In an appearance Monday morning on ESPN’s First Take, Irving was repeatedly pressed on his departure from the Cleveland Cavaliers, as well as his apparent falling out with James. He even acknowledged that he had ruminated about asking to leave the team before his trade request in July.
“Like I said, I was very patient within those moments, because I knew the importance wasn’t in my ego,” Irving said, while adding he did ask himself if the Cavaliers were right for him.
“I answered that question myself,” he said.
The conversation then turned to the “elephant in the room,” as Smith put it: Irving’s relationship with James.
Irving denied that his departure had anything to do with James, but rather his own desire to develop as a person and basketball player.
“It never came from the fact of me wanting to be absolutely selfish and absolutely putting myself first, wanting to be the man,” he said. “I don’t really have an ego. I have a presence and an aura about me that’s very reality-based. It didn’t come in the form of living in this false world and not being able to tell the truth to somebody and look them in the eye and like, ‘I don’t want to do this anymore.”
Irving said he wanted to try out a new situation where he could be “happy.”
Pressed by First Take co-host Max Kellerman, Irving said it wasn’t about “wanting or not wanting” to play with James. If if had been someone else who was traded, Irving said their relationship with James wouldn’t have been a storyline.
“Being with that guy was unbelievable,” he said.
Kellerman replied that, based on Irving’s playing style, the he does have an ego — despite the All-Star guard’s own claims — and asked if he thought joining the Celtics provided a better chance to compete for an NBA title.
“When you think about the journey, and you also put things into perspective for what they really are, it’s a truthful environment,” Irving said. “And I wasn’t getting that, and that’s where it really stands.”
Smith asked Irving if he was directing his statement about not getting a “truthful environment” toward any particular member of the Cavaliers organization. Irving said he wasn’t.
“I want to be happy, and perfect my craft in doing so,” he said.
Irving went on to confirm that he did not talk to James before making his trade demand in July and acknowledged that James may have taken that personally (as Smith has reported — and as James has denied –in the past).
“Do you care about that at all?” Smith asked.
“No,” Irving replied, adding that he didn’t think he owed anyone anything with regards to what he wanted to do with his own life.
“It’s not anything personal,” he said.
Irving said he had “nothing but love” for Cleveland and the six years he played there, but that “there comes a time when you mature.”
“There is no looking back from that standpoint,” he said. “There is no time to figure out how to save someone’s feelings when ultimately you have to be selfish in figuring out what you want to do. … 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.”