NEW YORK – Kyrie Irving doesn’t have to worry about free agency until next summer, though he’s got plenty to keep him busy for now.
There’s a movie to promote and a knee to mend. He hopes he’s good on screen, but wants to be better than ever on the court.
“Now becomes the real climb to Mount Everest, back to the top,” Irving said Monday. “So I’m just taking my time.”
The Boston Celtics All-Star is hoping he can start playing again in a couple weeks. But he’s staying patient in his rehab from late-season surgery because of an infection in his knee, figuring the extra time can only help after he played deep into June the previous two years with the Cleveland Cavaliers.
He was traded to the Celtics last summer while filming “Uncle Drew.” The movie, in which he plays an old playground basketball legend who started as a character in Pepsi commercials, premieres in New York on Tuesday and opens nationwide Friday.
The Cavaliers gave Irving’s former jersey number to Collin Sexton, drafted last week with the No. 8 pick that Cleveland acquired from Boston in the trade. But Irving wasn’t upset, saying he already gave away the only Cavs’ No. 2 that matters to him – the one he wore while hitting the biggest shot in the franchise’s history.
That was on Father’s Day in 2016, the night Irving nailed the 3-pointer that helped the Cavaliers beat the Warriors in Game 7 of the NBA Finals for the franchise’s first championship.
“The history, it’s already captured, man,” Irving said. “I was on one of the best teams in NBA history in my opinion, just accomplishing something that was that much bigger than ourselves. A feat that was, we’re one of no other teams. We’re like 1 of 1, in history. So for me, I think the biggest thing was giving that jersey to my dad, and if that’s where the No. 2 legacy ends, then cool.”
Though Irving asked to be traded – a request LeBron James hoped the Cavs wouldn’t honor – he looks back fondly on his time in what’s now Sexton’s number.
“I gave a lot of commitment and sacrifice to being there from Day 1, so to have that six-year span of doing some unbelievable things, I’m definitely happy about it,” he said. “I never shy away from that in terms of Cleveland giving me the opportunity to a 19-year-old kid of wearing No. 2. Now, it’s just a transition in the league.
“There’s no hard feelings from my end. But now he has to start from kind of the chopping block just like everyone else did, so I’m excited for him.”
And he’s excited for “Uncle Drew,” in which Irving rounds up his old teammates to play in a tournament at New York’s Rucker Park. Shaquille O’Neal, Reggie Miller, Chris Webber and Nate Robinson star as his old running mates. They were on set with him when they started getting alerts that Irving had been traded.
“Once it happened, the dancing just got a little better,” Irving said.
Irving needed three hours of makeup daily to look like a senior citizen before the 14 hours a day of filming. He believes his love of basketball shows up through his role of wise old sage who hangs around the courts – though Irving himself hasn’t played on outdoor playgrounds in years.
His game is indoors now, and he plans on being back there this summer before dealing with his own free agency next summer.
“Not just the same way but also a lot better,” Irving said. “That’s where the focus has to be. If you leave any room for doubt or uncertainly, I mean you might as well get out of the game.”
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