AP Photo/Tony Dejak
LeBron James, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love formed the nucleus of the 2016 Cleveland Cavaliers’ NBA championship team that upset the 73-win Golden State Warriors to give the city its first professional sports title since 1964.
One year after that win, Irving requested a trade, creating speculation about why he wanted to leave one of the game’s all-time greats in James.
Irving, who now plays for the Brooklyn Nets, explained the situation in the latest I Am Athlete episode with ex-NFL stars Brandon Marshall, LeSean McCoy and Pacman Jones.
The 30-year-old discussed it at the 39:52 mark and noted that he didn’t have any ill will toward James:
“We had to, and I say we, me and my other teammates, but specifically ‘Bron because he’s one of the biggest I’ve played with, [Kevin Durant] too, that it’s way bigger than just trying to satisfy what everybody wants to hear. We gotta be cool as brothers whether we’re playing together or we’re not playing together.
“We have to protect one another because it will seep into family life where people would really think that we don’t like each other based on us not being able to play together anymore…’You asked for a trade, so you must hate that dude!’ It wasn’t that. That was the furthest thing from the truth. It was not true. That’s not true.
“So I had to defend myself, [LeBron James] had to defend himself. And it’s like, I’m trying to put that to bed so I could continue to build my own legacy, but I’m continuously reminded over and over again, ‘Yo, you left ‘Bron, how could you do that?’ You got his fanbase, you got my fanbase, you got team fanbases going at it, ‘Yo, why couldn’t this work?’
“And I say this, I asked for a trade because I was looking for something different. I was a man of my word when I went to the organization. I sat the bigs, the higher-ups, down and said, ‘Look, I know y’all have future plans, tell me right now.’ They told me their future plans. I said, ‘Look, this isn’t for me.’ Share that with them. Didn’t get a chance to talk to ‘Bron before the media ended up coming out and saying I asked for a trade.”
Irving then spoke about going to China on a Nike tour soon after the conversation with Cavaliers’ team brass. The trade-request news broke during his time there and before he was able to speak with James about his decision, putting him in a tough spot to defend himself.
Irving then talked about how different rumors started flying everywhere regarding him and James and clarified that they didn’t have issues:
“But as soon as I got over to China, boom, now it’s ‘Bron’s tempted to do this, Kyrie’s saying it’s about this. And that’s not the image I want to create. Me and him never had beef like that. That was never our energy that we had. ‘Oh, Kyrie wasn’t talking to the team for the last month.’ They started throwing all of these things, they created the whole thing.”
The Cavaliers traded Irving to the Boston Celtics on Aug. 30, 2017 for a package that included Isaiah Thomas, Jae Crowder and a 2018 first-round pick that eventually became Collin Sexton. He played in Boston for two years before leaving for the Nets in free agency.
Irving, who holds a $36.5 million player option for 2022-23, is a seven-time All-Star and three-time All-NBA team member who averaged 27.4 points per game this past season.
James played in Cleveland for one more season, leading the Cavs to the 2018 NBA Finals. He then left in free agency for the Los Angeles Lakers, where he’s played the last four years. James notably led L.A. to the 2019-20 NBA championship.
He’s a four-time MVP and four-time NBA champion who just finished second in the NBA with 30.3 points per game in his 19th NBA season.
Irving and James may have only played together for three seasons, but they delivered one of the most memorable championships in recent American professional sports history after giving Cleveland a title following a 53-year drought by beating a dynasty. They’re still among the best players in the game today too as they go about their separate paths.