Kyrie Irving made an hourlong appearance on ESPN's First Take on Monday. Here is a look at some of what he said, along with some background and analysis.
Irving's remarks to Stephen A. Smith, Max Kellerman and Molly Qerim have been edited for clarity and length. Below is a partial transcript of his comments, marked by highlights and italicized annotations.
Q: What went into the decision to request a trade?
Kyrie Irving: You think about those finite moments that have defined you as a player and a man, you're very appreciative of it. Getting the chance to play with some unbelievable teammates, had the chance to be with some unbelievable coaches, as well. Got a chance to develop and evolve as a man, and I just felt it was best for my intentions to leave. I was just very patient in my approach. Understanding what the magnitude of the moment was. I wasn't going to allow anything else to get in the way of our team's success. I was just very diligent, very professional in terms of this whole entire process. And the request came at a time I deemed right for me. 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.
This seems like a shot at the Cavs' culture and coaching staff, with Irving implying that he wanted a different environment and a more demanding coaching staff. Irving was close to Cavs assistant coach Phil Handy and appeared to have a good relationship with head coach Tyronn Lue, who on several occasions defended Irving's default shoot-first style and encouraged him to ignore critics.
Q: Was this percolating for a while?
KI: Absolutely. Like I said, I was just very patient within those moments, because I knew that the importance wasn't in my ego or anything that existed in from the reasonings in why I would come into work every day and not give 100 percent or not give my teammates everything that I had.
Irving indicates he wanted a trade before this summer. The 2014-15 season ended in him breaking his kneecap. The 2015-16 season ended in a championship. It is unclear when he first started to think about wanting a trade.
KI: From that standpoint, that was the way I was raised. I was raised being in a professional environment, being in a workplace and making sure it's conducive for everybody. So having those relationships and developing those every single day, and on top of that, still wanting to be as successful on the court and still trying to figure out myself off the court. I had to balance those two. When I was coming into that environment, there were times where my energy was a little off. I just had to figure that out. There were times when after games I would go out and shoot, and as any professional athlete or any person knows when in your workplace and you have those tough days, there are questions that you ask yourself, 'Is this the right thing for me right now?' I answered that question for myself.
Again, Irving seems to question the Cavs' culture and environment and suggests he was unhappy and it affected his energy.
Q: There's a perception you wanted your own team and didn't want to play second fiddle.
KI: The actual storyline of everything that was created from a variety of sources and a variety of people, whether it be from my circle or whether it be from anywhere else. The last person that everybody kind of forgot about was me. I didn't say a damn word.
Irving did not say a word publicly; in fact, he praised LeBron James during the NBA Finals. However, privately, he did ask for a trade, which made his intentions clear.
KI: And it was all because that was never a reality for me, because I know the type of person I am and I know who I'm developing into and who I want to become. It never came from the fact of me wanting to be absolutely selfish and absolutely putting myself first and wanting to be the man. I don't really have an ego. I have a presence and aura about me that's very reality-based. It didn't come in a form of living in this false world and not being able to tell the truth to somebody and look them in the eye, like I don't want to do this anymore. I'm ready to move, and I'm ready to be on my own. I'm ready to try out a new situation and be in an environment where I felt like I can be happy.
Irving saying he's ready to be on his own implies rather clearly that he wanted to be away from James. Other than James, no player on the Cavs' roster enjoyed more freedom than Irving.
Q: Did you want to get away from LeBron?
KI: It's not really about wanting or not wanting to. It really just became how everybody turned this into a madness because it was myself and LeBron. If this were anybody else being traded, I don't think it would have been this big a storyline.
It is indeed a huge storyline, as it is rare that star teammates who have won a championship together and gone to multiple Finals would break up through a trade demand. The last time something like this happened was with Shaquille O'Neal and Kobe Bryant, which was one of the biggest stories of the decade and still is a topic today.
KI: Being with that guy was unbelievable. It was something that I will relish for the rest of my life. Because the situations that we came across as individuals and as a team collectively, we all grew. When you get to that crossroad in your career and in your life and you have to make that decision, it's not about necessarily figuring out what the other person's intent is; it's figuring out what your intent is. When I came to that crossroad and I looked at myself in the mirror and I said this was absolutely something that I wanted to do, it didn't have anything to do with not wanting to play with the best player on the planet. It didn't have anything to do with not wanting to be the second fiddle, not wanting to be "sonned," and as you like to say Max [Kellerman], being a second-class citizen. I have no idea what that is. Or being a second banana. I don't have any idea what that is. But I know that I'm very solidified in who I am as a person and I always will be that way.
Q: Did you speak with LeBron before making the trade demand?
Q: Why not?
KI: Why would I have to?
Irving was not a free agent and did not decide when he was traded, so it is not exactly like Kevin Durant not reaching out to Russell Westbrook or situations such as that. However, Irving spoke positively about playing with James as recently as June.
Q: You could see how someone could take it personally.
KI: It's not anything personal. I'm not here to tirade anybody. I'm not here to go at any particular person or the organization, because I have nothing but love for Cleveland. I have nothing but love for the times that I spent there. There's nothing about that. It comes a time where you mature as an individual. It's time to make that decision, and there is no looking back from that standpoint. There is no time to figure out how to save someone's feelings when ultimately you have to be selfish in that in figuring out what you want to do. It wasn't about me not wanting to win; it wasn't anything about that. I want to be extremely, extremely happy in perfecting my craft.
