When Cleveland Cavaliers teammates Richard Jefferson and Channing Frye released the first episode of their Road Trippin’ podcast this past January, it was a breath of fresh air. With Kyrie Irving revealing his flat-Earth theory and regular appearances by LeBron James, the podcast was billed as a look inside their locker room, beyond sensational headlines and edited video clips, a window into the real Cavs.
As Irving said when he and LeBron appeared on episode three in February, “I think one thing that separates us is we’re giving the truth, no matter what. The truth will always set us free. I’m telling you.”
James likened Road Trippin’ to his Uninterrupted venture, which gives athletes a platform to speak directly to their fans, and ultimately partnered with Jefferson and Frye to bring their podcast aboard. “For me, it’s all about authentication and being authentic to what we talk about and just being able to be yourself,” LeBron said on episode 12 in March, “and that’s why I started Uninterrupted.
“I came to my business partner Maverick Carter one day, and I was like, ‘Listen, I’m tired of my words being chopped and diced and put out, and I’ve talked for 20 minutes, and they only show the headline.’ So, I was like, I’m tired of that. I’m tired of doing that. Perception is everything, especially in our sport. People see the headline on social media, and they automatically assume this is what you were talking about, so that’s why I kind of see this as the same thing, where you can just get stuff off your chest, talk about things, no filter, no chopping, no cutting, no pasting, just be yourself.”
So, it comes as a bit of a surprise that Jefferson learned of Irving’s unhappiness in Cleveland when guest host Chris McGee read the headline aloud while Jefferson and fellow podcast regular Allie Clifton were recording their latest episode of Road Trippin’ with Olympic gold medalist Lindsey Vonn.
“Is it true?” asked Jefferson. “I’m finding out kind of now. No, man.”
“Are you in the know?” Clifton joked.
“Am I in the know?” added Jefferson.” This is what I will say about this, and by the time this gets out and whenever we air this in a few days, I don’t know. I don’t feel like there’s a power struggle with LeBron and Kyrie and [Kevin Love]. I think Kyrie is a hyper-intelligent kid — really, really smart, doesn’t get enough credit for how smart he is — and I think seeing that the franchise is in flux, I think seeing [Cavaliers GM David Griffin] leave and the amount of coaches, I think Kyrie has had a much tougher time in this stretch of the organization than anyone ever really wants to fully [realize].
“He was a No. 1 pick right after LeBron, then he has three different coaches, then LeBron comes back, now there’s trade rumors, now it’s ‘LeBron’s leaving.’ At some point in time, anybody would want some sort of stability, even if it’s the unknown. I don’t know if he asked to be traded. I don’t know this, but I will say that he’s had a tougher time, if you look at his start to where we are right now, of the ups and downs of a franchise, more than most. Even though we’ve been successful and even though we’ve won a championship and he’s been an All-Star, there’s still so much of a wave, and to be like, ‘Yo, we’re going to sit here for a whole year on whether or not LeBron’s coming back,’ that’s got to be tough on anybody — everybody.”
This lends to the theory that Irving felt frustrated by his career being dictated by James. Kyrie couldn’t win without LeBron. Then, LeBron brought a title to Cleveland. Now, if LeBron leaves in 2018, Kyrie can’t win without LeBron. Again. It’s not a partnership. It’s an apprenticeship. So, instead of waiting around to find out whether his legendary teammate is going to remain with the Cavaliers next summer, Irving felt compelled to leave Cleveland on his own terms, before stuff really hits the fan.
I’m not saying that’s what happened. I’m saying that might be what happened, but we don’t know, because it’s never been addressed outside of a passive-aggressive Instagram story in which LeBron sang, “N**** said they with you when you really not.” There’s been no unfiltered address from James on Uninterrupted, and Kyrie didn’t appear on Road Trippin’ to give his unedited version of the events.
Instead, Jefferson was hit with the bombshell just like the rest of us, scrambling to rationalize Irving’s trade demand, before changing the subject, enjoying a Corona and talking about Vonn’s herd of cows.
“I think Kyrie knows how important he is to our team,” said Jefferson, who revealed plans to play one or two more seasons. “LeBron knows how important he is. He’s been on this podcast. They’ve been on this podcast together, multiple times, where Bron was like, ‘Dude, this is my guy. I need him. He is so important to me. My kids love him.’ And, again, just like any family, there are ups and downs. There are moments that you hate them, moments that you love them, and then you just kind of keep it moving.”
So, it seems even the Cavs aren’t sure who the real Cavs are.
I listened to Road Trippin’ regularly throughout the past season, and one of the first things that struck me when I learned the Irving news was how much time both Kyrie and LeBron had devoted to telling the listeners how special the bond is between all of the Cavaliers and especially the two of them.
So, I re-listened to make sure I remembered correctly what Kyrie and LeBron said during their appearances together. True enough, on the first episode in which both All-Stars joined the podcast, Irving stated, “It’s unbelievable how we want things to be done the right way here in the Cavs.”
We know now, or at least we think know, that Irving considered requesting a trade after the Cavs won the title in 2016, according to ESPN’s Brian Windhorst, who broke the story of Irving’s latest request. It’s possible Irving believes the Cavs did everything the right way and still wants out, but there was little indication of his frustration with playing alongside LeBron during their podcast appearances.
Still, it was fascinating to re-listen to the podcasts after the recent reports came to light, and what struck me most was just how little Irving offered when he shared the Road Trippin’ stage with LeBron.
