Kyrie Irving is empathetic toward LeBron James: 'I feel for him. I really do'

Back in January, Kyrie Irving said that he called LeBron James to apologize for his behavior while they were both on the Cleveland Cavaliers. The revelation served as a public acknowledgement that the two stars were back on good terms — Irving had reportedly grown tired of playing second fiddle to James and was traded to the Boston Celtics before last season.

On Saturday, Irving came to the defense of his former teammate as the Celtics prepare to face the Los Angeles Lakers, who are in a state of disarray with James under fire, likely to miss the playoffs for the first time in 14 years.

In an interview with Joe Vardon of The Athletic, Irving said that he is empathetic toward James and believes the criticism is unfair due to the time James missed with a groin injury. James was out for 17 games after suffering the injury on Christmas Day. During that stretch, the Lakers struggled to maintain a grip on the periphery of the Western Conference playoff picture, and have gone 4-10 since James’ return to all but mathematically eliminate them from the postseason.

“You’re coming to a team like that and you have a lot of the responsibility, and you come back in the middle of the regular season, it’s hard because now other teams are gearing up for the playoffs, that next level of play,” Irving said to The Athletic.

BOSTON, MA - FEBRUARY 7: LeBron James #23 of the Los Angeles Lakers and Kyrie Irving #11 of the Boston Celtics talk during the game on February 7, 2019 at the TD Garden in Boston, Massachusetts. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2019 NBAE (Photo by Brian Babineau/NBAE via Getty Images)
Kyrie Irving came to the defense of LeBron James as his former teammate is facing a heap of criticism for the Lakers' struggles this season. (Getty Images)

Irving continued that success for James is not just winning three games in a row, but instead contending for a championship. Entering Saturday, the Lakers are 6.5 games out of the playoff picture with 17 games left on the schedule.

“Whenever you don’t get a chance to do that, and you’ve been doing it for the last, what, 10 years, getting to the playoffs? I feel for him,” Irving told The Athletic.

The issue, as Irving pointed out, is that the bar is set so high for superstars such as James. The spotlight is always on LeBron — win and he is praised, lose and he is at fault.

Irving admitted in Vardon’s story that he didn’t like how James received all of the attention in Cleveland. But now as the main piece in Boston, Irving has a better appreciation for what James has to deal with on a daily basis.

“The deal that I had to become aware of, that I was signing up for, was like once you become one of the most coveted guys in the league, you’re signing up for basically, like you’re going to be attacked for the rest of your career,” Irving said to The Athletic. “You’re going to be praised. You’re going to be brought up, you’re going to be brought down because that’s just the nature of the business.”

After the Celtics beat the Lakers on Saturday, Irving and James engaged in a long embrace on the court before chatting with their warm-ups over their mouths — just another indication of the bond between the two stars:

The Lakers may miss the playoffs this season, and the critiques of James may only increase. But to hear from one of James’ peers — especially Irving, who has a unique relationship with LeBron — offers an important perspective that should be kept in mind before piling on with the criticism.

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