Kyrie Irving made his first trip to Japan this week, and the Cleveland Cavaliers point guard already has plans to come back.
In the summer of 2020, just in time for the Tokyo Olympics.
“I can’t wait,” Irving said on Friday night, after the Clutch Bucket Tokyo event he participated in at Ota City Gymnasium. “God willing, if I’m picked on the team by Coach (Gregg) Popovich and USA Basketball, I will be back in Tokyo in 2020. For sure.
“I can’t wait to experience what Tokyo looks like when the Olympics come here. I know it’s going to be beautiful here, I know it’s going to be grand in Japan.”
What fans don’t know, however, is what NBA team Irving will be playing for by then. They don’t even know where he’ll be playing next year, after ESPN’s Brian Windhorst sent shockwaves through the league on Friday night with a report saying Irving had asked the Cavaliers to trade him during a meeting with owner Dan Gilbert last week. According to Windhorst’s report, Irving no longer wants to play with LeBron James and wants to be, the report states, more of a focal point.
The report was published Saturday morning in Japan, long after Irving’s appearance. He gave no hints about such a request when asked about the immediate future of the team amid current changes around the league, which has included stars such as Chris Paul, Paul George and Jimmy Butler changing teams.
“It’s a very unique place that we’re in,” Irving said. It’s honestly changing so much within the league, and you’re watching these other teams get these pieces, and that almost puts a lot more pressure on teams that aren’t making any noise. So for us, we’re just observing, seeing how all this plays out. I know that our management is going to do a great job with filling in all the pieces that we’ll need, and then we’ll go from there.”
At just 25, Irving is one of the world’s premier point guards. He was born in Melbourne, Australia, but spent his formative years in New Jersey and attended Duke University for one year before being the No. 1 pick in the 2011 NBA Draft. He helped the U.S. national team win the FIBA Basketball World Cup in 2014, and was one of the major factors in Cleveland’s 2016 NBA title. He was then part of the U.S. team that claimed gold at the 2016 Games in Rio de Janeiro.
“The Olympic gold medal, I think that the experience in itself, of being with other great players, having 15 guys who aren’t necessarily on the same (NBA) team, probably not, and then you bring them together for a common goal, it’s very difficult,” Irving said when asked to compare winning a gold medal with an NBA title.
“Because you have to manage egos, you have to manage minutes, you have to manage talent and you have to manage all of us to basically come together in a month and a half, and win a gold medal. That’s the challenging part.
“Then you have the NBA team that you’re playing on all the time. You know these guys for about 10 months. The comparison of going for an NBA Finals, you play a lot more games, it’s a lot more drawn out, and you’re around these guys a lot longer. Where compared to the Olympics you’re only there for a month and a half.
“But both are incredible experiences. I’m glad that I was able to get a gold medal and win a championship.”
Irving is in Japan as part of a tour of Asia with Nike Basketball. He met tennis star Kei Nishikori Friday morning and also visited Harajuku and Shibuya. At the Clutch Bucket event, Irving ran through a brief clinic with teenagers, all wearing white and gold versions of his signature “Kyrie 3” sneaker.
The event ended with 10 of the children, who made up Team Kyrie, squaring off against the Nike Dream Team, combined mostly of B. League players, including Levanga Hokkaido’s Takehiko Orimo, and Chiba Jets dynamo Yuki Togashi. The pros built a large lead before Irving entered the game in the final quarter and led a comeback that came up two points short when he missed a last-second 3-pointer over Togashi.
Irving usually hits those when it counts, such as during the 2016 finals, when he sealed Cleveland’s 93-89 victory in Game 7 over the Golden State Warriors by drilling a clutch 3-pointer in the face of guard Stephen Curry with 69 seconds remaining.
The next leg of Irving’s tour will be a stop in Taipei before a visit to Beijing.
In a time of both misinformation and too much information, quality journalism is more crucial than ever.
By subscribing, you can help us get the story right.