The Cleveland Cavaliers’ drama-filled off-season came to a close Tuesday night. The Cavaliers shipped point guard Kyrie Irving to the Boston Celtics for Isaiah Thomas, Jae Crowder, and the Brooklyn Nets 2018 (unprotected) first round pick.
Not too long after the Cavaliers 4-1 loss to the Golden State Warriors in the NBA Finals, Irving requested a trade from the Cavaliers’ front office. It was reported that Irving was tired of playing in LeBron James’ shadow, and he wanted to go somewhere where he could be “the guy.”
The trade request was the beginning of a month long social media frenzy that featured cryptic-LeBron, videos of Irving encouraging the mocking of James by Stephen Curry, and reports of James linked to all 29 other teams in the NBA.
With a simple request, Kyrie Irving tore apart one of the most dynamic teams in basketball history. A team that, if not for the Warriors, would probably have three straight titles. However, with Irving’s massive skillset outgrowing his sidekick role, he felt it was time to tear apart that team. For us fans, Irving’s mindset is difficult to grasp. Why would Irving not want to play with LeBron James, arguably the best basketball player of all time? Irving has to be aware that he can’t beat a James-led Cavaliers team no matter where he goes, so why would he do this? Nobody but Kyrie Irving knows. It’s easy to say that Irving is more concerned with his ego and himself rather than winning, but that would be too easy an assumption. The truth is, is that only Kyrie Irving knows why he feels the way he does, and we can only speculate.
Cleveland fans are passionate. As Clevelanders, we always feel as if we have a sort of chip on our shoulder, and that chip carries over into our fan hood. It’s almost as if we feel the need to prove to other cities, especially bigger markets, that Cleveland is great. We’ve seen so many great athletes leave our teams and chase after the money, that we can’t help but feel disrespected. When players leave our teams, we almost take it as disrespect to our own selves, because this is where we are from. Cleveland is us. With all that passion and all that disrespect comes a lot of booing for anyone who returns back to their former stadium or arena.
Cleveland fans love to boo.
I will never forget being at Progressive Field for a game against the Detroit Tigers back in 2011, when Jhonny Peralta returned to Cleveland. Peralta somewhat underperformed expectations as the heir-apparent to Omar Vizquel, but he never did Cleveland any harm. The Indians were the ones who got rid of him, after all. But when Jhonny Peralta’s name was called for his first at-bat, I will never forget the crowd erupting into boos from every section of the park. I had no idea why. I still don’t. Is there something Peralta said that I don’t know about? Or were we just mad that he wasn’t on the Indians anymore? Or, possibly, do we just love to boo?
There was also the infamous return of LeBron James to Cleveland. While well deserved (in some’s eyes), James underwent comments and harassment from a crowd that I never plan on witnessing again. I’m half proud, half disappointed to say I took part in that day, but there were things yelled at James that I would never wish to hear yelled at another athlete again. We are hostile fans; I think we all know it.
All it takes is the echo of the names of Joakim Noah, Ben Roethlisberger, Stephen Curry, Draymond Green, Miguel Cabrera, and more over the loudspeaker for a crowd of Clevelanders to erupt into endless booing. Kyrie Irving, though, should never find his name added on to that list.
It’s easy to be emotional towards Kyrie Irving right now; I am. But no matter how severe the fallout was, Kyrie Irving brought the city of Cleveland something that many of had never seen before: a championship. Kyrie Irving’s go ahead, game winning three-pointer over Steph Curry not only gave us an internet meme for the ages, it ended a 52 year title drought in a city that so desperately needed for one. I don’t think any of us will ever forget where we were when Irving knocked down that shot, or the emotions we felt when it sank through the bottom of the net.
The score had been tied for what seemed like hours, nobody could score. Every possession became more and more nerve-racking, and with each blown opportunity, all that could run through my mind was “how will we blow this?”
Dribble, dribble, hesitation, step-back, shot, the bottom
A shot that will forever live inside the mind of every Clevelander. A shot that will be turned into a story for all of our children and grandchildren. A shot that has been replicated on the playgrounds and the gyms throughout Cleveland. A shot that has become Kyrie’s signature. A shot that finally gave us all a reason to believe.
What happened after that shot, though? LeBron James hoisted the Finals MVP trophy. LeBron James’ block on Igoudala was plastered all over ESPN. LeBron James was credited with ending Cleveland’s title drought. LeBron James delivered on his promise to bring a title to Cleveland. And is James deserving of all of that? Absolutely. But is it understandable why Kyrie Irving may have wanted to go somewhere else?
I don’t believe Clevelanders drove Irving out of Cleveland. I don’t think LeBron drove Irving out of Cleveland. I think that Kyrie Irving understands that he possesses some of the most unique talent the NBA has, and he wants to put that on display. Maybe he never wins another title, but maybe he becomes as big a star as his talent. Allen Iverson won zero titles, but we all idolize the skillset that Iverson brought to the table. Scottie Pippen won six titles, but most of us just appreciate the load he was able to take off Michael Jordan’s shoulders.
Kyrie Irving wants to be a star, and there is nothing wrong with that. Why he doesn’t want to be one of a handful of stars on the Cavs, I am not sure. But when the Boston Celtics visit Quicken Loans Arena on opening night in October, there should be nothing but warm welcomes and cheers for Kyrie Irving, as it is what he unarguably deserves.
We need to forget the off-season and remember the highlights and memories Irving gave us in his six years in Cleveland. If Kyrie Irving felt unappreciated during his time as Cavalier, it’s up to the city of Cleveland to make sure he knows just how appreciated he was, is, and will be when he returns wearing a Boston jersey.
Besides, we still have LeBron James.