ORLANDO, Fla. -- Cleveland Cavaliers coach Tyronn Lue’s deadpan expression said it all when he was asked about former Cavs guard Kyrie Irving's disparaging remarks about Cleveland in comparison to his new home with the Boston Celtics.
“Oh, I thought he was talking about Cleveland,” Lue said at the Cavs' shootaround Friday morning ahead of their final preseason game against the Orlando Magic. “I’m happy to be here. I thought he was talking about Cleveland the whole time.”
Irving’s comments -- made in Charlotte, North Carolina, earlier this week, when the Celtics played the Hornets -- did not go over well in Cleveland, becoming sports talk-radio fodder for a fan base already reeling from the Cleveland Indians’ upset loss to the New York Yankees in the American League Division Series.
"[Boston is] a really major city,” Irving told reporters, as published in the Boston Globe. “Coming from Cleveland, the Midwest, where the culture is different. And then you move to the East Coast -- into Boston -- and it’s so real [and] alive. An ongoing, thriving city. Consistently. No matter what hour throughout the night.”
Lue was asked if he felt like Irving’s comments were fanning the flames between the Cavs and Celtics leading up to their highly anticipated matchup on opening night next week.
“I don’t know,” Lue said. “He can do what he wants to do. But we know in Cleveland, we have a great sports town in Cleveland. A great city, fans behind the teams 100 percent, so I’m happy to be here.”
Irving’s observations were aimed at more than just the sports scene in the two cities.
"A lot of different cultures, food and people. You get it all, especially in Boston," Irving said, per the Globe. "You would go to Cleveland, and it would be at nighttime and things would be going on, but you just see a vast difference in terms of what the Midwest is -- Cleveland -- and what Boston is. Boston, I’m driving in and [thinking], ‘I’m really playing in a real, live sports city?’ And a great city.”
Boston, once a tortured fan base similar to Cleveland, has experienced a renaissance over the past two decades, capturing 10 pro sports championships since 2001. The Cavs won the first championship in Cleveland in 52 years by beating the Golden State Warriors in the 2016 NBA Finals thanks in large part to Irving’s go-ahead 3-pointer in the final minute of Game 7.
New Cavs guard Dwyane Wade -- who, like Irving, played for only one NBA franchise his entire career before leaving the Miami Heat for the Chicago Bulls last summer -- can appreciate that transition and gave Irving the benefit of the doubt.
“I’ve always tried not to be too, me personally, oversensitive to what I read or what somebody says because I wasn’t there when they said it,” Wade told ESPN. “Because you just don’t know. Boston is a big sports town. It has the history there. And I think that’s one thing, if you want to read the quote, they have an amazing amount of sports history and all the championships from football to baseball to all four sports. I think, depending on how you want to take it. If you’re Cleveland and the way they were left, you read it one way. If you’re a sports fan somewhere else, you read it another way. So it just depends on how someone wants to take the quote when someone says it. Unless you were there and you heard it and saw his facial reaction and know how he really meant it. That’s how I look at things.”
However, Wade continued to say that he is careful with what he says so as not to alienate himself or come off as ungrateful.
“My thing has always been -- even in Miami -- first of all, you never know where you’re going to be, what’s going to happen, where you’re going to end up, who you’re going to be teammates with,” Wade said. “You just never know those things, so I never want to leave a place and talk s--- about a place. Because when you were there, it was great, and then you leave, it’s terrible? It’s just like players. Fans celebrate players when they’re there, and then they leave, and it’s the worst thing. That’s not me. That’s not how I do things. I’m appreciative of what people have done for me, what organizations have done for me, and I hope they’re appreciative of whatever I can bring or whatever I’ve done -- on and off the court. So, it doesn’t always go that way, but that’s the way I try to make it when I can control it.”