After Kyrie Irving’s
demand request that he be traded away from Northeast Ohio and the all-encompassing shadow of LeBron James was eventually granted by way of a blockbuster deal with the Boston Celtics, many Cleveland Cavaliers fans bid a fond farewell to the former No. 1 overall pick, four-time All-Star and author of the biggest shot in franchise history. Less than one week away from the Celtics and Cavs facing off in an opening night tilt that ranks as one of the more eagerly anticipated regular-season games in recent memory, though, Clevelanders miiiiiight not feel quite so gracious toward their former star point guard when he makes his return to Quicken Loans Arena.
After the trade was (finally) finalized, Irving made a point of showing love to Cavs fans via social media and in his remarks at his introductory news conference at TD Garden. But when the Celtics headed to North Carolina on Wednesday to take on the Charlotte Hornets in a pre-season tune-up game, Irving offered some comments that are sure to arch plenty of eyebrows in the city where he started his career. From Rick Bonnell of the Charlotte Observer:
“It’s exciting to be back on the East Coast,” said Irving, who grew up in New Jersey. “It’s fast-paced. A lot of different cultures, food and people. You get it all, especially in Boston.
“You would go to Cleveland, and it would be at nighttime, and things would be going on, but you just see a vast difference.”
A difference, too, Irving said between Boston and Cleveland as sports cities: “Boston, I’m driving in and (thinking), ‘I’m really playing in a real, live sports city?’”
That’s the sort of quote that’ll be catnip for the Boston fans to whom Irving is understandably working to ingratiate himself. Whatever his intent, though, it’s also the kind of bulletin-board material that’s going to get blown up in 1,000-point font to stoke the fire of Clevelanders who can’t stand the tendency of blue-blood marquee markets to look down on their flyover country counterparts. And it will all but certainly remove any doubt among who might have been on the fence about showering Irving with boos on Tuesday night, when he makes his first trip to the Q as a visitor.
Irving knows he’ll be facing a pitched, emotional atmosphere on opening night — even in, y’know, Not A Real Big Sports Town — but to hear him tell it, he’s not concerned about any vitriol he might hear on Tuesday. From Marc J. Spears of The Undefeated:
“No. Why would [I] be? It’s just hoops,” Irving said before Wednesday’s shootaround […] “It’s just hooping. I understand the magnitude … But I know what it is going to entail in terms of marketing, whatever the case may be, to garner up this energy to make people feel a certain type of way. I get all that. It’s part of the game. It’s been a part of the game for a while. But, it’s just two hoops and a basketball.
“It’s all love no matter what. I have heard boos at times to hearing cheers in the parade. I’ve been in the championship parade as well as being down 30 in ‘Q Arena.’ So, I’ve heard it all. It’s just good to be there and hoop against a great team like the Cavs.” […]
While Irving didn’t have a reputation as much of a talker previously, the expectation is he will be from a leadership or media standpoint in Boston. The way Irving sees it, the voice has always been there.
“For me, the necessity of validation doesn’t ever have to come from anyone telling me that I was ‘The face’ or I was on this platform or anyone telling me my voice now matters,” Irving said. “I kind of knew that regardless. That was no tarnish on anyone else. That’s just who I am. The understanding of what’s important and the message I am trying to get across to my teammates and to those that are around me, that’s the important thing. I’m going to continue to stay that way.
“There is a misunderstanding because the amount that I speak is not as often as other individuals. And I’m fine with that. But when I do speak up, I have a lot to say and it does mean something.”
There’s no doubt that Irving has become much more vocal over the past year or so. (Your mileage may vary as to how good or bad a thing that has been.) This much is clear: after making the power move to push himself not just out of Cleveland, but to the Cavs’ most direct rivals for Eastern Conference supremacy, everything Irving says will get more attention — especially in the city he once called home.
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