Brooklyn Nets star Kyrie Irving has opened up about his early-career stints in Cleveland and Boston, and taken accountability for not always "stepping up" despite occupying leadership roles on those teams.
The polarizing seven-time All-Star, now 28, has been criticized over the years for what some said was a lack of maturity and, perhaps, focus.
Irving's exit from Cleveland, only a year removed from an NBA title, turned heads amid reports he was keen to forge his own path outside the shadow of LeBron James. Two disappointing years in Boston followed, including a broken promise to re-sign with the Celtics.
Asked to describe his evolution after the Nets' blowout win over the Orlando Magic on Thursday, Irving told reporters that he's grateful for his journey and the opportunity to "set a better example," according to Mass Live.
“What I learned from those experiences was, if you’re not enjoying the journey and you’re not committed in the way you would like to be committed and I mean every day,” Irving said. “Even when you’re tired, even when you’re having good days, bad days. You got to be able to galvanize the group even when it’s low and even when it’s high. It’s just the balance of leadership, and there isn’t one leader. I’ve had to accept that, too. It’s not on me to lead the group by myself and be the hero that everybody wants to because that’s what America is. They love to build you up, love to tear your ass right down.
"I’m grateful to be in this position to set a better example now than I did then. I take accountability for not necessarily stepping up to the plate or stepping up to the responsibility for my own actions. I had a lot to do with the success and failures of the teams that I was on. I take my role very serious in terms of that, and I’ve been able to learn lessons from that to give to others."
On the court, Irving has mostly delivered on the promise that made him the first overall pick by the Cavaliers in 2011, including winning a title there in '16. Still, after reportedly forcing his way out of Cleveland, pressure remains on Irving to succeed in his quest to win on his own terms.
This season may be his best shot for realizing his goal, playing alongside two fellow MVP-caliber stars in Brooklyn, in James Harden and Kevin Durant. The Nets' dismantling of Orlando on Thursday marked their eighth consecutive victory.
Irving declined to get into specifics about either of his previous stops after the win, but he hinted at feelings of betrayal when he mentioned "leaks."
“One, I think there were a lot of people speaking for me or on my behalf that really didn’t really know who I was,” Irving said. “I didn’t offer that access to a lot of people because it’s just a trust. There are leaks here and someone saying this there in Cleveland and in Boston. I’m not going to sit here and talk about Cleveland and Boston, because I know where that goes and where that can go in terms of who you are talking about, what you are talking about, so I’ll just generalize it.”
Celtics owner Wyc Grousbeck this week said he was "disappointed" Irving and several other veteran stars have left Boston via free agency in recent years, but added he had no ill toward any of them, Mass Live reported.
"We had hoped Kyrie would stay forever and lead us all the way,” Grousbeck reportedly said.
Irving has tussled with the media in recent years, complaining about "clickbait society" and what he described as dishonest misrepresentations of some of his more curious remarks -- including when he famously joked that the Earth was flat.
The former Duke star was reported to be among the leaders of a faction of NBA players who suggested boycotting the NBA bubble in Orlando in the name of social justice. The strike never came to fruition, apparently with an assist from President Obama, who advised the players against such a move, LeBron James later revealed.
Early this season Irving was fined for declining to speak with reporters as part of the NBA's annual preseason Media Week. He later apologized for referring to reporters as "pawns" on social media.