Kyrie Irving learned from LeBron James not to lead comfortably

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LOS ANGELES — It was mid-January in Boston, and the Boston Celtics had just pulled off a dramatic overtime victory against their East rivals the Toronto Raptors. Kyrie Irving led Boston to the win, scoring 27 points and dishing out 18 assists, including 10 points and six assists in the fourth quarter alone.

But any talk about Boston’s big win inside the locker room instantly ended when Irving stepped in front of the cameras.

“Obviously, this was a big deal for me, because I had to call [LeBron James] and tell him I apologized for being that young player that wanted everything at his fingertips, and I wanted everything at my threshold,” Irving said to a shocked audience. “I wanted to be the guy that led us to a championship. I wanted to be the leader. I wanted to be all that, and the responsibility of being the best in the world and leading your team is something that is not meant for many people.

“[LeBron] was one of those guys who came to Cleveland and tried to show us how to win a championship, and it was hard for him, and sometimes getting the most out of the group is not the easiest thing in the world.”

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Kyrie Irving explains to Rachel Nichols why he decided to call LeBron James and apologize to him.

Everyone’s focus shifted immediately to the act of calling James. But what Irving was doing was even bigger. Not only was he admitting he was wrong about James — he was, for the latest time this season, creating the kind of tumult James has had around his teams for years.

After escaping the Cleveland Cavaliers to chart his own course and avoid the chaos that swirled around James and the Cavaliers, Irving’s Celtics have fallen into a familiar pattern of veering from one moment of crisis to another — all of which has overwhelmed what is happening on the court.

The Celtics, by any objective measure, are having a very good season. They are on pace to win 50 games, have the league’s third-best net rating and are one of four teams (along with the Milwaukee Bucks, Denver Nuggets and Toronto Raptors) to sit inside the top 10 in both offensive and defensive rating — one of the basic tenets of championship contention status.

So why, then, has it felt like an arduous slog for the Celtics to simply survive this season — even as they’ve crafted a compelling case for a deep playoff run? Because they find themselves in the eye of their star’s hurricane.


There have been two guiding principles to teams LeBron James has been part of for more than a decade (up until this season, anyway): greatness on the court and constant turmoil off of it.

“I’m all about being uncomfortable,” James said last month. “I love being uncomfortable. I fall in love with being uncomfortable. This is another uncomfortable thing for me, and I love it.”

That certainly should ring true to anyone associated with the Celtics, as the past several months could be defined by one word: uncomfortable. And it is not a coincidence that Irving finds himself at the center of all of it. It’s also something that hasn’t gone unnoticed by James, who — in addition to being as surprised as anyone by Irving’s initial phone call — has acknowledged privately that h