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Kyrie Irving, once a Cavaliers hero, became the 'odd' man who wanted out

Cleveland Cavaliers guard Kyrie Irving, center, shoots against Golden State Warriors forward Draymond Green.
Ezra Shaw/AP
Pool Getty Images North America
Cleveland Cavaliers guard Kyrie Irving, center, drives to the basket defended by Golden State Warriors forward Draymond Green during the second half of Game 5 of basketball's NBA Finals in Oakland, California, Monday, June 12, 2017. The Warriors won 129-120 to win the NBA championship.

The Cleveland Cavaliers on Tuesday night faced an old friend in Kyrie Irving, who now plays with the Dallas Mavericks.

Ideastream Public Media's sports commentator Terry Pluto reflected on one of the most important — and polarizing — players in franchise history, whose Game 7 shot sealed the 2016 championship.

“Interestingly, during the timeout, the coach, Tyronn Lue, drew up a play not for LeBron James to take the last shot, but Kyrie Irving. That’s how his stock had risen. And Irving makes this three pointer, put them up ahead 92-89. They eventually won the game 93-89. And that’s sort of the pinnacle of where Kyrie was in Cleveland. And that was his fifth year here,” Pluto said.

The Cavs went back to the NBA Finals in 2017, this time losing to the Golden State Warriors.

“Now Kyrie Irving still has two years left on his contract. So, after that season he meets with Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert and says, ‘I want to be traded. I want to be the focal point of a franchise.’ And he says, ‘I'll never be that here.’ And Gilbert says, ‘Well, we don't have to trade you.’ He said, ‘Fine, I'm going to have knee surgery then.’ So, the Cavs ended up trading Kyrie to the Boston Celtics,” Pluto said.

The Cavs made it back to the NBA Finals in 2018 and lost to Golden State again. Irving, meanwhile, did undergo knee surgery that year, but his two seasons in Boston were rocky.

“Then he becomes a free agent. Now think about this. He says, 'I wanted to be the focal point, the main guy.' So, he gets together with Kevin Durant, basically a guy that rivaled LeBron, and says, 'Let's you and I go to Brooklyn and make our super franchise,'" Pluto said.

After four seasons with the Nets, which did not become a super franchise, Irving became disgruntled and requested a trade and was dealt to the Dallas Mavericks in 2023.

“You know, he has 12 years in the NBA. I think he's made eight All-Star teams. Look, he's a great player. But he's really been a man who didn't know what he wanted. And it would have been nice to watch he and LeBron go after it one more time together in 2018, see if they could maybe have defeated Golden State,” Pluto said.

Pluto believes ego has played a big role in Irving’s career.

“Often, when a player like Kyrie, who was the number one pick overall in the draft, he was a sensational high school player, played one year at Duke, kind of when all the stuff comes to him. I think they don't know what they want after a while. They really don't,” Pluto said.

Irving has also been polarizing off the court, referencing the Earth being flat, his refusal to take the COVID-19 vaccine, and for posting a link to an antisemitic film on his Twitter feed. He was suspended for at least five games without pay in 2022 for failing to declare that he has no antisemitic beliefs or acknowledge the content of the film.

“Kyrie’s had kind of these strange forays into political thinking and everything else, and you're allowed to have that. But it also sometimes impacted his game. And that's a big thing. LeBron has obviously taken steps in the political arenas and that. Never once has it impacted how LeBron James played,” Pluto said.

Pluto calls Irving’s career one of the “oddest” in the NBA.

“It's a what could have been a story for Cleveland. It's a how should we supposed to feel about this guy story for Cleveland. Because he did make the biggest shot," Pluto said. "I mean without Kyrie Irving they don't win that title in 2016. That's a fact.”

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