Kyrie Irving wants to lead. He wants to be a rock, an example, a player who makes the sacrifices, a guy on and off the court that the younger guys can look up to and think “that’s how you be a professional.”
He also has admitted that’s not as easy as LeBron James can make it look. In recent weeks Irving pushed back against his celebrity, had to deal with reports he was detached from his teammates, and other rumors he had one foot out the door heading into free agency. There seemed to be friction with him and the Celtics.
Winning cures a lot of ills in the NBA. The Celtics have won three in a row on the road — including against LeBron’s Lakers over the weekend — and after that Irving stepped back and admitted he has not handled things well off the court this season, speaking to Chris Haynes of Yahoo Sports.
“The way I’ve handled things, it hasn’t been perfect,” Irving told Yahoo Sports as he rested his feet in a bucket of ice at his locker stall. “I’ve made a lot of mistakes that I take full responsibility for. I apologize. I haven’t done it perfectly. I haven’t said the right things all the time. I don’t want to sit on a place like I’m on a pedestal from anybody. I’m a normal human being that makes mistakes. For me, I think because of how fixated I was on trying to prove other people wrong, I got into a lot of habits that were bad, like reading stuff and reacting emotionally. That’s just not who I am.”
There is a lot of drama around the top players and the top teams in the league — little things can get blown up into big things. Players don’t have to like it, but in a social media-driven world that’s life in the NBA. There are players around the league known to read these things and take it personally (DeMarcus Cousins has that reputation, and there are others that will not all get listed here) and it can lead to testy dealings with the media and seemingly erratic behavior. Not everyone just lets the comments roll off their back and go to work the next day unchanged.
Irving admitted what he did was a lesson of what not to do for the young Celtics.
“Being one of the top guys in the league, this all comes with it,” Irving told Yahoo Sports. “It’s a responsibility that I have to make sure that I know who I’m doing this for and know why I’m doing this. It’s for the players that are coming behind me who will be in this league and setting an example for them on how to handle things and how to evolve within your career.”
That Irving owns up to all this is very mature.
It’s also a good thing for a Celtics’ team putting things together at the right time. There was a lot of drama, a lot of inconsistency around Boston this season, and that combined with them not living up to incredibly lofty expectations — even Jaylen Brown said early on he expects the Celtics to make the NBA Finals — led to an uncomfortable fit on and off the court.
Boston seems now to have put that behind them and they have played their best basketball these last three games on the road (with an interesting test Monday night against a physical and tenacious Clippers team). This is a team that knows what they will be remembered for ultimately is not the regular season and what seed they earned, rather how they performed in the playoffs. That is still ahead of them.
And Irving seems ready to lead them.