Kyrie Talks ‘Uncle Drew,’ Rucker Park Basketball, Recovery From Surgery And More

by June 28, 2018

If you’ve been wondering what Kyrie Irving was up to during that crazy 2017 summer, than hit the movies on Friday.

Amid the chaos of his departure from Cleveland, Irving was spending most of his time working on ‘Uncle Drew.’ The new film, which hits theaters tomorrow, also features NBA and WNBA players Aaron Gordon, Shaquille O’Neal, Chris Webber, Reggie Miller, Nate Robinson, and Lisa Leslie. It centers on a streetball tournament played at Rucker Park in Harlem, NY.

“It was an interesting dynamic coming into the movie,” Kyrie said, during a roundtable discussion in NYC earlier this week. “It was in the middle of a time in my career where I was going through a trade, so just a lot of attention behind that, and then waking up probably around 6 or 7 in the morning, being in the makeup chair for about three hours and then heading to the set for about 14-hour shoot days was a big commitment that I enjoyed.

“I had fun doing it. It was a sacrifice of time, but well worth it in terms of the companies affording me the opportunity to act in front of the big screen for the first time. Lionsgate, Temple Hill and Jay Longino, our writer, and Charles Stone — I’m just really grateful for the opportunity.”

Read more from the conversation with Kyrie below:

Q: Did you take acting classes to prepare for the role?

KI: Nah, I just had an acting coach. I utilized him a lot in the first week. It was really nerve-racking for me to be acting in front of a camera for the first time, but I just dedicated myself — going back from the set to my hotel room and just using some different preparation techniques and doing the best I could.

Q: Now that people have seen the movie, are you starting to get feedback from friends and family on how they think you did?

KI: It’s hard for me to accept at times. They’ll say you did a good job, you have the acting chops, but I’m just over here like, I hope I don’t bomb in front of everyone at the premiere. I just hope my rotten tomato score is good [laughs].

Q: What’s the minimum score you’ll be happy with?

KI: At least above an 85. It’s tough. Shoot for the stars.

Q: How distracting was it for you to be doing the movie while the trade stuff was happening?

KI: I mean, it was a distraction anyway. It was my career we’re talking about, and then here I am on a different scale of acting, so you have everyone on set and their dedicating their time, this is their profession and then for me, I have a profession outside of this that’s going on and taking place that has a lot to do with sacrifice and commitment, not just for me, but for my family as well. Brain-wise outside of acting, it was basketball and then you kind of had to dive back into what was in front of you, which was the movie.

Q: Is it true you found out on set that you were headed to Boston?

KI: Yeah, alerts started going off on everyone’s phones, and I got a call from my agent. And once it happened, the dance scene just got a little better [laughs].

Q: Have you ever played at Rucker?

KI: I played there. It was a time when I was supposed to play at Dyckman, but they shut down that game because it got ridiculously crazy. It’s a safety hazard there sometimes. But the culture — being engraved it in it — is something I’m down for. But then I went over to Rucker Park and actually played with Tyreke Evans there. It was just a random Saturday or random day during the week. And I played out there for a few minutes.

Q: Terry Rozier was at Dyckman the other day, you think Uncle Drew might make an appearance this summer? 

KI: [laughs] I haven’t played outdoor in a while, but now it’s just like you can sneak one in every maybe 3-4 years. Unless it’s being played inside, then it’s hard to be outside. But I mean T-Ro, he’s young, just doing the same things I was doing when I was 23-24 years old, so I respect him for going out there. I think a lot of people can struggle with making that transition from being a professional basketball player to being an entertainer outside. It’s a fine line between it, of being outside, being able to go one-on-one and just have the crowd going, too. Some people get more nervous being outside and playing in front of just random people than being in an NBA arena.

Q: Did your father play at the Rucker?

KI: Yeah, he’s a Rucker Park MVP, former. Just throwing it out there [laughs].

Q: Do you feel Rucker symbolizes the passion for basketball in NYC?

KI: I think it embodies a great niche and great part of the culture for not just streetball. You’ve seen a lot of historical players come through there. Streetball legends and high school legends that end up making a name, that really show why they can play in the NBA, at the highest level. I think that now, amateur basketball’s probabaly taken over Rucker a little bit more, and that’s a stepping stone for them to play in front of that type of environment. But it’s a 145th street, man. It’s a historical place, watching people go there, watching from the gate, being in the stands, kids running around outside the park, it’s cool.

Q: Physically, are you at the point where you could play yet?

KI: Yeah, but there’s so much time in between now and the start of the season that it’s literally imperative I take my time with this. It’s imperative for what I’m gearing up for. I’ve kind of been somewhat quiet about it but the last two-and-a-half months have been pretty intense for me. It wasn’t so much the surgery, but the reason why I had to go and get surgery. I had an infection. It was really, really intense. Leaving the games every eight hours for antibiotics. I had a PICC line on in my vein going straight to my heart. It was almost an embarrassing thing for me to be around people having a big PICC line. It was just weird for me, intense. Getting out of that was like, OK now it becomes the real climb to Mount Everest, back to the top.

Q: Are you all cleared?

KI: No, I would say in the next two weeks would be ideal of like when exactly I’ll be able to play. It’s just patience, man. It’s a lot of maintenance right now. I didn’t have the end of the season to kind of use this as a rest period, but I needed it. Over the last kind of three years, I’ve been really fortunate to be playing all the way until June. It was good. I needed it. I needed a break for now.

Q: There’s been a lot of news about your uniform number in Cleveland [his No. 2 was given to rookie Collin Sexton], did you pay attention to that story at all?

KI: Yeah, I did. It’s just in my face. It’s just in my face [laughs].

Q: Did you have a feeling either way about them giving away the number so soon?

KI: Nah, go ahead man. Do what you do. He wants to wear that number, let him wear the number. It don’t matter.

Q: The people in Cleveland said we can’t give away Kyrie’s number this soon, did that surprise you?

KI: I appreciate that. I mean, the history, it’s already captured, man. I was on one of the best teams in NBA history, in my opinion, just accomplishing something that was that much bigger than ourselves. A feat that’s — we’re one of no other teams. We’re one of one, in history. So for me, I think the biggest thing was giving that jersey to my dad. If that’s where the No. 2 legacy ends, then cool. Let ’em start up a new one. No pressure from anyone else.

Q: You gave your dad the Game 7 jersey?

KI: Yeah, right after the game. It was on Father’s Day.

Alex Squadron is an Associate News Editor at SLAM. Follow him on Twitter @asquad510.

Photos via Lionsgate.