When LeBron James left the Cleveland Cavaliers for the Miami Heat in 2010, it was up to Kyrie Irving to continue to carry the franchise into the playoffs and beyond, but it wasn't always easy for the superstar point guard.
In the latest episode of The Shop, Irving said that trying to replace James with the Cavaliers was an "uncomfortable" feeling:
"Like, playing with Bron and playing with [Kevin Durant]. These are two of the best to ever lace them up. But within our culture, they are two true icons, and I had to fill in those shoes that were very uncomfortable for me because at that point in my life, I didn't know where I wanted to go.
"I was watching the 30 for 30 on the decision. A year later, I was drafted into that Cleveland emotional train of the prodigal son, chosen one has left, and here we have this 19-year-old kid. I'm 6'2". I'm not jumping out of the gym. Emotionally, I was dealing with things that I had no idea had nothing to do with me. Absolutely nothing. So when I took on that pressure as my own, I started feeling like, 'I gotta bring Cleveland back to the promised land.' That was a solo act."
The Cavaliers selected James first overall in the 2003 NBA draft before selecting Irving first overall in the 2011 draft.
James spent the first seven seasons of his career in Cleveland before signing a free agent contract with the Miami Heat ahead of the 2010-11 season. During his first stint with the Cavs from 2003-10, the now four-time NBA champion led the franchise to five straight playoff appearances, including an NBA Finals appearance in 2007 and an Eastern Conference Finals berth in 2009.
James was named Rookie of the Year during the 2003-04 season and went on to win the MVP award four times before departing the franchise.
When Irving was drafted, he was expected to lead the Cavs back to greatness following the departure of James. And, considering he was also a No. 1 pick, there was immense pressure for him to follow in James' footsteps.
Irving went on to be named Rookie of the Year in 2011-12. However, he didn't achieve the type of greatness that James had, and the Cavs failed to make the postseason from the 2011-12 season through the 2013-14 campaign.
When James returned to Cleveland in 2014-15, he and Irving teamed up to lead the Cavaliers to the NBA Finals in four straight seasons. The duo won a title together with the Cavs in 2016, overcoming a 3-1 deficit to defeat the Golden State Warriors.
Ahead of the 2017-18 season, Irving was traded to the Boston Celtics. One year later, James signed with the Los Angeles Lakers, and he's still playing for the Purple and Gold.
Irving, meanwhile, has teamed up with Durant on the Nets, and the duo shoulders much of the pressure in Brooklyn.
Durant requested a trade from the Nets earlier this summer and, at one point, it looked like Irving was going to have to lead a team on his own once again. However, Durant rescinded his request last month, and the duo will aim to lead the Nets to the NBA Finals for the first time since 2003.
Of course, there's still some heavy pressure on Irving to succeed, but he has another superstar in Durant to lean on, in addition to Ben Simmons, which should help him shoulder some of the load in 2022-23.