“There are leaders, and there are those who lead. Leaders hold a position of power or influence. Those who lead inspire us. We follow those who lead not because we have to, but because we want to. We follow those who lead not for them, but for ourselves.”
The above statement is from Simon Sinek’s Logistics of Leadership, and the quote could not be more applicable to the situation between Kyrie Irving and the Boston Celtics. The Boston Celtics defeated the Toronto Raptors on Tuesday night, 117-108, in what could be a preview of the Eastern Conference Finals. Irving leads the Celtics with 27 points, but the top story was not found in the box score. In fact, the biggest story involved Irving’s words, not his play on the court. Irving dropped a bombshell when he revealed to reporters that he sought advice from the unlikeliest of sources. Irving asked for guidance from the same teammate he did not want to play with anymore and forced ownership to trade him away. Not only did Irving request direction from said teammate, but he apologized for his actions.
If you haven’t guessed by now, the teammate that gave Irving advice was LeBron James.
Irving’s comments stem from the tumultuous past couple of days the Celtics have experienced in the media. After losing to the Orlando Magic this past Saturday night, Irving publicly called out his younger teammates, citing that they have no idea what it takes to win a championship. “The young guys don’t know what it takes to be a championship level team,” Irving said, via Keith Smith of Real GM. “What it takes every day. And if they think it is hard now, what do they think it will be like when we’re trying to get to the Finals?”
Calling out teammates in front of the media is not a trait of a leader and Irving’s teammate, Jaylen Brown, made sure to reinforce that issue. Brown fired back at Irving, saying “It’s not one guy’s fault, it’s not young guys old guys fault, it’s everybody we all have to be accountable and turn this thing around… We can’t point fingers; we just have to continue to empower each other.”
It seems to me that Irving has not figured out how to be a leader, which is why he sought advice from one of the best leaders in the NBA, LeBron James. It’s ironic because the same issues that Irving brings up (lack of experience from young guys, don’t know what it takes to win, etc.) are the same issues that LeBron had when trying to groom Irving into the league’s next best superstar. It seems as if Irving may have learned his lesson (for now).
“I’ll tell you one thing. Obviously it was something that was a big deal for me because I had to call ’Bron and tell him I apologize for being that young player that wanted everything at his fingertips and I wanted everything to be at my threshold,” said Irving after the victory over the Raptors. “ ’Bron was one of the guys who came to Cleveland and tried to really show us what it’s like to win a championship. It was hard for him. Sometimes getting the most out of the group is not the easiest thing in the world. Like I said, only few are meant for it or chosen for it, and I felt like the best person to call was him because he’s in this situation.”
Because of Irving’s call to James, the sports world is breaking down Irving’s comments like it’s the Zapruder film. Both sides have fair arguments. Irving realized that he was the main issue behind Cleveland’s chemistry problems, not James. Maybe Irving has learned his lesson and his apology is sincere and heartfelt. Athletes are people and just like people tend to do, they mature with age. Irving may have realized that LeBron’s leadership and constant push to be better would only benefit the team in the long run.
However, there is the other side of this debate. Irving once again opened his mouth to the public when he could have remained silent. It’s not like any member of the media had word of this phone call between Irving and James. Irving mentioned it unprovoked. Irving’s message may be heartfelt, but one can translate what he said as “Yes, I play with young and immature players that remind me of myself.” That’s kind of a backhand insult, no? Did he need to share that with the public? Did he need to use LeBron James to support his agenda of growing as a leader? Sometimes, the best way to lead is by saying nothing at all, at least to the media and to his teammates on the court. Behind closed doors is when issues over a lack of leadership should be addressed.
For all we know, Kyrie Irving could have meant every word of that apology and that he’s learned from mistakes. The fact of the matter is that the time to talk about leadership is over. Will Irving be a leader or be someone who leads? The choice is his, and the fate of the season depends on it.