LeBron James wishes Kyrie Irving was still his teammate: ‘He’s the most gifted player the NBA has ever seen’

With Kyrie Irving front and center on the NBA’s biggest stage, his former teammate LeBron James admitted that he wishes the two were still playing together, with James calling Irving “the most gifted player the NBA has ever seen.”

“Sitting here watching it, I’m so f—ing happy and so proud to watch him continue his growth,” James told his co-host, JJ Redick, in a teaser for an upcoming episode of their “Mind the Game” podcast that will release Wednesday. “And at the same time, I’m so f—ing mad that I’m not his running mate anymore. I just remember those times.”

Irving, 32, is back in the NBA Finals for the first time since 2017, when he, James and the Clevland Cavaliers lost to the Golden State Warriors. The Boston Celtics host Irving’s Dallas Mavericks in Thursday’s Game 1. James and Irving played in Cleveland together for three seasons, from 2014 to 2017, winning a championship in 2016 and making three straight finals.

“I would call Kyrie ‘The Wizard’ all the time,” James said of their time together. “There was nothing on a basketball floor that Kyrie couldn’t do.”

James, previewing the Celtics-Mavericks championship series with Redick, referred to Irving as the “ultimate wildcard.”

“It’s like having a Draw 4 in your hand every time someone deals you cards in Uno,” James said.

Through 17 playoff games, Irving is averaging 22.8 points, 3.9 rebounds, 5.2 assists and 1.2 steals. The eight-time All-Star is shooting 48.5 percent overall and 42.1 percent on 3s.

James noted that Irving’s performance in the first half against the Minnesota Timberwolves of Game 1 of the Western Conference finals — when Irving scored 24 of his 30 points — was the first time he believed that the Mavericks had the potential to win the championship.

“That was like, ‘Oh, s—, Dallas may be able to not only win the Western Conference finals, they might be able to win the whole thing,’” James said. “Because of that (Irving) wildcard. I have so many words to praise Kyrie that I end up with none, because it’s just … He’s the most gifted player the NBA has ever seen.”

This is not the first time James has acknowledged his preference to reunite with Irving. James made his opinion clear when asked days before the 2023 trade deadline if Irving, who had just requested a trade from Brooklyn, would boost the Lakers’ title chances.

“Obviously, that’s a — what’s the word you use — ‘duh’ question when you talk about a player like that,” James said then.

The Lakers were one of several teams to pursue Irving at the 2023 trade deadline. They offered the Nets a package including Russell Westbrook and two future first-round picks in 2027 and 2029, The Athletic reported then. The primary concern from the Lakers’ end, at the time, was Irving’s impending free agency and his potential departure during the 2023 offseason. The Lakers wanted Irving to agree to a two-year extension, but he preferred to test free agency and sign a longer-term deal.

Shortly after Irving was dealt to Dallas for a package that included Spencer Dinwiddie, Dorian Finney-Smith, an unprotected first-round pick in 2029 and two second-round picks, James tweeted, “Maybe it’s me,” which almost certainly was in direct reference to Irving landing elsewhere.

Irving requested a trade out of Cleveland in the summer of 2017 and was dealt to the Celtics. He and James reconnected a couple of seasons later when Irving reached out to James for advice about how to lead the Celtics.

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(Photo: Bart Young / NBAE via Getty Images)

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