Irving makes it clear, again, that he was not happy in Cleveland.
KI: And that was the only intent that I had in all of this. I think it got much more attention because everything else started coming out from who would think that their important opinion mattered most. I saw previous players, I saw past players, I saw current players speaking on something that had nothing to do with them. I'm appreciative of their comments, but at the same time, it's ultimately my decision.
Irving seems to have been stung by the criticism he took from players, current and former, for asking for a trade away from James.
Q: Follow up about wanting to separate from James.
KI: I'm saying that the overall attention to one player in a collective, is, as Stephen A. would say, is blasphemy. To think about individually picking out two people, which everyone has chosen to do in terms of what I feel I deem best in perfecting my craft and going after my championship with a group, meaning that because I wanted to change the environment does not mean that it stops the pursuit in terms of what I want to accomplish as a player. It doesn't mean that I didn't want to play with LeBron anymore. It means I wanted to leave the environment that I was in currently and felt like as energy draining as it was and how it would take me for a loop in a roller-coaster ride and all the false reality that was created by a lot of different outlets, it all came crashing down at one point after we lost the last Finals. All I wanted to do is continue to figure out myself, and once I did that, I was able to step up and make the decision.
He repeats his criticism of the environment in Cleveland, which largely is controlled by James, but says he didn't ask for the trade to not play with James anymore. This contradicts statements he made earlier.
Q: Something personal going on with LeBron?
KI: Why does it continually have to be about one player? Do you realize I play with 13 other guys on the team?
Q: Is there something personal with someone else on the team?
KI: No. I care about my life, that's all.
The stark change from Irving's attitude during the postseason to his July trade request have led to some speculation there was something personal between him and a part of the organization. Irving denies it was anything personal. His repeated discussion of the environment in Cleveland hints he was unhappy for some time.
Q: How did you feel about the trade demand leaking out?
KI: Well, I felt like the timing was impeccable, if you ask me. 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. And when you're living in a reality base -- and I'm a very awake individual -- and you have all these exterior forces trying to change or skew everyone else's opinion, and I'm not able to say anything and I'm sitting back and being very, very patient. It became something that I didn't understand because of the amount of moments that we had as a team.
Irving appears to purposely try to be opaque here, but it could be a targeting of James. There were multiple reports that Irving felt James was the source for the story that he wanted to be traded. Rumors about Irving's request first began to surface during NBA summer league in Las Vegas. Also, the Cavs had begun to investigate trade options and there was discussion among teams about Irving being on the trade block. Several of his Cavs teammates heard of the request and agents found out.
Q: Why was it hurtful?
KI: It was hurtful to see that a lot of the reports and a lot of the things that were happening, there was probably -- it was minimal truth to it. And a lot of the character issues that some individuals tried to tirade about me -- it's not that it matters, it's just that -- what is the intent behind it? Is that what this has turned out to be, to turn someone's decision into a full-on let me get everything out? And that's why I brought up past players and I brought up current players and I brought up a lot of the sports journalism world -- which I respect a lot of people; I don't respect everybody, especially in the sport journalism world. I felt like that was not what it was based on and that's what connects people to sports.
Q: Are you happy now?
KI: I'm ecstatic.
Q: What are you looking forward to in Boston?
KI: I'm just looking forward to playing my position. I'm looking forward to becoming something that I've always envisioned myself being -- that's being a complete point guard on a great team. I want to be able to come off pick-and-rolls and be able to dissect the defense and to be able to have guys -- and this is not a knock on anyone I was playing with, but my role was completely different.
Here Irving gets specific about things he didn't like in Cleveland. He criticizes the offensive system and implies he wasn't able to play true point guard. James was frequently the primary ball handler in the Cavs' system.
KI: I'm not just this one-on-one individual that wants to go one-on-one every single time down. That's not how I appreciate the game; I've watched a lot of basketball, probably more than a lot of people have realized.
Irving goes further and complains about how often he played isolation with the Cavs. This might be one of the things he referred to when he talked about the team environment. The Celtics are known for their excellent player and ball movement. Irving has been regarded as one of the best isolation players in the NBA. The biggest play of his career and perhaps one of the biggest plays in recent NBA history came off an isolation play to win Game 7 of the Finals in 2016.
Q: Was money a factor in your decision?
KI: Can't put a price on happiness and truth. I waived my $5.8 million trade kicker. Obviously, a lot of that clearly does not matter in terms of what my intent ultimately will be and has been in how I see myself furthering my career in this great NBA that we have.
In addition to waiving his trade kicker, Irving by being traded will no longer be able to sign a designated veteran player extension next season. That could have cost him tens of millions of dollars; however, he would have needed to make the All-NBA Team, win Most Valuable Player or win Defensive Player of the Year this season to qualify.
Q: Is Kevin Durant catching LeBron James as the best player in the world?
KI: At this point? You reward guys for winning, and he went to Golden State and won. He's a champion. He's a solidified champion now, so he's able to be in those talks.
Q: Who is better, Kobe or LeBron?
KI: Man, they're both up there. But in terms of who my favorite player is: My dad first, Kobe second. You know how I feel about that.
In another part of this interview, Irving said he consulted with Bryant, one of his mentors, before asking for the trade. After winning the 2016 NBA title, Irving FaceTimed with Bryant from the Cavs' locker room.