Little outside noise has appeared to disrupt Irving’s transition to a fourth NBA franchise.
LOS ANGELES — Kyrie Irving’s first game day as a Dallas Maverick started with a smile at halfcourt.
During every Mavericks shootaround, players team up against the coaching staff to see who can sink more half-court shots overall. Successful shooters advance to a second-round showdown to declare a winner, or a tie that often leaves most laughing and hollering before wrapping up the workout.
Count Irving among those who enjoyed the pregame tradition Wednesday morning in the Los Angeles Clippers’ Crypto.com Arena.
From there, Irving changed out of his team-issued practice top into a T-shirt and multi-colored ski cap and walked off the court — his one-day, whirlwind Mavericks acclimation as complete as possible.
Before, during and after the Mavericks’ Wednesday night clash against the Clippers, The Dallas Morning News followed Irving through behind-the-scenes moments and interactions that were otherwise out of public view.
Excitement, skepticism and criticism for the franchise’s blockbuster trade for the 30-year-old All-Star this week has dominated discussions and headlines, but little of the outside hoopla has appeared to disrupt Irving’s transition to a fourth NBA franchise in the middle of his 12th professional season.
Perhaps that’s why he put on a pair of noise-canceling Beats headphones next time out.
About five hours after the Mavericks’ shootaround ended Wednesday, Irving returned to the arena where many had expected him to instead play as a Los Angeles Laker after he requested a trade last Friday.
He re-took the court for his official pregame warm-up about 4:48 p.m. local time, donning blue Mavericks shorts, a gray T-shirt with the sleeves cut off, a red-and-white speckled pair of his signature Nike shoes and those headphones.
He covered the sides of his shoes with black tape and wrote messages in gold marker and capital letters.
Outer right side: “Black liberation.”
Outer left side: “Free all of my people.”
On the inner sides, his “Hélà” signature.
Irving worked with assistant coach Jared Dudley while warming up next to former Nets teammate Theo Pinson in the same pregame time slot Spencer Dinwiddie used to occupy.
Head coach Jason Kidd divides the roster in “pods” to delegate coaching responsibilities for individual player needs, and though Dudley didn’t have a relationship with Irving before the trade, he’s among the staff’s top three assistants with a reputation for quick humor and friendship with the NBA’s biggest superstars.
Irving worked through rounds of mid-range shots at five spots around the court, then back deeper inside the arc and then from three.
He shot free throws between each round.
After 17 minutes, he walked off the court and through an arena tunnel back toward the Mavericks’ locker room, stopping to chat with and embrace a Clippers staffer before slipping into the team training room.
The next time Irving appeared: about four minutes after reserve JaVale McGee led the pregame cheer and most of the Mavericks broke a huddle to run out for warm-ups.
Irving left the locker room last, walking slowly around the corner toward the arena with his “built by Black history” warm-up shirt untucked and his sweatpants open on down the sides from the waistband down to the final button around his ankles.
A young fan called out: “Mr. Irving!”
He raised his left hand, crossing his index and middle fingers like the emoji he deploys on every social media post.
“Mr. Irving! Can I get you to sign?”
Irving looked back and pointed: “After the game.”
Then he emerged from the tunnel to a raucous applause — some fans who likely hoped the Clippers’ interest in landing him during the weekend trade frenzy had materialized.
The Mavericks’ final layup lines might’ve presented Irving’s biggest learning curve.
He started by dribbling from sideline to sideline — between his legs, around his back, with spinning footwork.
After stopping to talk to a broadcaster for a moment, he took a few pull-up jumpers. His expression remained stoic.
Until Dwight Powell lobbed a pass to Frank Ntilikina, who bounced the ball off his shoulder in his best Doncic impression and tried to assist Powell on an acrobatic layup.
Dallas’ final warm-up sessions, especially with Doncic, often resemble more of a circus act than formal game preparation, and Irving appeared to catch on after that trick sequence between Powell and Ntilikina.
He then tossed the ball over his head to the next shooter, attempted a layup with major spin on his release and laughed at reserve guard Theo Pinson’s jokes while trailing him in line.
But Irving refocused by the time the arena announcer called his name first in the starting lineup pregame introductions.
He missed his opening look — a right wing 3-pointer that clanged off the back of the rim — but made his first basket, a 20-foot jumper off a dish from Powell, a couple minutes later.
Irving tallied 13 points (5 of 11 from the floor, 3 of 6 from three), one rebound and one assist in 15 first-half minutes and walked out of the locker room with Tim Hardaway Jr., flashing the same fingers-crossed sign as fans shouted from behind a barrier.
Over two workouts since Irving arrived in Los Angeles, Kidd and his staff taught Irving some of their offensive and defensive concepts and terminology, but also asked him questions about tendencies and sweetspots.
Where Irving’s preference contrasts Doncic most: pace.
Doncic, who watched from the bench in a dark green Jordan Brand sweatsuit, might’ve been out of breath just watching the Mavericks run in transition with Irving and third-year wing Josh Green flashing speed and poise in transition.
The Mavericks started Wednesday with the league’s second-slowest offense (96.3 possessions per 48 minutes), but Irving directed the offense with less-methodical decisiveness on the run.
No basket showed that more than his last, when he drove to the hoop with 1:17 and finished an acrobatic layup by flailing as he crashed to the floor. That marked the deciding points in the Mavericks’ 110-104 victory, and he sealed the game with a rebound in the final seconds, eluding a last-ditch Clippers foul as he sprinted down the court.
After the buzzer sounded, he hugged Hardaway, performed an elaborate handshake with Pinson and dapped up Reggie Bullock, assistant coach God Shammgod and owner Mark Cuban.
And just before he gave ESPN a postgame interview, Doncic, smiling, walked over for the last embrace.