself in the second half, too. Either that, or several of Irving’s ex-teammates believed no moment was right, and the decision was made before the game. I’ll let you decide who may have been most vocal in squashing the tribute video.
In an unrelated note, the Cavaliers also didn’t play a tribute video for James when he made his return to Cleveland as a member of the Miami Heat following his 2010 Decision. LeBron was summarily booed then, as was Irving on Tuesday night, but James didn’t feel the reception was nearly as cold for Kyrie.
“It was nothing. That was nothing. What do you want me to say? I’ve experienced big boos before. That was like a pat on the back. It could never —,” James told reporters after the game, stopping short of saying Irving’s boos couldn’t compare to the ones he received. “I love our fans, but that was nothing.”
Asked if he and Irving exchanged pleasantries during the postgame handshake, James simply said, “No,” shaking his head. “No,” he said again, cuing reporters for the next question ASAP. James was also asked about seeking Irving out for a dap before tipoff. His curt response: “I dapped them all up.”
For Irving’s part, when asked about his return to Cleveland, he merely called it “an ordinary game.” It was anything but ordinary, but Kyrie had bigger things to worry about than Cleveland boos or LeBron hugs. He was clearly still shaken from the Hayward injury, still trying to figure out how to pick up the pieces to a season that seemed to fracture along with his newest All-Star teammate’s tibia.
Irving and the Celtics won’t have long to regroup. He makes his Boston debut against the Milwaukee Bucks on Wednesday at the TD Garden, where the atmosphere around the home opener will have a completely different feel from what was expected 24 hours ago. “I’m excited,” said Irving, zero emotion on his face. “Can’t you tell? I think I’ll be better suited after we get through the rest of this night.”
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