On Tuesday night, Kyrie Irving will take the floor at Quicken Loans Arena as a member of the visiting team for the first time when the Cleveland Cavaliers host the Boston Celtics in the NBA season opener for both teams.
Could Irving one day return to Cleveland as more than just an opposing player? The 4-time All-Star is unsure.
“I don’t know. I don’t know if it will ever happen,” Irving told The Undefeated's Marc J. Spears when asked if he thinks the Cavs will one day retire his jersey. “I’m appreciative of [my career in Cleveland]. The multiple legacies I want to live in my life, Cleveland is definitely part of one. Whether it’s appreciated or not, it doesn’t matter to me."
On the surface, retiring Irving's former No. 2 jersey would seem like a no-brainer for the Cavs.
After six seasons in Cleveland, Irving ranks eighth in franchise history in scoring, sixth in assists, ninth in steals and third in 3-pointers made. In addition to earning four All-Star appearances, he was named the 2012 NBA Rookie of the Year and won a gold medal as a key member of the U.S. Men's National Team at the 2016 Summer Olympics.
And oh yeah, he also hit the biggest shot in team history, sinking the game-winning 3-pointer in the Cavs' Game 7 victory over the Golden State Warriors in the 2016 NBA Finals.
Any future celebrations of Irving's Cleveland legacy, however, will be complicated by the way it came to an end. This past summer, Irving asked the Cavs for a trade, a request they ultimately acquiesced in late-August when they sent the 25-year-old to Boston in exchange for All-Star guard Isaiah Thomas, forward Jae Crowder, center Ante Zizic, the Brooklyn Nets' 2018 first-round pick and a second-round selection via the Miami Heat.
Since then, Irving's rocky relationship with Cleveland megastar LeBron James has produced no shortage of headlines and on Wednesday, Irving also took a thinly veiled jab at Cleveland when he told The Charlotte Observer, "Boston, I’m driving in and (thinking), ‘I’m really playing in a real, live sports city?’"
That all but ensured Irving will receive far from a warm welcome when he takes the court in front of his former fans on Tuesday.
“It’s all love no matter what. I have heard boos at times to hearing cheers in the parade," Irving told Spears. "I’ve been in the championship parade as well as being down 30 in ‘Q Arena.’ So, I’ve heard it all."
But will he ever hear his name called as his jersey rises to the rafters? At this point, that's still a touchy subject.
Time, however, has a funny way of healing most wounds.