The Brooklyn Nets secured their ninth straight win Monday night, beating the Cleveland Cavaliers 125-117. The win pushed the Nets ahead of the Cavaliers in the Eastern Conference standings to the No. 3 spot, with only a half-game separating the two squads. Following Brooklyn's win, in which Kyrie Irving dropped 32 points on 11-of-19 shooting from the field, Cavaliers forward Kevin Love spoke fondly of his former teammate, and even went so far as to say the All-Star guard should have his jersey retired by the franchise when his playing days are over.
"Without a doubt. Absolutely. Right away, after his career ends," Love said via The Plain Dealer. "It's not even a question to me. He needs to be up there. He made the biggest shot in franchise history and one of the most important shots in Finals history when you consider how it all went down -- what it meant for the city, what it meant for his legacy, LeBron's legacy and everything else, including that Golden State team that became a dynasty and was historically great."
In case you forgot the shot that Love is mentioning, that would be this clutch 3-pointer that gave the Cavaliers a 92-89 lead over the Golden State Warriors in Game 7 of the 2016 NBA Finals with just under a minute remaining. This shot ended up winning the Cavaliers their first NBA championship, and forever immortalizing Irving in Cleveland sports lore.
As celebratory as that moment was for Irving and the Cavaliers though, he only played six seasons with Cleveland, and his exit from the team was an unceremonious one in which he forced his way to the Boston Celtics. Each time Irving returns to Cleveland, he's serenaded by boos, and that was no different Monday night -- something that Love said he doesn't quite understand.
"I don't really understand the boos," Love said. "I can understand it from I guess if someone wants to take it from a political standpoint or a religious standpoint. I don't know. But I think in terms of Kyrie, the basketball player, and what he meant for the organization, for Cleveland, for Ohio, I think he should get a great applause every time he comes. I think enough time has passed that we should love him up for what he meant to this organization."
After dropping 32 points on his former team, Irving reflected on his time with the Cavs and that championship squad.
"I had my first and only draft workout here," Irving said. "The amount of pressure I was putting on myself coming in after the prodigal son -- LeBron James -- leaves, and I had to take on the ropes after that. Who knows if I was ever going to live up to that billing? I put that pressure on myself to fill some shoes that were never meant for me. I just wanted to create my own legacy. In order to do that, I had to endure some rough years where we only had a few thousand people in the stands. I was feeling, at times, going back home like a lone ranger or superhero trying to bring Cleveland back to the top.
"I think the greatest lesson I learned throughout that process was it's not a lonely road you're supposed to take on your own. It takes a lot of help, and we had a heck of a team here that did something special that's forever sketched in NBA history. No matter what they say about me or anybody else, they have to talk about that team. They try to isolate me and say, 'Kyrie, what have you done since you left here?' It takes building a great team to accomplish something special, and I understand that. I don't take this moment that I'm at right now for granted because it took all those times for me to go through being here in Cleveland in order to achieve something special. I'm on a journey to do that with this team here in Brooklyn."
Though Irving hasn't reached that championship mountaintop since leaving Cleveland, he's been on several squads that have been title contenders, like this year's Nets team. After a drama-filled start to the season, which included the dismissal of head coach Steve Nash, and a suspension of Irving for promoting an antisemitic film, the Nets have quietly been one of the best teams in the East. Brooklyn is 22-12 with a 9-1 record in its last 10 games after starting the season 2-6, and although they're not getting mentioned among the East favorites like the Milwaukee Bucks or Celtics, the Nets certainly have the firepower to be in the conversation.
As far as Irving getting his jersey hung in the rafters of the Cavaliers arena, though he's not atop any franchise leaderboards, his Rookie of the Year award, the four All-Star appearances he made in a Cavs jersey and his performance in the 2016 Finals certainly warrants the discussion.