The Boston Celtics will begin their 2017-18 NBA season traveling to Cleveland to square-up with the Cavaliers on Tuesday, which means Kyrie Irving will play his first-ever game as an opponent at Quicken Loans Arena.
Irving hit the side-step three over Stephen Curry in the 2015 NBA Finals to deliver Cleveland its first NBA championship in franchise history, but after forcing his way out of town this summer, it’s anyone’s guess how the city will respond when he walks onto the court in green and white.
His odds at landing a standing ovation or a spattering of boos have probably been influenced by what he’s said about the Cavaliers, LeBron James, and the city of Cleveland since being traded to Boston.
July 24: Irving wants a trade
While Irving was on his first official tour with Nike basketball across all of Asia, people stateside were going bonkers after news broke of his trade request. Irving reportedly requested the trade because he didn’t want to play with James anymore and wanted a chance to forge his own legacy elsewhere without being a casualty of James’ impending free agency decision.
Aug. 23: Irving to the Celtics becomes official
After about a month of silence and speculation, Cleveland agreed to send Irving to Boston for Isaiah Thomas, Jae Crowder, Ante Zizic, and the Brooklyn Nets’ unprotected 2018 first-round pick.
The trade hit a snag after Thomas failed his physical in Cleveland, revealing a hip injury that was much worse than anticipated. Still, after Boston included a 2018 second-rounder trade was finalized a week later and Irving was on his way to Boston.
Sept. 1: Irving is introduced as a Celtic
“And now that I’m sitting here, it just echoes in terms of me just being very appreciative of not only the Cleveland fans and all of Ohio, as well as Bron in incorporating me into that special team we had in Cleveland. Because, I mean, three finals in a row, all the shared memories with [the teammates], they all know how I feel about them individually as well as the amount of love we have for one another. The brotherhood exists, even without all this, and it will continue. So that’s exactly where it is, and I’m very appreciative of it.”
But there was a slight hint of shade thrown James’ way. When asked if he had spoken to James since being traded to Boston, Irving responded with a curt ‘no,’ initially before pausing, then going into more detail.
Sept. 18: Irving shows up on First Take
Now, here’s where things get really interesting. Irving, unprompted, goes on First Take to speak to the national media for the first time since being traded.
Smith: “Did you speak to LeBron James or talk to LeBron before you and your representatives met with ownership to let them know that you wanted out?”
Smith: “Why not?”
Irving: “Why would I have to?”
Smith: “If you don’t speak to somebody about it, they might take it personally.”
Smith: “Do you care about that at all?”
“I want to be extremely, extremely happy, like, in perfecting my craft. And that was the only the intent that I had in all of this.”
Tell us how you really feel.
Irving wasn’t done there, either. Throughout the appearance, he continued to say things like “you can’t put a price on happiness,” when asked about the money he left on the table by wanting out of Cleveland.
“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 feel I could be taught every single day, and have that demand from the coaching staff, and have that demand from the franchise that would propel me to exceeding my potential and seeing how far I can go.
“I felt like when I was coming into that environment, there were times when my energy was just a little off. And I just had to figure that out. There were times when after games I would go out and shoot. As any professional athlete or any person knows when you’re at your workplace and you have those tough days, there are questions that you ask yourself: Is this the right thing for me right now? And I answered that question for me myself.”
Irving used this appearance to put the nail in the coffin on his relationship with James. He wanted you to know this was his decision and his alone — what anyone else wanted in Cleveland didn’t matter.
Oct. 11: Hey, Irving. What’s the difference between playing in Cleveland and Boston?
Jalen Rose asks Kyrie Irving what's the biggest difference between Cleveland and Boston. His answer: "ball movement."— Bill Sy (@deliberatepix) October 12, 2017
Ouch. That certainly doesn’t warrant a warm welcome in Cleveland. And it also doesn’t help that Irving was part of the reason why there was little ball movement in Cleveland.
But maybe this next comment makes helps a bit?
Oct. 12: Irving says it’s all love at The Q
“It’s all love no matter what,” Irving said to The Undefeated’s Marc Spears. “I have heard boos at times to hearing cheers in the parade. I’ve been in the championship parade as well as being down 30 in ‘Q Arena.’ So I’ve heard it all. It’s just good to be there and hoop against a great team like the Cavs.”
Oh, nice! But, wait, there’s more. He continues to say Boston is a “real, live sports city”
“It’s exciting to be on the East Coast, I will tell you that,” Irving said. “It’s fast-paced. There are a lot of different cultures. You get it all. I was talking to my best friend the other day. It is really a major city coming from Cleveland where it is the Midwest. The culture is different. Then you move to East Coast, to Boston, it’s a real, live ongoing, thriving city, consistently ongoing. It doesn’t matter what hour throughout the night.
“You go in Cleveland and it would be at night and there were things going on. You could see it was a vast difference of what Cleveland is and what Boston is. But Boston is one of those cities … I’m driving in and I’m like, ‘OK, I’m really in a real, live sports city and a great city.’ ”
Irving, according to The Charlotte Observer’s Rick Bonnell, also said: "A lot of different cultures, food, and people. You get it all, especially in Boston. You would go to Cleveland and it would be at nighttime and things would be going on, but you just see a vast difference."
Good luck going back to Cleveland, Irving.
That’s all he’s said — for now. Irving will certainly be asked about the Cavaliers and how they compare to his Celtics. As he responds, we will continue to update this post.
Either way, whether Irving is booed or cheered, we’re certainly in for a treat once things get started.