The first time I saw Kyrie play, he was at St. Patrick High School in Elizabeth, NJ. I had already established that I wanted to be an English teacher and coach HS basketball when I finished college (spoiler alert - didn't happen), so working basketball camps and visiting practices was my main priority in life. I had made some connections and lo and behold, I got behind the scenes access to one of Kevin Boyle's practices at SPHS.
Kyrie's command of the court that day was nothing short of spectacular. I remember him being stunningly quiet, commanding the offense like a conductor leads an orchestra. The ball was his conductor's baton. He didn't need to be vocal, instead leading his teammates to open areas of the court with passes that only a savant could see. He could do it all, between passing, slashing, shooting, and defending. It's extremely easy to say that a player in the NBA is talented. All NBA players are talented. Kyrie Irving could've gone straight to the NBA from high school. He was THAT talented. He was calm, cool, and collected. I saw someone who had the look of wanting to take the world on in his eye. He was engaged and attentive with his teammates and coaches, and implemented every piece of feedback he got immediately. He took that drive and talent to Duke and played one injury shortened season before being drafted #1 by the Cavs. I was hooked, and so was the rest of the basketball world. Awards and accolades continued to pile up, culminating in an NBA title with the Cavs in 2016. Then the wheels came off.
In 2017, he forced his way out of Cleveland.
Within those stints with the Cavs and Celtics, he got labeled injury prone. Considering he averaged 63.5 games per season in his first 8 years, who could blame anyone for saying that? He also got labeled a malcontent, moody, selfish, uncoachable, and difficult by both members of the media and fans alike. I watched nearly every game Kyrie played in Celtics green, and I never saw that same look I saw in 2009. It was clear that Kyrie didn't want to be in Boston. Any chance he had to ask out of the lineup, he was in street clothes cheering on his teammates instead of playing through an injury. I began to wonder, though, if something bigger was going on. Just because he didn't want to be in Boston didn't expressly mean he wanted to be somewhere else. I speculated to a friend that he'd miss time with the Brooklyn Nets the first chance he got, and that held true.
Kyrie Irving has re-aggravated his injured right shoulder that cost him 26 games and is out indefinitely again, Nets coach Kenny Atkinson confirmed today
This made it clear to me. The kid I saw in practice in 2009 has become another coddled professional, and an unreliable one at that. He got paid handsomely from day one, won a title in 2016, and then the fire went out. He spent 2017 & 2018 making 'Uncle Drew,' arguably one of the worst films of all time. His FT% dipped by 2%. His scoring average dropped. His minutes per game dropped, yet he came to Boston to be 'the man.' He electrified us with his performances on the court, and enraged us with his absences off the court. For someone who wanted to be 'the man,' he played like one but he never acted like one. He's got the chance to be the man in Brooklyn now, but running from surgery has turned this into another lost season. Kyrie clearly didn't want to be the face of an underachieving Nets team, nor did he ever want to face a return to TD Garden without Kevin Durant on the floor. In 2020-21, he'll return to playing in the shadow of a superstar when KD returns. I sincerely hope when that happens, Kyrie's love of the game returns, too.