How Kobe Bryant’s ongoing influence on Kyrie Irving put the Cavaliers in such a peculiar situation
The NBA world was rocked just days ago as reports surfaced Cleveland Cavaliers’ mesmerizing point guard Kyrie Irving had put in a trade request. Fresh off their third straight NBA Finals appearance, it was a shock wave that was felt through the entire NBA community as the news broke. Cavs’ power forward Kevin Love was the player that seemed most likely to be dealt to another franchise, after he was underwhelming again in the Finals against the Golden State Warriors as the Wine and Gold were humbled in five games, but not Irving, who had another stellar Finals showing.
To heat up the conversation even more, the Cavs acquired 2011 MVP Derrick Rose for the veteran’s minimum which intensified the trade rumors around Irving, who is currently on tour in Asia. Rose has been rumored to be joining the Cavaliers for the past week, but many envisioned him backing up Irving, not replacing him. Rose passed his medical in Cleveland and as the signing was confirmed, all eyes remained on Irving and what the Cavs would do now after acquiring two point guards this summer, the other being Jose Calderon.
Irving’s sudden request didn’t just shake the league, it shook the entire organization and his teammates also. Teammates J.R. Smith and Iman Shumpert took their frustrations out on social media, whilst leader and successful running partner LeBron James was reportedly “blind sighted” and “disappointed” when the news finally reached him.
Like his Cavs’ teammates, all Cavs’ fans were left with the same question – Why? Why would Kyrie want to leave?
There are various rumors and speculation out there as to why the Duke product wants out, but one that perhaps isn’t getting as much attention as it should, is Irving’s relationship with retired Los Angeles Lakers great Kobe Bryant.
It has been well-publicized by the media and Irving himself that Bryant has been a long-time mentor of the Cavs’ guard. In reality, it’s quite a strange situation as Irving plays with arguably the greatest player ever in James, but utilizes Bryant as his central and leading mentor when it comes to the game. This isn’t to say James hasn’t guided and taught Irving a great deal, but the peculiar scenario that is the Irving-Bryant connection is somewhat unnerving for Cavs’ fans considering Bryant found himself in a similar situation in the early stages of his career. This becomes increasingly more unsettling when you consider Bryant was one of the first people Irving Facetimed after the Cavs won their very first championship in franchise history.
“I actually FaceTimed Kobe after the game as soon as I got in the locker room,” Irving says. “Other than seeing my dad and my sister right after we won, FaceTiming him was just a great thing, knowing how he has won five and I just won my first. Then realizing how hard it is just to win one, my respect for him is already high, but it went to another level knowing that he’s got five of them. I’m trying to get a second one.”
You see, Bryant also played with a dominant force in legendary center Shaquille O’Neal in LA, which yielded three NBA championships and perhaps the most impressive run in Laker history. The franchise was winning, but all was not well in Laker land. As devastating as the duo was, their relationship was strictly professional as both personalities clashed outside of the NBA hardwood. Long story short, the Lakers opted to go with a youthful Bryant and moved O’Neal on despite him being arguably the most dominant center we’ve ever seen.
Now, every situation is different, but the underlying factors may be similar, and this may be the case for ordeal the Cavs are experiencing as we speak. Let me jog your memory. Let’s go back to just a couple of days after the Cavs lifted the Larry O’Brien trophy and paraded through the streets of Cleveland, Irving posted an unusual picture to his personal Instagram account of that man Bryant with the championship trophy displaying what looked like a feeling of dissatisfaction and a hint of unhappiness.
At the time, it seemed like a harmless Instagram post as Irving had achieved what his idol did at around the same age in their careers. In hindsight, there could have been a powerful and underlying message written all over it – Irving wanted more and was not entirely happy. Throw in the fact that it was recently reported Irving considered requesting a trade straight after the Cavs were victorious in Game 7 inside Oracle Arena, the post could now make a lot of sense.
All these little indicators don’t make Irving’s request any less shocking, but they do provide some clarity in the entire situation and may form a new perspective for some.
The reason why Irving and Bryant’s bond is so strong is because for the most part, they’re cut from the same cloth. Both are flat out scorers with killer mentalities who thrive in crunch time. They want the responsibility, and they want the spotlight on them with the expectation to silence their doubters. Due to this, they also want to be the main guy, the focal point, the entire offense, the center of attention. It was a factor in why Bryant eventually forced Shaq out, and it has been reported is the reason why Irving is ready to pack up and leave Northeast Ohio. This mindset is not necessarily a bad thing, as Bryant became a legend by wanting to be everything for the Lakers, but it can also be a damaging trait in a team environment. Even as Bryant aged, his mindset and approach remained the same, which hurt the latter stages of his career and the ability of the Lakers to surround him with talented names in order to compete for championships as he aged.
It made Bryant what he is today, but Irving has to be very careful about how he goes about achieving this. Many see this as a selfish trait, which could hinder his career moving forward and how people view him. Various NBA personalities around the league also see this as a characteristic that is undesirable to play with, and despite Irving wanting to achieve personal goals, he still has to do it within the constraints of a team sport.
It is very likely Bryant and Irving have had conversations about playing second fiddle to a star in the past, and it’s not crazy to think Bryant has also expressed how good it felt to be steering the ship solo. Of course, no one will know for sure what both individual’s speak about in private, but it’s definitely likely the two bounce their experiences back and forth, and Irving has unfulfilled aspirations in his psyche as a lone star.
Only time will tell why Irving wants to part ways with the team that drafted him and helped him win a championship ring. As of right now it still remains unclear as to why he wants to call a new city home. It’s a sad reality, but we may only get answers to the questions that trouble us once Irving is ready to sit down and open up about it all. We don’t know when that will be, but Cavs fans are hoping he will give them the answers they deserve after they stuck by him throughout his entire time in Cleveland. For Cavs fans, it will hurt, and I’m sure each and every one of them are seeking an explanation for their own personal closure.
The NBA world still remains in shock, and as this story develops it becomes clearer that Irving has other agendas outside of team success on the basketball floor.
Considering everything that has happened and everything that has been reported and transpired over the last couple of days, it’s realistic and possible Bryant may have been a significant influence into why the Cavaliers find themselves in such a peculiar situation with one of their favorite sons.