Before last Friday, Kyrie Irving was a widely popular athlete in the city of Cleveland. He was seen as the next great franchise savior upon his being drafted in 2011. The Cleveland Cavaliers were trying to move forward after LeBron James‘ departure, and Irving seemed like the perfect player to help the cause.
When James returned, Irving became the best complementary player he’d ever had with the team. Irving eventually sealed his place as one of the city’s sports heroes by hitting the game-winning shot in the 2016 Finals to end a 52-year championship drought.
Again, this was all before last Friday. It’s safe to say things have changed since then.
Ever since word broke claiming Irving demanded the Cavs trade him this offseason, his image has taken quite a hit. In the days since, it’s only gotten worse. In fact, as this saga continues to unfold, it seems Irving is doing nothing but burning as many bridges as he can on his way out of town.
Plenty has already been written about the reasons behind Irving’s request. His wanting to be the focal point of a team, along with escaping James’ shadow, has reportedly fueled his desire to flee Cleveland. Why he’d willingly walk away from a chance to play in the Finals every season is confusing enough. However, the fact he’s attempting to do so while still under contract is causing many to scrutinize the way the situation is being handled on his end.
Irving is attempting to make a power move with the Cavs, despite not having an ounce of power to work with. He’s trying to force his way out of Cleveland without the actual leverage to do so. Instead of waiting to leave in free agency when he would control his own fate, he’s demanding to be moved solely because he doesn’t want to play with the team’s best player.
This alone has caused notable PR damage for Irving. However, as details continue to emerge, he’s beginning to look worse and worse in all of this.
The fact Irving had the gall to give the Cavs a list of preferred destinations, even though he doesn’t have a no-trade clause or any say in the matter, is comical. Such a move made him appear entitled, as if Cleveland owed him something despite his demand to be moved while still under contract. It’s one thing to ask for a trade without any sort of leverage, it’s another to say “oh, and I’d love it if you’d send me to one of these four teams.”
Irving added a little fuel to the fire earlier this week by posting a video of himself singing “Coming Home,” seen by many as an unsubtle jab at James. If this is indeed the case, it certainly doesn’t help Irving’s cause.
Setting aside his desire to no longer be James’ sidekick, taking a pot shot at the best player in the league solely because you don’t want to share the spotlight with him comes off as petty. It also seems to be an open disregard to the fact Irving wouldn’t have his championship ring had James not returned to Cleveland.
The latest development in this mess came earlier today, when Jason Lloyd of The Athletic noted Irving is not answering any calls from the Cavs despite their efforts to get a hold of him. Sure, he’s been in China on a Nike tour. At the same time, it’s tough to believe he doesn’t get service out there.
The idea Irving would demand a trade, give a list of preferred destinations without having any actual say in the matter, then cut off communication with the Cavs is ridiculous. All it does is continue to paint Irving as the antagonist in all of this, no matter how badly Cleveland’s front office has been taking it in the teeth this summer.
It’s unfortunate, too, as it’s souring the image of someone fans have loved since the day he was drafted. This whole ordeal has made it difficult to remember the great memories Irving has made since joining the Cavs. While there’s always a chance things change for the better, right now this is setting up for an ugly divorce which could leave a lasting impact on Irving’s career moving forward.
To be fair, outside of the aforementioned social media posting, Irving has remained silent through all of this. At the same time, no denials of any of these reports have come from his camp. As a result, we’re left to believe what we’re hearing.
This, of course, is quite a shame. What we’re currently witnessing is a player who did plenty to endear himself as a huge fan favorite, and is now doing even more work to erase all of it.
Casey Drottar is an independent sports writer. Subscribe to his podcast, or follow him on Twitter and Facebook