COLUMN | Kyrie Irving leaves behind complicated Cleveland Cavaliers legacy

CLEVELAND - On Oct. 17, Kyrie Irving will take the court at Quicken Loans Arena, as he has more than 200 times before in his NBA career.

Only this time, he'll likely do so to a smattering of boos.

Such scene would have been unfathomable a mere month ago -- let alone a year prior to that, when Irving hit the biggest shot in Cleveland sports history, clinching the city's first major sports championship in 52 years. But 14 months after making the game-winning 3-pointer of the 2016 NBA Finals and one month after asking for a trade from the team he spent the first six seasons of his NBA career with, Irving is now a member of the Boston Celtics after the Cleveland Cavaliers acquiesced his July trade request on Tuesday night.

Breaking up is never easy, but for such a smooth player, Irving's departure is particularly messy. He isn't leaving as a free agent -- as LeBron James did seven summers ago -- but rather with two years remaining on his contract, having requested a trade from a team that's appeared in three consecutive NBA Finals and is a favorite to make a fourth.

Whatever the motivation behind Irving's desire to move on has been muddled within the last month, thanks to a stream of subtweets and thinly veiled social media posts between himself and James.

Those, however, won't be what Cleveland remembers Irving for, even if they -- along with the trade request -- lead to an uncomfortable homecoming at The Q two months from now.

Obviously, Cleveland will remember "The Shot" and we'll remember the way he just dismantled the very team he's set to join. We'll remember his franchise record 57-point game in 2015 -- and his 55-point outing before that.

We'll also remember the way Irving provided a rare bright spot for the Cavs during the darker days that coincided with the first three years of his Cleveland career. We'll remember the early game-winners and the 2013 3-point championship and the 2014 NBA All-Star MVP, as well as -- and especially -- the video game-like ball-handling skills that made a perennial loser a little more watchable.

But even back then, Irving's Cavaliers career remained complicated. Until James returned to the franchise in 2014, it never won much of anything with Irving on the roster besides NBA draft lotteries. And rumors of his unhappiness in Cleveland date all the way back to 2014, which left a cloud of uncertainty hovering over the Cavs franchise.

Even once James arrived, Irving's mercurial mood wasn't exactly a well-kept secret. In the past three years, it wasn't uncommon to see Irving off on his own as his teammates spent time with one another at public functions.

Quite frankly, Kyrie Irving was a bit of a weirdo at times -- see his beliefs on the Earth being flat -- but he was our weirdo, and more than that, he was a homegrown All-Star in the most prominent and successful era of Cavaliers basketball. Yes, LeBron has and always will be the star of the show, but while James was chasing rings in Miami, Irving was the only part of Cleveland basketball that was worth investing in.

Irving never claimed Cleveland, but Cleveland claimed him, which is what makes Tuesday's trade sting so much, even as it simultaneously offers relief. It's never fun to be at odds with someone you care about -- again, breaking up is never easy -- but that's exactly the position Cleveland finds itself in with Irving having forced a trade to an Eastern Conference rival.

So Irving will likely hear boos this October, although there will also likely be some cheers for a player the city has watched and invested in since he was 19-years-old.

Like most things when it comes to Kyrie Irving and Cleveland, it will be complicated.

© 2017 WKYC-TV


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