Midway through a 20-minute session at All-Star media day, LeBron James was asked about his relationship with Kyrie Irving, whom he drafted onto his All-Star team.
“I’ve always loved Kyrie, from before I met him until when I became his teammate to even now,” James said. “I’ve always thought he was special. … I mean, there’s a reason why there’s really only 24 of us here this weekend.”
Their time together ended when Irving forced his way out of Cleveland to escape James’ shadow. Then last month, Irving called to tell him that now, being a veteran on a young team, he understood James’ position better.
“The phone call, more than for me, I think [was] just to see his growth,” James said. “It takes a real man and a real person to understand who they are to be able to call, or to do anything and be able to see their wrong … and then be able to come to grips with that. And then be able to either apologize or say that, ‘At that point and time I thought I was ready for something, but I really wasn’t.’”
As he spoke, it occurred to James this might not be the kind of setting that can appreciate the nuance of their relationship, so he stopped.
In a testament to his longevity, this year’s All-Star game, James’ 15th consecutive, will reflect James’ past and his future.
He’ll play with All-Star teammates with whom he’s won championships, including Irving, and get one last weekend as Dwyane Wade’s teammate. On the other hand, several members of Team LeBron are in positions that could lead one of them to join James next year to help complete the next chapter of his career.
When the All-Star game tips off Sunday evening at the Spectrum Center, those storylines will take center stage.
Irving, Kevin Durant, Klay Thompson and Kawhi Leonard all could be free agents after the season. Anthony Davis, another All-Star teammate, has demanded a trade and wouldn’t mind playing with the Lakers, who tried desperately to trade for him before the deadline.
Conversations about player movement bubbled up throughout media day and even in NBA Commissioner Adam Silver’s yearly press conference.
“When they make a public spectacle of it, I hear you in terms of the enormous media interest that comes from it, but that's not the kind of media interest we're looking for,” Silver said.
Durant, Irving and Davis were asked Saturday morning about their potential movement after the season.
“The NBA game in general is getting overlooked by speculation and everything. It’s the soap opera, and we’re all actors just trying to play our roles,” said Durant, who recently bristled at the focus placed on player movement. “My role is to go play ball and answer questions the way I’m supposed to.”
Davis addressed it most directly. He said the teams recently reported to constitute his list of desired destinations — which included the Lakers, Clippers, New York Knicks and Milwaukee Bucks — were an accurate list.
His father recently told ESPN he didn’t want his son to play for the Boston Celtics. On Saturday, Davis insisted the Celtics are on his list, and then in an interview with NBA TV said there are 29 teams on his list (all but the Pelicans).
When James picked Davis during the televised All-Star draft, fellow team captain Giannis Antetokounmpo asked “Isn’t that tampering?” to laughter from all involved.
While James understands the interest in player movement, especially as it pertains to him, he’ll focus instead on savoring some longtime relationships.
The NBA made sure he’d get to spend one last weekend as Wade’s teammate. The Miami Heat star plans to retire at the end of the season, and James plans to spend every moment he can with Wade, whose son Zaire he calls his nephew.
“Every bit of time that I get with him this weekend is going to be always cherished and it’s great,” Wade said.
When they met at the NBA draft combine in 2003, they knew their journey would keep them together for a long time. They battled against each other on the court, became teammates and won two championships together and now, as Wade nears the end of his career, they’ll keep their connection alive.
“To able to choose him to be a part of Team LeBron, for him to be here this weekend, it’s a bittersweet moment, obviously,” James said. “The bitter part that this is his last weekend being at All-Star weekend and knowing that his journey is coming to an end as far as a basketball player. But the sweet moment is that we got so much more life to live together and we will continue that.”