As the abdicating head coach of the Jets in January 2000, Parcells assumed that Bill Belichick, his loyal and longtime defensive coordinator, was eager to replace him. Parcells — who had also been director of football operations — was to continue in a murky consulting role.
Writing in The New York Times about what happened next, I submitted, referring to Parcells, that “a coach’s need for control, for more power, grows out of success and the distortions of self that often accompany it.” The ever-leveraged Parcells, it seemed, was so fixated on the guy in the glass that he apparently had not a clue that Belichick was in a state of full-blown career crisis.
Little Bill was concerned about an impending change in the ownership of the Jets. He was apprehensive about how much control he would have been allowed as the new Jets coach given Parcells’s loosely defined position. On top of that, he saw a potentially better opportunity materialize in New England, where the Patriots had just fired their head coach, Pete Carroll.
A result of Parcells’s uninformed leadership was one of the more embarrassing episodes in the Jets’ — or any sports franchise’s — history. Belichick held the job for a day before scribbling an infamous note, in which he resigned as “H.C. of the N.Y.J.”
He was, of course, ridiculed by the New York and national news media before proceeding to go to the Patriots and create pro football’s most enduring dynasty, a five-time Super Bowl champion. Belichick, it turned out, didn’t need Parcells’s mentoring, or blessing, anymore.
Not surprisingly, Irving’s trade demand has been met with a fair amount of skepticism and derision. In particular, some have questioned his desire to escape James, whose return to Cleveland catapulted Irving and the Cavaliers to a 2016 championship, so that he can perhaps have a more dominant role elsewhere.
Or, in N.B.A. superstar parlance, his own team.
This doesn’t sound terribly out of character for a 25-year-old master of dribble penetration and acrobatic shot-making, and one who holds himself in high regard, as Irving surely does. But it doesn’t quite jibe with the report that includes San Antonio as one of Irving’s four requested landing sites and perhaps the one he most prefers.
That would be the same San Antonio Spurs whose roster includes Kawhi Leonard, a top-five N.B.A. player, and a coach, Gregg Popovich, who cedes so-called ownership of his team to no one.
With the Knicks, also on the list submitted by Irving, who grew up in West Orange, N.J., he would undoubtedly become the offensive fulcrum. But what about a third reported Irving choice, Minnesota, where Karl-Anthony Towns is on the threshold of greatness, and Jimmy Butler and Andrew Wiggins could help compose the next super team?
So maybe Irving is less interested in being the undisputed star of his own team and more intent on sharing a club with other leading men who do not suck most of the oxygen out of the franchise, if not the arena, as does James.
On the court, James is a superb teammate, albeit hard to please, but only and admirably in the interests of winning. He makes everyone better, Irving included. In 2.7 fewer minutes per game than James last season, Irving averaged 1.5 more shots. The signature basket of Irving’s six-year career — the 3-pointer over Stephen Curry that iced Golden State in Game 7 of the 2016 finals — was preceded by James’s acclaimed chase-down and shot-block of the Warriors’ Andre Iguodala.
Outside the lines, James has empowered himself like no other N.B.A. star, maximizing free-agent mobility, or the mere threat of it, in order to exert influence on almost all aspects of the Cleveland operation. He and Irving may share the ball, but company clout has been solely in the court of the King.
What works best for James’s legacy and brand is what he’ll pursue — and that’s a largely positive player paradigm that others are following, Irving being the latest.
Irving has heard the speculation that James will flee next summer to the Los Angeles Lakers, with the Cavaliers possibly getting nothing in return, as they did when James migrated to Miami in 2010. He has also watched as the Cavaliers’ owner, Dan Gilbert, has operated erratically this summer with a yearlong crisis looming over James’s next decision about where to play.
Without a no-trade clause, Irving cannot dictate his ultimate destination, much less force a trade. But like Belichick with the Jets in 2000, how can he not wonder if a franchise implosion is pending and at least try to get to a place he believes will be better for him in the long term?
As for James, he is still so good that he could well be back in the finals next season, with an unhappy Irving, or Derrick Rose, who was said to have agreed to sign with the Cavaliers as a free agent. But there is also a lesson here to be learned: Ironclad control cannot be forever maintained by sowing uncertainty.
If the guy in the glass is his best friend, he will tell James that Irving has a pretty fair case.