When Kyrie Irving was growing up in New Jersey playing in his yard, imagining coming up big in the clutch, this wasn’t how he pictured it looking. The clutch was hitting shots or making plays in the NBA Finals, not feeding hungry people in a pandemic. But these are the times we’re in.
With the coronavirus having suspended the NBA season, Irving contributed $323,000 to local food relief efforts on his 28th birthday Monday. Then on Friday he reportedly facilitated a donation of 200,000 Beyond Burgers to the Food Bank, the city’s biggest hunger relief organization.
Painted the villain in some quarters — especially Boston after he left the Celtics for the Nets — there is far more to the complex Irving than meets the eye. That’s fitting considering he takes after his basketball mentor, the late Kobe Bryant.
Largely under the radar since undergoing season-ending shoulder surgery, Irving talked on Instagram about the relationship he had with Bryant, and emulating the Lakers great on and off the court.
“I don’t want to make it a sad thing. It’s just that was a big part of a lot of teaching and influence in my life and mentorship. We had a different relationship, you know?” Irving said. “I followed a lot of that man’s patterns, I’ve copied a lot of that man’s moves, who he was as a person, even the way he went about his life, you know?
“It wasn’t really about connecting with everybody all the time. When you’re in a different thought pattern and you’re trying to explain yourself, you can overthink and overdo. That man really channeled all that energy and all that hate people have for him and channeled it all into a bunch of F-yous and I’m going to show you guys on this level.”
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Irving has done a lot of that.
The All-Star guard was speaking with close friend Jeremiah Green, his former teammate at St. Patrick High School in Elizabeth, N.J. And in a string of videos posted Friday night and Saturday morning, he talked about how his iconic winning step-back in Game 7 of the 2016 NBA Finals was set up by a call to Bryant before Game 3.
“I had just got done really going through some really insightful talks with Kobe,” Irving said. “I didn’t play well the first two games in Golden State so I called Kobe. I was like, man, what do you see out there? And he was like, man, just be yourself. Just be aggressive.”
Bryant, his daughter Gigi and seven other passengers were killed in a helicopter crash in Calabasas, Calif., on Jan. 26. Irving opened up about how hard he took the news that day when he couldn’t bring himself to face the rival Knicks in the Garden, and was still playing with a heavy heart three days later against the Pistons.
“RIP my man Kobe as well. That was one of the hardest games I ever had to play, against Detroit,” Irving said. “I had to leave the Garden early, man. It was just so sudden. I broke down. I broke down in the locker room when I heard the news with Kobe. So basketball was the last thing on my mind.”
Now in the pandemic, basketball is again taking a back seat to health. And Irving’s food donations are coming up big not in the way he people imagined, but in the way they need right now.
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