CLEVELAND — Since the Cavaliers’ opener against the Boston Celtics at Quicken Loans Arena on Oct. 17, 2017, Kyrie Irving has had two chances to play in a regular-season game in Cleveland.
Both times he not only sat out, but failed to make the trip.
Since he asked the Cavs to trade him after the 2016-17 season, the six-time All-Star guard has distanced himself from the team that selected him first overall in 2011 and the city that cheered him as he made three appearances in the NBA Finals.
He seems to have devalued the memories of sinking the championship-winning shot in Game 7 of the 2016 Finals against the Golden State Warriors to break the city’s 52-year title drought and standing shirtless on a truck, partying with one million people at the parade.
Asked Sunday at TD Garden if going back to Cleveland meant something to him, Irving said, “No, not at all.”
Irving remained in Boston to rest Tuesday, skipping a chance to play at the Q for the third time this season if an Oct. 6 preseason game is included. Irving’s absence from the Celtics’ 116-106 victory left Cavs forward Kevin Love puzzled.
“It is odd,” said Love, who signed a four-year, $120 million contract extension with the Cavs in July. “This is nothing against anybody not coming back, or Kyrie for that matter, but I know that as his former teammate and as a friend of his, I love him. Signing back on with the city of Cleveland, what, this is my fifth year now, will be heading into my sixth next year, this is a great city. The fans are going to support you.
“When he does come back, they’re going to embrace it and they’re going to support him. I know he’s been hurt, I know he’s been gearing up for the playoffs, as he should, and getting his body right and his mind right for that. But whenever he comes back, I know for a fact that we and the whole city and the state of Ohio and everybody who remembers him from 2016, that big shot, it will be all love.”
Irving, 27, has missed 11 games this season because of seven different injuries and 13 games total, and the Celtics are 11-2 in his absence.
Love played with Irving for three seasons, although both were injured during the 2015 playoff run. Love suffered a dislocated shoulder in Game 4 of a first-round sweep of the Celtics. Irving fractured his left kneecap in Game 1 of the Finals, an overtime loss to the Warriors as the Cavs were eliminated 4-2.
Ramifications of that knee injury kept Irving out of the 2018 playoffs as he needed two surgeries, one reportedly to remove a tension wire, the other to take out two screws inserted in the 2015 operation. Irving didn’t attend Eastern Conference finals games in Boston as the LeBron James-led Cavs beat the Celtics in seven games.
Irving’s avoidance of Cleveland is enough to make some wonder if he would attend a 10-year championship reunion should the Cavs decide to hold one.
A team spokesman said Tuesday that some sort of tribute to Irving is still possible if he returns.
The Irving video the Cavs prepared when the Celtics came to the Q for the 2017-18 season opener might not be used because too much time has passed. It was scrapped after Celtics’ free agent Gordon Hayward suffered a horrific leg injury barely five minutes into his Boston debut.
Pictures of Irving still dot the arena and should not fall victim to its transformation. A large mural of “The Shot,” one of the biggest in NBA Finals history, is on the wall at the entrance to Cleveland Clinic Courts.
The Cavs went 39-13 in the playoffs with Irving on the court. Irving ranks second to James on several all-time franchise postseason lists, including scoring average (23.9, to James’ 30.1) and points scored (1,243 in three seasons, compared to James’ 4,573 in nine seasons). Irving averaged 30 points in the Cavs’ four victories in the 2016 Finals, with 41 points (tying James) in the Game 5 victory in Oakland as the Cavs started their comeback from a 3-1 deficit.