What's the first thing you did following the Cleveland Cavaliers winning the first championship since 1964 for the three major professional sports teams in The Land? Whether it was celebrating in the streets of downtown Cleveland, hugging loved ones and even people you didn't know, popping champagne, or even going to bed (really?), Cavs fans across the world were all celebrating. But, while Kyrie Irving also had his fair share of celebrations in the Golden State's locker room, he also made sure to FaceTime Los Angeles Lakers guard and all-time NBA great Kobe Bryant, who retired following the end of the 2015-16 regular season.
"I actually FaceTimed Kobe after the game as soon as I got in the locker room. Other than seeing my dad and my sister right after we won, FaceTiming him was just a great thing, knowing how he has won five and I just won my first. Then realizing how hard it is just to win one, my respect for him is already high, but it went to another level knowing that he's got five of them. I'm trying to get a second one."
Irving may have won his first ring, but he also etched his name into Cleveland history when he made what is now known as "The Shot": a fadeaway three-pointer over (unanimous) MVP Stephen Curry in the final minute to break an 89-89 tie and give the Cavaliers the lead for good. The guard has built a relationship with Bryant due to Cavs Director of Player Development and Assistant Coach Phil Handy, who had previously served as Lakers Director of Player Development before coming to Cleveland in 2013 in addition to the time both players spent working with Team USA and Nike Basketball.
Though the two have grown close, Irving admitted that 37-year-old gave him space for him to learn on his own throughout the playoffs.
"[Bryant] was telling me congrats. I had been speaking to him throughout the entire playoffs and during the season. During the Finals, we didn't really talk as much, because for me, I wanted to experience it full on, and if I needed his help, I would reach out to him. He would send me some texts here and there, but mainly he kind of let me be, and let me grow into my own space."
The 24-year-old made it clear that he has learned a lot from Bryant, both from watching him and speaking to him. Irving's development over the past few seasons has been noticeable, especially in the team's biggest moments, and that all hit the top with "The Shot". Whether it's due to Bryant or not, Irving stated that the former Laker has helped him tremendously.
"I would say the last two years has been great just from a mental aspect, as well as being a pupil and a student of the game, and also of his. I'm really just watching and studying as much as possible to make sure I am getting the full potential out of myself and my teammates, and ultimately, winning basketball games and becoming the best player I can be."
After missing the majority of the 2015 Finals due to a broken kneecap that he suffered in Game 1 of the championship series against the Warriors, Irving admitted that he learned a lot from that experience, and winning the championship has brought it all together into one beautiful piece of art.
"There are so many intangibles, so many X's and O's that go on and off the floor that make a beautiful art piece, and that beautiful art piece ends with a championship. I now understand that, going through it, coming into a season hurt, getting hurt in the Finals, there are so many things that have happened that have really shaped me as a man over the last year, so I'm just really thankful that I've had him to lean on for guidance."
Whether it's learning from Bryant or one of his teammates, including LeBron James, Irving seems to be doing all the right things so far. And to think that he isn't even at his prime yet is truly scary. No. 2 seems to be growing up quite fast.