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“Big surprise, huh, to a lot of people,” Irving told reporters. “All that s–t-talking about me and all the relationships I have with every teammate of mine. I’m glad we get to see it every single game that I’ve got some great people out here.”
Irving, who dropped 40 points in the win, has long faced criticism for alleged rifts within the locker room both as a member of the Cleveland Cavaliers and Boston Celtics. On Thursday, he attempted to put that narrative to rest one hug at a time.
Much of the reported controversy in Boston apparently stemmed from Irving’s frustration with some of the younger players on the roster.
Irving became a vocal leader with the Celtics who wasn’t afraid to call out his teammates if he felt they weren’t playing up to his standards. In March 2019, he told Yahoo Sports’ Chris Haynes he hadn’t handled things as well as he would have liked from a leadership perspective:
“The way I’ve handled things, it hasn’t been perfect. I’ve made a lot of mistakes that I take full responsibility for. I apologize. I haven’t done it perfectly. I haven’t said the right things all the time. I don’t want to sit on a place like I’m on a pedestal from anybody. I’m a normal human being that makes mistakes. For me, I think because of how fixated I was on trying to prove other people wrong, I got into a lot of habits that were bad, like reading stuff and reacting emotionally. That’s just not who I am.”
Irving, though, was hardly the only one at fault, as ESPN’s Jackie MacMullan reported in November 2019.
“It wasn’t just him,” Celtics radio analyst Cedric Maxwell told MacMullan. “This group was the most dysfunctional team I’ve seen since 1983, when we had four Hall of Famers on our roster and got swept by the Milwaukee Bucks. These guys never found a way to be on the same page.”
After two years with Boston, Irving left the franchise to team with Kevin Durant on the rival Nets.
It still remains to be seen how Boston fans welcome him back to the city once TD Garden permits fans when Brooklyn is in town, but Irving feels no bad blood with his former franchise. He just hopes others see that too.