Kyrie Irving, 'very much woke,' cares little for LeBron James' feelings

Ball Don't Lie
<a class="link rapid-noclick-resp" href="/nba/players/4840/" data-ylk="slk:Kyrie Irving">Kyrie Irving</a> and <a class="link rapid-noclick-resp" href="/nba/players/3704/" data-ylk="slk:LeBron James">LeBron James</a> were once successful business partners. (AP)
Kyrie Irving and LeBron James were once successful business partners. (AP)

Why Kyrie Irving subjected himself to ESPN’s “First Take” is beyond me, but the All-Star point guard spent 90 minutes on Monday morning cryptically answering questions from Stephen A. Smith and Max Kellerman about his reasons for leaving the Cleveland Cavaliers and his relationship with LeBron James.

Inquiries about Irving’s trade request, reports he wanted out from LeBron’s shadow and the league-wide drama that ensued were met with responses along these lines from the newest member of the Boston Celtics: “I don’t really have an ego. I have a presence and aura about me that’s very reality-based,” and, “Oh, if you’re very much woke, there’s no such thing as distractions, especially all this.”

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Except, Irving answered one line of questioning with the very clarity we’ve sought since the trade:

Smith: Did you speak to LeBron James before you and your representatives met with ownership and let them know that you wanted out?

Irving: “No.”

Smith: “Why not?”

Irving: “Why would I have to?”

Smith: “If you don’t speak to somebody about that, they might take it personally.”

Irving: “Yeah.”

Smith: “Do you care about that at all?”

Irving: “No.”

Irving then elaborated:

“I think we’re forgetting one important thing. … I don’t think that you owe anything to another person in terms of figuring out what you want to do with your life. It’s not anything personal. I’m not trying to tirade anybody. I’m not here to go at any particular person or the organization, because I have nothing but love for Cleveland. I have nothing but love for the times that I spent there. There’s nothing about that.

“There comes a time where you mature as an individual. It’s time to make that decision, and there is no looking back from that standpoint. There is no time to figure out how to save someone’s feelings when ultimately you have to be selfish in figuring out what you want to do. It wasn’t about me not wanting to win. It wasn’t anything about that. It was, ‘I want to be extremely, extremely happy in perfecting my craft,’ and that was the only intent in all of this.

“I think that it got much more attention because everything else started coming out about who felt like their important opinion mattered most. I saw previous players, past players, current players speaking on something that had absolutely nothing to do with them. I’m appreciative of their comments, but at the same time it’s ultimately my decision.”

I can see this from both sides of the aisle. From Irving’s perspective, he no longer wanted to play for the Cavaliers. That was a personal decision, and management could make it happen. LeBron was not part of either equation, so why include him in the conversation? Irving does not answer to LeBron.

On the other hand, when two partners hold the fate of a billion-dollar operation in their hands like LeBron and Kyrie did, it seems like common courtesy to inform the other about a potential disruption.

You would certainly tell coworkers you considered friends about something so earth-shattering, but maybe Irving didn’t consider James a friend. Maybe he didn’t trust James to keep quiet about it. Maybe he thought James was pushing for the reported trade that would have sent him to the Phoenix Suns in a three-team deal that would have brought Paul George and Eric Bledsoe to Cleveland.

Or maybe he just felt like James wouldn’t have extended the same courtesy with respect to his potential decision to leave for Los Angeles next summer. These are the questions that were left unanswered.

In the end, Irving wasn’t happy in Cleveland, and he’s now “ecstatic” in Boston. It would be easier for us if there was one reason he could cite for why that’s the case, because it would help us make more sense of a player consciously leaving LeBron’s side on a championship-caliber team. We also know Kellerman believes that reason must be something personal between the two ex-teammates, since the ESPN host interrogated the heck out of Irving about it, but maybe it’s less dramatic than that.

