With all sports on hold, ESPN re-ran both games five and seven from the 2016 NBA Finals on Wednesday night. I took the time to watch both games and among all the memorable LeBron James highlights that series showcased, I was pleasantly reminded about the greatness of Kyrie Irving and began to wonder why I needed a reminder of his greatness. Today, Irving is knocked by fans everywhere for his “poor attitude and inability to be a good teammate.” These insults have evidence behind them, NBA fans don’t just villainize Irving for no reason. After the Cleveland Cavaliers lost the 2017 NBA Finals to the Golden State Warriors, Irving felt it was his time to leave Cleveland behind, and show that he could be the star attraction on a championship team. Fans agreed with Kyrie’s thought process about leaving Cleveland, but it was the way he went about it that irked fans. He forced his way out and put Cleveland into an unfortunate position, where they were forced into a one-sided trade with the Boston Celtics, where they did not receive adequate assets in return for Irving’s services.
Boston is where all of Irving’s teammate issues escalated. He suffered an injury and was not able to play in the 2018 playoffs. Regardless of their star point-guard being out, the young and athletic Celtics took LeBron’s Cavs to seven games in the Eastern Conference Finals and fought hard until the end. This performance led to some of the younger Celtics believing they did not need Irving to be successful in the playoffs, and a few of them thought they were better off without him entirely. The younger players did not state this explicitly to Irving or social media, however, later in the off-season, a few shots at Irving from Terry Rozier and Marcus Smart led to a split locker room and Irving being villainized. After another early exit in the 2019 playoffs, Irving decided his time was up in Boston. Boston and Kyrie Irving was a marriage destined for a messy divorce. Celtics Head Coach, Brad Stevens, built Boston’s culture on hard-nosed basketball that did not get caught up in the media spotlight, which is exactly what happened to Irving.
Due to this split in the Celtics locker room, in the summer before the 2019–2020 season, Kyrie Irving joined fellow superstar Kevin Durant signing with the Brooklyn Nets to begin a new chapter. With Durant set to miss the whole year due to a torn Achilles, this would be Irving’s team and his time to show what he could do as the number one option, once again. Unfortunately, Irving battled with injuries all year and could not stay on the court consistently. Due to guys like Spencer Dinwiddie and Caris LeVert stepping up, the Nets were able to stay in the playoff picture. Surprisingly at the beginning of March, the Nets decided to fire Head Coach, Kenny Atkinson, who had been there four years and had developed all their young talent to be a consistent competitor in the league. Without a lot of evidence backing it up, this was quickly blamed on Irving and Durant because people speculated that the two superstars did not like Atkinson. He was a good coach but did not have their respect, and ultimately lost the locker room. So, Irving was once again villainized for driving Kenny Atkinson out of Brooklyn.
Kyrie Irving’s legacy has been tainted for numerous reasons including his attitude, inability to be a good teammate, and the fact that he has not succeeded as a number one option. Unfortunately, his skill gets lost in his downfalls, and people have forgotten how skilled Irving is. I know that I had fallen under this category, because while watching those two 2016 Finals games, Irving made highlight play after highlight play leaving my jaw dropped. After watching the games I proceeded to watch some of Irving’s best plays from this past season and he is truly unguardable. His handles are the best in the league and his ability to lull his defender to sleep, rise up for a jump shot, blow by the defender, and finger roll it home is unlike any other. Alongside James, Irving led the Cavs to win the 2016 Finals, hitting the game-winning shot in the final minute of Game seven. It is hard for NBA fans to look past all of Irving’s baggage, but, watching the 2016 NBA Finals was a refreshing reminder for me to admire how talented Irving is.