Kyrie Irving Threw Shade at LeBron James and Cavaliers in Icy ESPN First Take Interview

In his first major interview since the blockbuster trade that took him from the Cleveland Cavaliers to the Boston Celtics, Kyrie Irving veered between succinct and testy.

Irving, the point guard who in conjunction with LeBron James took the Cavaliers to the first NBA Championship in their history in 2016, sat down for an hour with ESPN First Take’s Max Kellerman, Molly Qerim and Stephen A. Smith to discuss why he pushed for a move away from northeast Ohio.

Irving was careful to avoid direct criticism of either the Cavaliers coaching staff or James in the interview, although some of his words could certainly be interpreted that way. Asked about the factors that provoked his decision to ask for a trade, Irving said: “As a 25-year-old evolving man, coming in to perfect my craft every single day, I just wanted to be in an environment where I felt I could be taught every single day and have that demand from my coaching staff and have that demand from a franchise that would propel me to exceed my potential and see how far I can go.” As ESPN noted in its own analysis of the interview, that sounded like something of a shot at Tyronn Lue, the Cavaliers’ head coach.

Of course, most of the casual interest in the interview surrounded Irving’s relationship with James, the “big brother” who took Irving under his wing after the Duke graduate was drafted first overall in 2011.

Irving deferred on a definitive answer as to whether his trade that sent Isaiah Thomas to the Cavaliers in return was motivated by a desire to get away from James’s shadow, as had been widely reported. And he offered the shortest of answers when asked if he had spoken to James prior to demanding the trade. “No,” Irving said. “Why would I have to?”

Pressed repeatedly on the status of his friendship with James, Irving finally snapped. “Why does it continually have to be about one player? Do you realize I play with 13 other guys on the team?”

Irving sounded most hurt when talking about the way that the news of the trade leaked out in late July. Smith was the journalist who claimed back then that Irving believed James’s camp had leaked the news of his desire to leave the Cavaliers.

“I think that how ironic it was that I was on my China trip and my trade request all of sudden just came out publicly. It was hurtful, because I knew how professional I had kept it throughout the whole entire process. And how strategic it was, because I knew that it was going to be madness, and it turned out to be like that.”

It’s all a pretty compelling prelude to the first time Irving and James meet as opponents on the court, on opening night of the 2017-18 NBA season at Quicken Loans Arena on October 17.

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