Kyrie Irving made his first NBA Finals appearance since 2017 when the Boston Celtics host the Dallas Mavericks in Game 1 on Thursday. This milestone has prompted former teammate LeBron James to express pride and frustration over their separation.

“I’m so f—ing happy and so proud to watch him continue his growth,” James said during an episode of the Mind the Game podcast, co-hosted with JJ Redick. “I’m so f—ing mad at the same time that I’m not his running mate anymore.”

James and Irving shared three seasons with the Cleveland Cavaliers from 2014 to 2017, reaching three consecutive Finals and clinching the championship in 2016. Irving’s iconic 3-pointer in Game 7 against the Golden State Warriors sealed that title.

Reflecting on their time together, James said, “I just remember those times.”

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Irving’s trade request from Cleveland in 2017 stemmed from his desire to step out of James’ shadow and showcase his skills independently. This led to his move to the Boston Celtics, and over time, Irving reconnected with James for guidance on leadership.

Last season, the Los Angeles Lakers, with James at the forefront, pursued Irving ahead of the trade deadline. However, the Brooklyn Nets traded Irving to the Dallas Mavericks in a package that included Spencer Dinwiddie, Dorian Finney-Smith, an unprotected first-round pick in 2029, and two second-round picks. The Lakers’ offer, which centered on Russell Westbrook and two future first-round picks in 2027 and 2029, was not accepted.

Expressing his disappointment, James told ESPN’s Michael Wilbon, “I can’t sit here and say I’m not disappointed on not being able to land such a talent, but [also] someone that I had great chemistry with, and know I got great chemistry with on the floor, that can help you win championships, in my mind, in my eyes.”

Despite the Celtics being favorites in the Finals (-225 according to ESPN BET), James believes Irving’s presence makes the Mavericks a formidable opponent. He referenced Irving’s standout performance in Game 1 of the Western Conference Finals, where Irving scored 24 of his 30 points in the first half, propelling the Mavericks over the Minnesota Timberwolves.

“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] wild card. … He’s the most gifted player the NBA has ever seen.”

Irving, 32, has been impressive this postseason, averaging 22.8 points on 48.5% shooting (42.1% from 3), with 5.2 assists, 3.9 rebounds, and 1.2 steals per game, serving as the Mavericks’ No. 2 option behind Luka Doncic.

“To have a guy like Kyrie Irving as the ultimate wild card,” James added, “It’s like having a Draw 4 in your hand every time someone deals you cards in Uno.”

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