After practicing with the Dallas Mavericks for the first time, Kyrie Irving sat in front of a team-themed backdrop on Tuesday afternoon to express his excitement and criticize his former employer.
“I want to be in a place where I’m celebrated and not just tolerated or just kind of dealt with in a way that doesn’t make me feel respected,” Irving said in his first public remarks since the Nets fulfilled his trade request and agreed to send him to the Mavericks on Sunday. “And there were times throughout this process when I was in Brooklyn where I felt very disrespected.”
Irving, 30, whose tumultuous three and a half seasons with the Nets were marred by absences, distractions and controversy, spoke with reporters after meeting his new teammates at the University of Southern California. Irving, an eight-time N.B.A. All-Star who is expected to make his Mavericks debut on Wednesday against the Los Angeles Clippers, said he felt nothing but “genuine love” since joining the team.
He added that he looked forward to “being one of the leaders on our team, alongside the coaches and the front office, of just exemplifying what greatness looks like.” He also complained that “no one ever talks about my work ethic.” In Dallas, he said, “I just want to change that narrative and write my own stories.”
And so it went for Irving, one of the N.B.A.’s most polarizing stars — a dynamic point guard with a history of social activism, but one who has also spent recent seasons trafficking in conspiracy theories. On Tuesday, he made it clear that he blamed the Nets’ front office for nearly everything that had gone wrong.
“The greatest lesson I could share with you that I learned from signing in Brooklyn for free agency is, I wish I would’ve gotten to know the people that were behind the organization,” Irving said.
Last season, Irving appeared in just 29 of the team’s 82 regular-season games because he would not get vaccinated against the coronavirus despite New York City’s vaccine requirement for private sector employees. This season, he missed eight games after the Nets suspended him for refusing to apologize for posting a link to an antisemitic film on his social media accounts.
Irving later posted an apology on Instagram, but he has since deleted it. On Tuesday, Irving said that he often deletes his old social media posts. He was asked whether he stood by his apology.
“I stand by who I am and why I apologized,” he said, “and I did it because I care about my family and I have Jewish members of my family that care for me deeply.”
Basketball often seems like a secondary topic whenever Irving is involved, but the Mavericks are now Point Guard Central — an experiment they hope will lift them out of mediocrity and into the championship chase. Irving will be playing alongside Luka Doncic, who, at 23, is already one of the league’s brightest stars. Like Irving, Doncic enjoys creating with the ball in his hands. The job of getting them to produce together will fall on Jason Kidd, the team’s coach and a Hall of Fame point guard who knows the position.
“Those two are going to work and get their relationship and get their rhythm,” Kidd said. “It’s going to take a little time, but I don’t think it will take as long as others will think.”
Kidd added: “This isn’t two 23-year-olds trying to see who’s the alpha. We understand this is Luka’s team. And it will be Luka’s team.”
Irving’s departure from Brooklyn brought an end to a once-promising partnership with Kevin Durant. Irving reminisced about joining the Nets with Durant in free agency before the 2019-20 season, saying they saw themselves as “savants in the culture that we wanted to teach the young’uns.” The dream, Irving said, was to win a championship.
With Irving and Durant, the Nets won exactly one playoff series and were swept by the Boston Celtics in the first round last season. Durant has not spoken publicly since the trade.
“I mean, obviously he wished things could’ve gone different,” Irving said, adding: “It just didn’t work out. We still remain brothers.”
Durant has missed the Nets’ last 13 games with a knee injury.
Irving, who is in the final year of his contract, had been hoping to work out an extension to remain in Brooklyn. But on Jan. 25, Shetellia Riley Irving, his agent and stepmother, told Bleacher Report that those negotiations were not progressing. His trade request was made public last week.
“I wish them well,” Irving said. “Left them in fourth place. Did what I was supposed to do. Took care of my teammates.”
Tania Ganguli contributed reporting from Los Angeles.