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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