Reading between the tea leaves, it seems Irving’s primary reason for wanting out was to realize his full potential as a player, something he can’t do on a LeBron-led roster. Twice Irving expressed enthusiasm for being more of the complete pick-and-roll playmaker that Boston is asking him to be instead of the isolation-heavy scoring option that Cleveland wanted him to be. Asked flat-out what he was most excited about in transitioning from the Cavaliers to the Celtics, he said, “Actually playing point guard.”

Kellerman was eager to frame Irving’s “perfecting my craft” remarks as an individualistic attitude unbecoming of any true sportsman’s quest for a championship, but Irving wasn’t having that, either:

Smith: “Do you believe you can win without LeBron James?”

Irving: “Time will tell.”

Smith: “I asked you what you believe.”

Irving: “Oh, absolutely.”

If we’re looking for a rift between Irving and James to spice up the Cleveland-Boston rivalry, Kyrie might have offered us one with his thoughts on how the trade request became public. To his credit, Smith asked Irving about a wild accusation he reported back in July — that, “if Kyrie Irving was in front of LeBron James right now, LeBron James would be tempted, quote, to beat his a**, end quote.”

To which Irving responded on Monday morning: “I felt like the timing was impeccable, if you ask me. I think about how ironic it was that I was on my China trip and how my trade request all of a sudden just came out publicly. It was hurtful, because I knew how professional I had kept it throughout the whole entire process and how strategic it was, because I knew that it was going to be madness. And it turned out to be like that. When you’re living in a reality-based world — and I’m a very awake individual — and you have all these exterior forces trying to change or skew everyone else’s opinion, and I’m not able to say anything and I’m sitting back and being very, very patient, it became something I didn’t understand, because of the amount of moments that we had together as a team.”

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This is the sort of cryptic response that dominated the interview, but it sure sounded as if he was addressing another Smith report from late July — that Irving’s camp “believes LeBron James had everything to do with the news getting out that Kyrie Irving wants to be traded, because Kyrie Irving and his representation and others met with the Cavaliers a couple weeks ago, and not a word got out until recently. They believe that LeBron James got word of it and was put off by it and leaked it.”

Now, there’s your drama. So, really, Irving’s 90 minutes on “First Take” did little to limit speculation about his relationship with LeBron and may have even inflamed it, because we now know just how unhappy he was in Cleveland, he didn’t feel LeBron deserved to know about his desire to play elsewhere, and LeBron may have been the one that made this story as public as it was for a month.

Plus, we got some pretty fantastic flat-Earthian answers out of Irving, like this one:

“The actual storyline of everything that was created from a variety of sources, a variety of people, whether it be from my circle or whether it be from anywhere else, the last person that everybody forgot about was me. I didn’t say a damn word, and it was all because that was never reality for me, because I know the type of person I am, I know who I’m developing into, and I know who I want to become. It never came from the fact of me wanting to be absolutely selfish and absolutely putting myself first and wanting to be the man. I don’t really have an ego. I have a presence and aura about me that’s very reality-based. It didn’t come in a form of living in this false world and not being able to tell the truth to somebody and look them in the eye and say, ‘I don’t want to do this anymore. I’m ready to move on. I’m ready to be on my own. I’m ready to try out a new situation and be in an environment where I feel like I can be happy.’ My intent was the same and always will be the same — to be around people and to interact them. I love doing that, and to do that through basketball, that’s even better. But to be happy every day I come to work and perfect my craft, oh man, I can’t wait to get the season started.”

And this one:

Meanwhile, as Irving was delivering these cryptic answers, LeBron was doing this on Instagram:

That we are being treated to stories like this about Irving and LeBron on the same day Kevin Durant may or may not have revealed that he uses alternate accounts to defend himself from Twitter trolls is just one more reason that the NBA offseason is the best soap opera going. God bless Woke Kyrie.

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Ben Rohrbach is a contributor for Ball Don’t Lie and Shutdown Corner on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at or follow him on Twitter!

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