Welcome to Anything But Basketball, an interview series that strives to bring readers a glimpse into the lives of NBA players away from the hardwood.
Joining us for the inaugural edition is Cavaliers star Kyrie Irving, the NBA champion and gold-medal winning point guard known for his slick handles and clutch shooting. On the court, Irving helped Cleveland win its first championship in franchise history this past June with an epic Finals performance, including a 41-point game and a series-clinching three-pointer in Game 7. Off the court, Irving is much more introspective than his megawatt smile and laundry-folding commercials would suggest.
In his chat with The Crossover, Irving discussed his journey to self–discovery, conquering his fears and how he wants to impact the next generation. Irving spoke with us on behalf of his new partnership with Mountain Dew, which is aiming to help fans get closer to the lifestyle and culture of the game.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
Rohan Nadkarni: What’s your go-to escape from basketball?
Kyrie Irving: I enjoy reading, meditating and really just enjoying the company of my friends and family. Everything I do outside of basketball is very simple.
RN: What’s the last book you read?
KI: By Osho, it’s called Courage. It was great. Every Osho—once I found out who Osho was, I read his other books. [Courage] was really about being more knowledgeable about yourself. And really being comfortable with what’s going on in the outside world and controlling what you can control.
RN:What was your biggest takeaway from the book?
KI: The biggest takeaway was living life on my terms. Being able to communicate honestly your emotions with people. That was the biggest thing I had to learn for myself. To grow as a person, your must first love yourself. As cliché as it sounds, that was the biggest thing I learned. In order to be comfortable with the world itself and the things that are going on, you really have to stay true to who you are. The journey of finding yourself is always a hard one, and I personally enjoy it. I love challenges.
RN:What was the biggest challenge for you in terms of finding yourself?
KI: It’s still going. The journey is never ending. The journey started before I even played basketball and it’s been going on for a long time. It’s just that we forget about ourselves when we’re trying to figure out the world around us, our purpose and everything else. We forget to really take the time to focus on ourselves. As selfish as it sounds, I really don’t mind being selfish in my escape to finding myself. I can be better for the world if I’m making myself better.
My biggest takeaway from it is being comfortable being uncomfortable. That saying goes so many miles for me in my life. There was a block in my life that I had, and that block was called fear. It was the fear of what other people thought. It was the fear of failing. It was the fear of going through life and not being as educated as I wanted to be. Once I got over that block, and accepting fear itself, and looking it in the face and said I’m going to kick your A-S-S, then everything else started to open up. I started being more comfortable with myself.
RN:Did you discover anything new about yourself after getting over your block of fear?
KI: Yeah, that I’m powerful beyond belief. I truly believe that. I believe everyone has an inner power that they want to express, but the only way that power can be expressed is through inner peace. Then you start to develop and know that power you want to share with the world. And that’s regardless of whatever you want to do. Whether you want to do art, or being part of culture, being the best athlete you could be, being the best musician, being the best student, anything that you put your mind to or have the power to change or be better at.
Most people are afraid of failing that test. Most people are afraid of messing up that note in front of a big performance. And it goes hand-in-hand with preparing for those moments that are up ahead. I’ve always prepared for those big moments, like taking the last shot. With preparation comes meditation. I can go on and on with this stuff, but it means a great deal to me, and it’s the only way I’m able to communicate my influence and the change I want to see in the world.
RN: What has finding an inner peace helped you do that you weren’t able to do before?
KI: I feel more comfortable reaching out for help. And reaching out to people who’ve been in my life for answers or for guidance. When we’re all in charge of what we’re doing in our lives, we become so self-centered and we don’t want to share what our emotions are. People are kind of afraid sharing their emotions with other people because they don’t want to feel vulnerable. It’s not that you’re going to feel vulnerable, it’s just an unknown feeling and it’s an unknown place.
So how do you compensate that? You go and seek answers in other places and then you formulate it so it resonates with you. The only person that can have the answer is you. No one else can give you the answer and say, “Okay, that’s it.” Well, no. What they’re going to do is give you a piece of their mind, and you collect pieces of mind and that’s how you build wisdom over time. It starts to become so beautiful and you start to accept other people’s opinions and mindfulness, not because they’re forcing it on you, but because you’re choosing to.
RN: Is is tough for you and people like you to open up? How much is that something you have to learn to do?
KI: You have to learn to do through experience. We live in a world today where one word that you say can be misconstrued over social media, over a magazine, over something. Everyone is so judgmental that we end up halting kids at such an early age of not being able to do the things they put their minds to. Everyone tries to limit the other person because they don’t want to see them do well. I’m the person on the other end of it, I’m encouraging kids and the next generation to be individuals. I want to encourage and inspire people to open up this realm in their minds and emotions that they never felt comfortable doing. It’s an unknown feeling, but the only way you’ll be able to experience the true freeness and peace of mind that you’re looking for, is through going through the unknown. Preparing the best you can, experiencing it, and moving on. That’s the only way I know how.
I’ve always had a strong personality. As private as I am now, I’m more willing to open up and talk to people about things other than the game of basketball. I already know that stuff, but I have to survive at life after the game is done. So I try to use this platform that I have now to reach and inspire this next generation, and really be that leading voice. I want to become a generational leader, other than just showing what basketball can do to you. I want to show people what life can do for you if you use the tools that are around you and aren’t frightened.
RN:What’s the most important thing you want to pass on to the next generation?
KI: It’s hard man, because you try to cover soooo many things, but the biggest thing is showing very, very strong humility and showing patience. You have to become a listener rather than a speaker all the time. It takes a while to become the leader of your own life. When we come into this world, we’re told what to do, what is okay, what is not okay. As you get older, I just try to tell the next generation, please, listen to your parents before you speak. Please be patient and know that you’re growing every single day, and you will continue to grow throughout the rest of your life.
"Education is a never-ending process, and it comes with maturity over time. Everybody wants everything right now, right at this moment. “If I have this right now my life would be perfect.” Well, it takes time to get to that place you want to get to.
RN: Was there a moment or experience in your life that led you down this path?
KI: It’s as simple as waking up every day trying to find my purpose. Trying to find out how I fit into this world. Once I got that idea out of my head, realizing that I don’t need to fit into this world, this world needs to fit around me. I found more purposeful reasons on living and why I want to be who I am when I stopped searching for that one purpose. I don’t want to leave one legacy. I want to leave multiple legacies and the biggest thing I want to leave on this earth is people picking up those legacies and furthering them. That’s all you can hope for.
RN: Is basketball fulfilling for you?
KI: Basketball is something I work extremely hard at from a mental and physical standpoint, and I will continue to do so. At the same time, the hours that I’m not playing basketball still have to matter. I don’t escape from reality because of what I do or who I am. That would be nonsense. We all just want to leave something on this world to be remembered by. Even if this world doesn’t totally understand the point that you’re trying to get across, all you can do is give it everything that you have, get everything that you can out of your potential and leave it all out there. If no one accepts it, who cares? It’s all about leaving what you figured out and what you learned.