INDEPENDENCE, Ohio — Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love are both Cavaliers legends, having made multiple All-Star teams and helped the team to its first NBA championship. However, both have gone in vastly different directions since 2016, both on and off the court.
Just a year after nailing the shot that beat the Golden State Warriors in Game 7 of the Finals, Irving demanded a trade from Cleveland, and despite his obvious talent has more often made headlines for his at times bizarre statements as well as rifts with teammates and coaches. It was his personality that reportedly led to the Boston Celtics declining to re-sign him in 2019, and while Irving is now with fellow star Kevin Durant on the Brooklyn Nets, his behavior continues to raise eyebrows.
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With training camp under way for what will be an abbreviated regular season, Irving declared he will not be speaking to the media (despite league rules requiring him to do so), opting to let his play speak for itself. The six-time All-Star later took to Instagram to quote Malcolm X and take another shot at the press.
"Stop distracting me and my team, and appreciate the Art," Irving wrote. "We move different over here. I do not talk to Pawns. My attention is worth more."
Enter Love, who is one of just two remaining members from the Cavs' 2016 team. While the team has struggled over the past two seasons, the five-time All-Star remains a needed presence on the court and in the locker room, and has earned national praise for his mental health advocacy after going public with his own battles with anxiety and depression.
Love met with reporters Friday at Cleveland Clinic Courts in Independence, and while the main topic was the upcoming season, Irving's comments certainly came up. In response, Love had strong though caring words for his former teammate.
"I think that calling anybody a 'pawn' is a sure sign of disrespect," Love said, via Spencer Davies of BasketballNews.com. "I understand where Kyrie is coming from in trying to better a number of people's lives, but I'm just not a divisive person."
The veteran big man said he still "loves" Kyrie, although he admitted he "[doesn't] know what's going on" with him since their days together in Cleveland. In regards to his interactions with the media and others, Love said he learned from the late Flip Saunders, a Cuyahoga Heights native who coached in the NBA for parts of 17 seasons.
"Flip told me that everybody has a part to play," he said. "This is your guys' livelihood. I'm thankful that we're all working, you guys are all working. I think that goes without saying right now."
Love seemed to empathize with Irving to a point, recognizing how he himself "kept his head down quite a bit" when he first came to the Cavs, in part due to his anxiety. As he has continued to grow as a person and gain more self-confidence, Love says it has allowed him to open up more.
"I just feel like every man, every woman is my superior and that I can learn with them," he said. "That's just how my curiosity really works, and I don't have fear with that."
Love's remarks were met with great respect across the sports landscape, while Irving's were mostly met with eye rolls and condemnation. It's not the first time this week Irving has drawn the apparent ire of a former teammate, as days ago LeBron James brought up Kyrie saying Kevin Durant was the first person he played with who can make the same shots he can.
"It kind of hurt me a little bit," the NBA legend and Akron native said on the "Road Trippin'" podcast, adding another chapter to what has been a frosty relationship between the two since their days with the Cavs. "The whole time while I was there, I only wanted to see him be an MVP of our league. I only cared about his success, and it just didn’t align. It just didn’t align."
Irving and the Nets are scheduled to visit Cleveland on Jan. 20, although whether or not the point guard makes the trip is anyone's guess. After all, Kyrie has not set foot in Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse since Opening Night 2017, his first career game with any team other than the Cavs. In the multiple scheduled matchups since then, he has either been hurt or declined to play altogether, all the while taking veiled shots at Northeast Ohio.