BOSTON — Kyrie Irving wants to win. Badly.
That’s the big takeaway after his jaw-dropping revelation Wednesday night that, in the aftermath of his pointed comments toward Boston’s younger players after Saturday’s loss in Orlando, Irving phoned former teammate LeBron James for guidance on how to be a better leader to a young team with championship aspirations.
Consider how difficult it must be for a player of Irving’s magnitude to essentially swallow a bit of his pride and make a call in which he had to admit that, not only did he not handle his situation well when he was a younger player, but also acknowledge that he was essentially becoming everything he resented now that roles have been reversed all these years later.
With the benefit of time, Irving now understands why James was so demanding. Irving understands that he was too singularly focused on individual accomplishments and didn’t always recognize the need to sacrifice himself so the team could achieve its championship goals. He understands that, in order for his current team to get to the championship stage the Cavaliers eventually reached, he had to figure out how James got the younger players in Cleveland to embrace what he was preaching.
Irving is admitting fault in hopes his young teammates can learn from his experiences.
In making that call, Irving proved more definitively than ever that winning is all the matters to him now. It shows he understands that part of his legacy will be determined by if he can get the most out of the players alongside him in Boston and deliver them to a championship stage.
“[James] has a legacy he wants to leave, and he has a window he wants to capture,” said Irving. "So I think what that brought me back was like, ‘Alright, how do I get the best out of this group to the success they had last year and then helping them realize what it takes to win a championship?’”
Irving didn’t have to detail his call to James. Back in December, during a road trip to D.C., Irving revealed how he sought advice on growing as a leader but, pressed on who exactly he phoned, he suggested he would never tell reporters.
In revealing his call to James, Irving laid himself bare a bit. All at the cost of winning.
By simply referencing James, Irving left reporters salivating for more details. When about 15 reporters shouted follow-up questions after his revelation, Irving smiled and fired back, “Aww, relax. Relax. Relax. We’re good. Relax, OK? One question at a time because when you bring up Bron, of course it brings extra questions.”
He didn’t want to offer much more specifics about the call but he was willing to admit that, in the firestorm created by his comments Saturday, he recognized that he hadn’t handled things right. But the call reaffirmed what he needed to do to get everyone on the same page.
“It gave me a peace of mind to go about what I’ve gotta go do,” said Irving.
Celtics coach Brad Stevens has acknowledged recently how his team hasn’t always handled adversity well this season. These 2018-19 Celtics haven’t always shown an ability to turn a negative into a positive.
But maybe that changed Wednesday night.
The Celtics show remarkable resolve in a showdown with the conference-leading Toronto Raptors, first clawing their way out of an early double-digit deficit then fighting as Toronto tried to pull away late. Irving, of course, was spectacular with 27 points and a career-high 18 assists, unwilling to let this game get away from the Celtics.
Irving’s comments after the game might have been even more important, though. Irving acknowledged that Jaylen Brown was right when, after Monday’s loss in Brooklyn, Brown essentially said the team cannot point fingers at each other.
Irving promised to push the younger players but to do so more frequently behind closed doors. He stressed that his words were never meant to hurt his younger teammates, but instead push them to be as good as they can be.
That’s the sort of leadership that younger players should be able to get behind. In taking culpability, Irving made it OK for the rest of the Celtics to admit they haven’t always handled their situations as well as they could.
Maybe this will help fix any fractures that were created by public criticism. Though, more than likely, winning will do that. What’s obvious is that Irving just wants to win and get the most out of his teammates. He hasn’t always approached that the best way but he’s showing that he’s willing to do whatever it takes to become a better leader.
It’s going to take more than a phone call to fix things. But it’s a step. Like a team meeting, it can be a positive, but it’s only another step in getting everyone on this roster on the same page.
But it might be the biggest step yet and one that might have prevented this team from skidding further off the rails. Irving’s call shows he’s growing as a leader and determined to help this team reach its lofty goals.
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