“To be in the position that I’m in, the only thing that matters to me is passing it down to the generation that comes after me, and to be able to sit on this plane right now 30,000 feet in the air and look at Kyrie right now, a 25-year-old who’s learning everything — not only what it means to be a professional athlete, but what it means to be a business, what it means to be a role model, what it means to have a platform — that’s my only goal in life,” LeBron said in episode three. “To be able to give back to the generation that’s going to come after us, and we know, because they have to continue to let the word known after we’re done. At some point, myself, Channing and RJ, we’re going to take our shoes, tie the shoestrings, walk outside, and throw them over the wires. So, that’s all I care about.”
LeBron then added, “I’m giving this boy the blueprint every day.” As Irving stayed silent, Jefferson and Frye asked him if he appreciated what LeBron said, and Irving answered, “You know I appreciate it.”
And LeBron continued:
“I’ve got to give it to him. I’ve got to give it to him. I’ve got to give it to him, because you know why I’ve got to give it to him? Because a lot of kids look up to this young man right here. A point guard with handles, quickness, the ability to handle the ball, the ability to score, and also the ability to have a nice smile and be a nice young gentleman, kids look up to that, and I’ve got to give the blueprint to him. He deserves it.
“Listen, any kid, and he’s not a kid anymore — he’s a young man, he was a kid. When he was drafted, he was a kid. Now today he’s a young man, but I think any young man or kid that wants the knowledge and has the ability to take the knowledge and apply it and also give it back to the younger generation deserves to have the blueprint. And Kyrie Irving deserves to have the blueprint, because he’s going to apply it and also give it back to the younger generation. And when I see that, I’ve done my job. It’s like pay it forward. When you introduce a male and a female together, and they decide to get married and have a kid, now you have a blessing and you’ve done your job. That’s all that matters to me.”
LeBron raved about how much his kids admire Kyrie, “and that means so much to me, because, yes, they know what their dad is capable of, but I want to be dad to my kids. I need Kyrie to be the superhero to my kids.” When LeBron finished, Irving said, “That was as open as it can get, and that was a beautiful thing,” before giving his spiel about the podcast being a truth circle, “no matter what.”
On episode 15, during another discussion about the closeness of the Cavs, LeBron went on:
“At the end of the day, we’re here for one reason and one reason only, and that’s to win a championship,” he said. “And along that ride, we’re going to create brotherhood, we’re going to create friends, we’re going to create guys who we’re going to love forever, but at the end of the day, man, what’s the main thing? The main thing is to put rings on our finger, man, and that’s it. That’s it. So, if guys gotta sacrifice a couple minutes per quarter here, sacrifice a shot per quarter here, sacrifice whatever the case may be, we knew what we were all getting ourselves into. Like, when RJ signed, when we traded for [JR Smith], when Channing got traded, when I came back and I saw Ky, we all knew what this situation was about to be about. We about winning. No ifs, ands or butts.”
To which Kyrie merely responded, “Yeah.”
The group praised Uninterrupted again for how, “We’ll bring them into real life,” before this exchange:
Kyrie: “It took me a little while to take the time and understand Bron. Do you know hard that it is?”
LeBron: “Because I’m a huge communicator.”
Kyrie: “He’s a huge communicator, and I’m one of those guys who’s just like, ‘Pfft.'”
LeBron: “I’m a huge communicator, and I feel like communication speeds up the process, and Kyrie needs some time to warm up to anybody, because it’s the trust factor. It’s like, ‘Are you really genuine about what you’re saying and doing? Or are you are here to just be able to profit from what you’re saying or doing?’ And that’s what Kyrie is, so it took a little bit of time for us. Plus, let’s add on us coming from complete opposite directions in life.”
Kyrie: “We’re both from single-parent homes, so we understood that.”
LeBron: “We understood that. So, we had to have the conversation, because at the end of the day, are we here because this is what we’re talking about in the media — ‘Yeah, it’s great to team up with Kyrie Irving, I feel like we’re trying to win a championship’ — or are we here on some bulls***? Are we here to waste each other’s time?’ So, it took a little time for us.”
Kyrie: “But I want to let you know that I was never around anyone like Bron, so it was taking a step back, because there was an admiration, there was an influence factor, there were a lot of things that he had brought to not only just basketball but to life, that I was just very intrigued with, but at the same token, I had to take a step back. Still, there’s a part of me that’s like, ‘I can’t get too close to him just yet. I can’t just let my whole guard down and just let him be who he is,’ which is what he specializes at, and that’s really just giving you the knowledge, understanding who you are, understanding where you come from, understanding where he comes from and what he brings to the table, and the difference in perspectives on what our minds actually do. So, it was just like a lot of that. It was a ton of that. And then when we came to that mutual ground, then it was like, OK. …”
LeBron: “And we already know exactly the thought process behind it without even saying words now at this point.”
That was in mid-March. At some point over the next four months, that communication apparently broke down, and LeBron was reportedly “devastated” to hear of Irving’s trade request. Since then, Stephen A. Smith’s sources suggested Irving’s camp believes LeBron leaked the news on Friday.
Regardless of how it got out, without Windhorst’s detailed reporting, anyone who listened to Road Trippin’ would still believe the perception Irving and James wanted their listeners to believe. The lesson, as always, is not to believe everything you hear on the internet — even if it’s uninterrupted.
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