Following the Celtics‘ big Wednesday night win over Toronto, Kyrie Irving told reporters, including Tim Bontemps of ESPN.com, that he recently called former teammate LeBron James to apologize for resisting criticism and not fully appreciating his leadership during their time in Cleveland.
“Obviously, this was a big deal for me, because I had to call ‘Bron and tell him I apologized for being that young player that wanted everything at his fingertips, and I wanted everything at my threshold,” Irving said, per Bontemps. “I wanted to be the guy that led us to a championship. I wanted to be the leader. I wanted to be all that, and the responsibility of being the best in the world and leading your team is something that is not meant for many people.
“[LeBron] was one of those guys who came to Cleveland and tried to show us how to win a championship, and it was hard for him, and sometimes getting the most out of the group is not the easiest thing in the world,” Irving added.
Irving’s comments came just a few days after he publicly expressed frustration with some of his younger teammates during the Celtics’ three-game losing streak. As a veteran in Boston, Kyrie has essentially assumed the sort of leadership role that LeBron had in Cleveland, and acknowledged that he made a mistake by calling out his teammates in the press.
“I did a poor job of setting an example for these guys of what it’s like to get something out of your teammates,” Irving said. “You go and you say something publicly and it ends up received in so many different ways and you never know how fragile or what guys are going through when you say things like that. You’re expecting results, but at the same time, I should’ve kept it in-house. Going forward, I want to test these young guys, but I can’t be a bully like that.”
In a fascinating twist, Joe Vardon of The Athletic reports that James was actually having dinner with the other member of the Cavaliers‘ old Big Three – Kevin Love – when Irving called him to apologize. While LeBron missed Kyrie’s call at the time, he returned it privately later, according to Vardon, who hears from a source that James was “very appreciative” that Irving reached out to him.
As Vardon observes, Irving’s admission is a “pretty big deal” to anyone involved with Cleveland’s four-year run of NBA Finals appearances. The trade that sent the star point guard to Boston was essentially the beginning of the end of that mini-dynasty, so hearing Irving confess that he didn’t handle the situation as well as he could have creates some tantalizing “what-if” scenarios.
Still, Irving didn’t go so far as to say he regretted forcing his way out of Cleveland — he welcomes the challenge of leading the Celtics to a title of their own. He also believes he has a better idea now of what it takes to assume that sort of leadership role and wants to share his perspective with the younger C’s.
“Now I’m in this position; I asked for this and I want this. I want the responsibility. And I take it on full force,” Irving said, according to Bontemps. “But it’s also good to reach out for help and really take responsibility for what you’ve done in your career. It takes a real man to go back, call somebody and be like, ‘Hey, man, I was young. I made some mistakes, I wasn’t seeing the big picture like you were. I didn’t have the end of the season in mind.’ I just wanted to get my stats and make All-Star Games, which in his career means like this much at that point. So it was just good, and it gave me a peace of mind to go about what I’ve gotta go do.”