Jae C. Hong/Associated Press
During an October appearance on The ETCs with Kevin Durant, Irving said: “I felt like I was the best option on every team I’ve played for down the stretch.” He added that playing for the Nets with a healthy Durant “is the first time in my career where I can look down and be like, ‘That motherf–ker can make that shot too.”
James addressed those comments on Road Trippin’ earlier this month. He said he wanted to seek out the full transcript to understand the full context and hearing Irving say that “hurt me a little bit”:
On his best night, Irving is a scorer on par with anybody in the league. He also delivered the single biggest shot in Cleveland Cavaliers franchise history in the 2016 NBA Finals.
The season before that, the six-time All-Star dropped 57 points on the San Antonio Spurs and basically carried the Cavs offense down the stretch.
That Irving would think so highly of himself wasn’t undeserved. Whether he intended to or not, his comments could still be read as a subtle dig at James. LeBron certainly took it as one.
In providing his view, James may unintentionally have highlighted why his relationship with Irving soured to the point Irving demanded and received a trade out of Cleveland ahead of the 2017-18 season.
“I was like, ‘Damn,’ because … the whole time I was there I only wanted to see him be an MVP of our league,” he said. “I only cared about his success. And it just didn’t align.”
Almost from the outset upon his return to Cleveland, James was viewed as a mentor to Irving. The star guard was once asked in May 2015 what kind of “parental role” LeBron would have for the younger Cavs players.
Stephen A. Smith reported for The Undefeated in July 2017 that dynamic—whether real or perceived—eventually wore on Irving:
“‘Kyrie isn’t saying he’s better than LeBron and should be seen that way,’ a close confidant of Irving’s told me. ‘He’s saying he’s not about to let LeBron ‘SON’ him … treating him like he’s the child and LeBron’s the father or big brother he’s supposed to look up to.
“‘Kyrie knows he’s a franchise-caliber talent. He wants to be treated like it. And he’s tired of hearing about what LeBron needs, and he’s damn sure tired of hearing LeBron sound like he always needs more. As if the crew they have isn’t enough.'”
The Undefeated’s Jesse Washington provided more perspective, writing how Irving “has a great father” in his dad, Drederick, and “didn’t need LeBron to play the father figure in Cleveland.”
In theory, Irving and James should have worked as perfectly as James and Anthony Davis seem to fit together with the Los Angeles Lakers. That obviously didn’t happen, and in retrospect the only surprise might be that LeBron and Kyrie coexisted long enough to help bring a championship to Cleveland.