Months ago, LeBron James bit his tongue when Kyrie Irving’s comments on Kevin Durant’s podcast seemed to disparage the Los Angeles Lakers star’s late-game abilities. Now, James has opened up about his former teammate’s take on a podcast appearance of his own.
James, appearing as a guest on the Road Trippin’ podcast with Richard Jefferson, Channing Frye and Allie Clifton, addressed Irving’s comments — in which Irving praised Durant as the first teammate he could trust as much as he trusts himself to take the last shot of the game — in an episode that aired Monday on Spectrum SportsNet.
“I was a little like, ‘Damn.’ Once I got the whole transcript, I was like, ‘Damn,'” James said, adding that he made sure to read Irving’s full comments before reacting to them. “I wasn’t like, ‘Oh, you trippin’. I’ve hit game-winning shots my whole life.’ I was not like that. I was like, ‘Damn.’ Because … I played with Kyrie for three seasons [with the Cleveland Cavaliers]. The whole time when I was there, I only wanted to see him be a MVP of our league. I only cared about his success. And it just didn’t align. It just didn’t align. And we were able to win a championship. That’s the craziest thing. We were still able to win a championship, and we could never align. But I only cared about his well-being, both on and off the floor.
“And it kind of hurt me a little bit.”
The Brooklyn Nets guard’s comments, which were released on the debut episode of Durant’s podcast, “The Etcs,” just days before James and the Lakers played the Miami Heat in Game 2 of the NBA Finals in October, omitted James’ capabilities in clutch time as Irving reflected on his basketball career.
“One thing I’ve always been comfortable with, I felt like I was the best option on every team I played for down the stretch,” Irving said on the podcast. “This is the first time in my career I’ve looked down and be like, ‘That motherf—er can make that shot too.’ And he’ll probably do it a lot easier.
“It’s not so much deferring, because in past situations where I didn’t take the last shot, I felt guilty. I want this game-winning shot, but also, you want to trust your teammates. Not that I didn’t trust my teammates, but I felt like I was the best option.”
Irving and James played together from 2014 to 2017, making it to three straight Finals and winning it all in 2016. They became the first pair of teammates to each score 40 points in a Finals game as they led the Cavs back from a 3-1 deficit to defeat the Golden State Warriors.
James said the timing of Irving’s comments was as much of a disappointment as their content.
“It was a f—ed up time. It was a f—ed up time,” James said. “Because it was the Finals … the middle of the Finals.”
Although James said he has become accustomed to distractions as his teams near the championship — a racist epithet was spray-painted on the gate of his L.A. home on the eve of the 2017 Finals, for instance — Irving’s comments were unavoidable.
“It’s always been something that, when I’ve been in the Finals, that comes out to try to distract me from my mission. So I was already ready for it … I’ve always been prepared to know that there’s going to be something said or done to try to knock me off of my mission,” James said. “When I was seeing that and I read it, and then I got the full transcript and I heard it, I was like, ‘Man, f—.’ I was like, ‘Are you f—ing kidding me?’ … I was like, ‘God damn.'”
James reflected on his time with Irving in Cleveland, laughing when he recalled that his son Bryce was “super juiced” for his dad to play for the Cavs because Irving was so dominant in the video games Bryce had played.
James also marveled at Irving, who was just 22 years old when they teamed up on the Cavs.
“Ky is one of the most talented players I’ve ever played with in my life. The kid — I don’t even want to call him ‘kid.’ He’s not a kid anymore, but back then, he was. He was a young kid still growing into his own, and the s— that he was capable of on the floor I had never seen before,” James said. “I had so much confidence in him. I actually told Kyrie, I told him at one point when we were playing together that if you were not a league MVP someday, then you were selling yourself short. Because that’s how much I believed in him.
“And it was part of the reason why I came back home. Besides the unfinished business, I came back home because I saw the talent in him.”
James said he tried to shield Irving from scrutiny when they played together.
“Anytime the media would ask questions about Kyrie — and we had multiple times when the media wanted to s— on Kyrie — I was the buffer,” James said. “I was like, ‘No, listen, you guys are tripping. This kid is young, he’s great, he’s going to learn, I’m here to help him learn, and I know what he’s going to become.’
“And sometimes, you know, you put yourself out there, and you get hit in the mouth when you’re not ready for it.”
Irving hasn’t received a vote for MVP, let alone won the award, since he was traded to the Boston Celtics in 2017. Hampered by injuries, he has played in nine postseason games in his past three campaigns — spent with Boston and Brooklyn — after competing in 52 playoff games in his three seasons with James.
Shortly after Irving’s comments about James went live, the high-scoring guard posted a series of Twitter videos referring to the “false narratives” that emerged when it was perceived that he was taking a shot at James.
“Why must it always be brother against brother … why?” Irving said in early October. “If I’m addressing anyone, I’ll say their name. Come on, y’all. Don’t listen to the false narratives. Let people live their lives! It’s just a game.
“You talk openly. You talk freely. But because we live in a clickbait society, it becomes something bigger. You don’t have to defend it. That’s just what media is. … It’s entertainment. I’m not going to let it put me against anybody anymore at any point. Because that’s not what it’s about. … Don’t have to put me against anyone else! It’s never been about that. It’s about the love. Peace.”
James, who signed a lifetime contract with Nike in 2015, shared one more story about Irving on the podcast, claiming he had a hand in the sports apparel company’s developing a signature sneaker line for his former teammate.
“The kid gets a signature shoe from Nike, which we know there’s a small [group]. I mean, out of all the players that’s played in our league, out of all the players that’s been with Nike, there’s not many signature guys,” James said. “And I was like, ‘That is a signature guy. Because not only is it his ability, what he does on the floor. Not only with his size. And his handle. His handle — kids love that. He’s going to have a following. That is a signature guy.’ So I was like, I told my guys at Nike, ‘Yes, if this is what you guys are thinking, stop f—ing thinking. He’s a signature guy. There’s nothing to think about.'”
The Lakers are scheduled to host the Nets in the teams’ first matchup of the season on Feb. 18 at Staples Center.