The subject of boundless speculation and criticism that often bordered on unfair, Cleveland Cavaliers point guard Kyrie Irving opened up during an interview with Las Vegas media to discuss pressure, the last few years of life in Cleveland, and what it’s like to be in the crosshairs of daily journalism while playing for a struggling organization.
“So many false articles and so many people that have inside sources that don’t even know what’s going on inside my circle,” Irving said of the reports. “[They] said I didn’t want to be in Cleveland, it was all a bunch of BS. Now that I’m actually in Cleveland for the long term, it’s a great monkey off my back, a great relief. I was going to sign it regardless. I knew it the whole time. That’s what some media people do. They want to make a story. I’m just happy that it’s all over. I signed my contract and I’m in Cleveland for five years.”
Irving, through little fault of his own, immediately be came the face of the Cavaliers following the departure of LeBron James—the city and fans looking for a player to cling to in order to help fill that void left by the fleeing hometown hero. The team tried very hard to keep any hagiography from occurring, but as each draft and free agency period went by, yielding little in the way of star-caliber players, all of the focus was continually placed on the now-22-year-old two-time All-Star whose team was perennially among the worst in the league.
“Dealing with the daily grind of being ‘that guy’ every single day [was hard],” Irving said. “I wanted [the responsibility], but it gets a lot harder, especially as you get older and become the ‘marquee guy’. It’s something you have to go through.
Through much of the 2013-14 season, Irving was the focal point of sourced reports that painted him as a player with one foot out of the door. Continually, Irving found himself on the defensive, having nothing to use but his words. This was until he signed a five-year extension that will potentially keep him in Cleveland through 2020.
Irving, entering his fourth season, admitted that he struggled with becoming a “leader”—a role he was thrust into due to his skill set, marketability and talent level—and appears to be more than willing to take a back seat to LeBron James when it comes to reestablishing himself in the role that was his prior to July 2010. His defense will still be scrutinized. His body language should improve with each win. If anything, the fact that the contract status (and reports of unhappiness and inner circles) should be well behind him and the fans, allowing for all focus to turn to the floor—finally.