Life is good for Kyrie Irving. The 24-year-old Cavaliers point guard is an NBA champion, owns a gold medal, and has solidified himself as one of the top point guards in the league as Cleveland continues its run at a third straight NBA Finals appearance.
But that doesn't mean Irving doesn't continue to have his share of haters. ESPN recently ran a piece asking if Irving is an elite or overrated point guard, concluding that Irving could be considered overrated based on its analytics-heavy analysis that shook up NBA discussions and had fans arguing on social media.
Irving tends to ignore criticism like that, but before Monday night's Martin Luther King Day showdown with the Warriors—the second and final meeting of the regular season between the two of the best teams in the league—Complex had a chance to ask Irving how he deals with his haters and about the next chapter of Cleveland-Golden State rivalry.
(This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.)
ESPN has been openly critical of you lately with a few pieces. How do you deal with that? Do you completely block it out?
Truth be told, none of that stuff is real for me, man. I get it, it's a writer's job to write on particular sports and write on particular players but it's been happening for so long. It's just part of the game. You have to love every part of this game no matter what.
People saying what they want about you or who you are as a player, supporters to haters, people who like you, don't like you. That right there is not where my truth lies. I go out there, I want to compete at the highest level, playing amongst the best and being with the best is really what I was made to do and prepared myself to do. If I feel like I'm doing that to the best of my ability then why would anyone else's opinion of me matter. Ever.
"None of those words hold power or truth over me. It took me a while to understand that, but now that I do it's made my life and my game a lot easier to be myself."
So as a maturing young player I try and tell young players now that you leave it out on the floor and you love everything about this game. You're waking up every morning at 7 a.m. to work out. Doing stuff that you don't necessarily have to do but want to do to be great. That's what really matters, is your journey. Everyone is going to try impede their process and impede their opinions to try and stop you. It's not real. None of those words hold power or truth over me. It took me a while to understand that, but now that I do it's made my life and my game a lot easier to be myself.
When did you learn that lesson?
When I started realizing that what I love to do is just a game. I have to live a life outside of this game just like everyone else. Figuring life out. Figuring out who I am. The truth in myself. I'm on a constant quest to leave multiple legacies in this world, not just in the game of basketball. For me to give energy to try and pay attention and deal with everything else that's outside of my truth then my vision is skewed. Once that took hold of me then nothing else really mattered. Supporters, haters, I love the game no matter what. I enjoy playing it an an incredibly high level, just every single day taking full advantage of it.
You're going back into Oracle Arena for the first time since winning the title. What kind of emotions do you expect to come out?
Nothing short of competitive, man. At the end of the day it's a game. Two great teams are playing, lot of great players. Everyone can't wait to see it. It's an exciting environment, exciting atmosphere, it's just time to showcase the talent. It's nothing more, nothing less than a competitive game.
Do you think being back in that locker room will bring back the title memories?
Nah, man. We're living in a new moment, it's a new season. Obviously what happened last year was an incredible feat and we can never take that for granted, but understanding that the goal on hand is ultimately go for another championship. We're still in the regular season so this is just another chance for us to get better.
How much do you pay attention to the scope of the Cavs and Warriors rivalry?
I think we all pay attention to it. We wouldn't be honest with ourselves if we said we didn't pay attention to it. Of everyone trying to make this a big thing. You have a lot of great teams playing basketball in the league but the last two championships were played by the Warriors and us. We just try and take full advantage of the opportunity to play against a great team, especially the Warriors. We're playing on a historic day at that, and it's a bigger cause, too.
How do you feel about the potential historic significance of the Cavs-Warriors rivalry? Could it get to a Lakers-Celtics level at some point?
If I'm able to be part of history like that, great, but I think it's still early to be comparable to a Boston and Lakers series. It's a great basketball and competitive thing. It's a great thing for basketball and the world.