Celtics

Kyrie Irving candidly details "challenge" of playing with LeBron James

Kyrie Irving candidly details "challenge" of playing with LeBron James

It took time, but Kyrie Irving now seems completely comfortable discussing what once was a third-rail topic.

The Boston Celtics point guard recently spoke to ESPN's Dave McMenamin about the challenges (and benefits) of playing with LeBron James, his teammate of three seasons on the Cleveland Cavaliers.

And while Irving sometimes treads lightly when discussing James, he pulled the curtain back for McMenamin's story about how the young Los Angeles Lakers are adapting to life with LeBron.

It's definitely a challenge. You now become part of a championship-caliber team based on a unique talent. LeBron is so smart, so talented, such a strong leader. And you're trying to implement who you are, and grow as a player and learn every single day. And it can be difficult because it demands a lot of you.

Certain times young players -- and even older ones -- find it a big transition, because you're playing a certain way, and growing as a player, and you have a vision of what your career will look like. And then this player of such great stature arrives, and you're still trying to be great, and he's already great. And you find yourself asking, 'OK, what are the steps to get there?' So now do you learn by example from watching him? Do you learn by the way he treats his body? By the way he treats his business off the court? By his philanthropic path? So you just watch and you observe.

Irving was entering his fourth NBA season when James triumphantly returned in 2014. Over the next three seasons, James both brought out the best in Irving -- Kyrie averaged a career high 25.2 points per game in 2016-17 -- and caused him frustration, as the No. 1 pick in the 2011 NBA Draft tried to forge his own identity while playing with an incredibly dominating personality.

Here's more from Irving on James:

You also have to be aware of the expectations from the outside and how that can infiltrate your thinking. Somehow it ends up where everybody wants to play the blame game when things don't go right. So it's just a lot to get used to. It comes with a lot of pressures. I believe the very, very special ones, the unique ones, gladly take on that challenge, and they relish it. You can't be afraid to challenge another great person. That's how greatness is achieved.

It was a lot for me to figure out. The belief I have in myself goes way beyond anything that could deter me from what I want to accomplish. You can never ever, ever, ever, ever lose your sense of self while you are playing alongside a great player.

Irving's desire to chart his own path seemingly led to their split: Kyrie demanded a trade in the 2017 offseason and got his wish when the Celtics acquired him in August. He's flourished ever since, while James' new Lakers teammates now face the same challenge a young Irving did in Cleveland.

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NBC SPORTS BOSTON SCHEDULE

The state of Boston sports the last time LeBron James missed the playoffs

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File photo

The state of Boston sports the last time LeBron James missed the playoffs

With a 111-106 loss to the Brooklyn Nets Friday night, LeBron James and the Los Angeles Lakers were officially eliminated from the playoffs. This will be the first time James will miss the postseason since the 2004-05 season, as a 20-year-old with the Cavaliers. 

A lot has changed since then. The iPhone was not yet introduced, the Seattle Supersonics had not yet moved to Oklahoma City, and George W. Bush was President of the United States. 

The landscape of Boston sports underwent a massive change as well. After years of heartbreak and disappointment, Boston has turned into the city of champions, and April of 2005 was the beginning of a run that isn't close to ending. Here's what all four teams were up to the last time LeBron missed the playoffs. 

PATRIOTS

The Patriots were two months removed from their third Super Bowl in four years, beating the Eagles to become the first back-to-back champions since the 1997-98 Broncos. Nobody has done it since, and now the Patriots have a chance to do it again after capturing their sixth Super Bowl this year. 

Tom Brady was 27 years old with zero league MVP's and two Pro Bowl selections. He now has three MVP's and 14 Pro Bowl selections. 

Corey Dillon was the Patriots' running back, and the linebacking core consisted of Willie McGinest, Mike Vrabel and Tedy Bruschi. 

CELTICS

The Celtics had plenty of battles with LeBron in the postseason later in his career, but they had trouble making it far in the postseason before acquiring Ray Allen and Kevin Garnett in 2008. The Celtics went 45-37 in 2004-05 and lost to a Pacers team led by Reggie Miller, Stephen Jackson and Jermaine O'Neal. 

A 27-year-old Paul Pierce led the team in scoring with 21.6 PPG, while Antione Walker, Ricky Davis and a 36-year-old Gary Payton rounded out the team's core. It was also Doc Rivers' first season as the Celtics' head coach. 

One championship and about a million trades later, the Celtics are one of the most talented teams in the NBA hoping to put it all together towards another title. This year's team still has connections to 2004, as the trade that sent Paul Pierce to the Brooklyn Nets led to acquisitions of Kyrie Irving, Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown. 

BRUINS

Unfortunately for the Bruins, they were just waiting for the 2005-06 season to begin. Due to an unresolved lockout, the 2004-05 NHL season was canceled. Patrice Bergeron missed his 19-year-old season and the team was led by 24-year-old Joe Thornton, Glenn Murray and Mike Knuble. 

RED SOX

The Red Sox were just beginning their first World Series defense in 86 years. After defeating the St. Louis Cardinals in the 2004 World Series to break the Curse of the Bambino, Boston went on to win 95 games but lost to the eventual champion White Sox in the ALDS. 

David Ortiz (47 HR, 148 RBI) and Manny Ramirez (45 HR, 144 RBI) were still in their primes, Pedro Martinez had just left for the New York Mets for a four-year $53 million contract and Alex Cora was Mark Bellhorn's backup at second base. 

After breaking the curse, the Red Sox have become the most successful franchise in baseball, winning the World Series in 2007, 2013 and 2018. 

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How to watch or stream the Boston Celtics vs. Charlotte Hornets game

How to watch or stream the Boston Celtics vs. Charlotte Hornets game

Tune into NBC Sports Boston to watch the Celtics play the Hornets in Charlotte. You can also click here to watch the Celtics livestream presented by Nissan on the MyTeams App. 

HOW TO WATCH

ANALYSIS AND REACTION

BEFORE THE GAME: At 5 p.m., Celtics Pregame Live presented by TD Bank gets you ready for the game with reports from Kyle Draper, Chris Mannix, A. Sherrod Blakely and Chris Forsberg in Burlington, and Mike Gorman, Brian Scalabrine and Danielle Trotta in Charlotte. Watch on NBC Sports Boston or click here for the livestream.

AT HALFTIME: Tune in to watch Draper and Mannix break down the first two quarters on Halftime Live presented by Ace Ticket. Watch on NBC Sports Boston or click here for the livestream.

AFTER THE GAME: As soon as the game ends, tune to Celtics Postgame Live presented by New England Ford for analysis, commentary and player reaction. Watch on NBC Sports Boston or click here for the livestream

Questions on our livestream? Get all your questions answered here on our Streaming FAQ

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