July 30, 2014

From Introvert to Accolades, the Kyrie Irving Story Adds Another Chapter

The last time the Cleveland media collective sat alongside one another on the floor of the expansive gym at Cleveland Clinic Courts, we were being introduced to the team’s first overall pick in Kyrie Irving. Roughly 11 months later, we were back to celebrate the same player and his achievements during his first season with the team, one which led to nearly 20 points per game, a handful of game-winning shots and an ear-to-ear smile that would only be stunted in the short-term following a loss.

For Irving’s hard work and determination, which started as early as his fifth-grade year of school wherein a 10-year-old kid from West Orange, New Jersey would spend hours running Mikan drills with his father, he was presented with the Eddie Gotlieb trophy which represented his 2012 Rookie of the Year honors, receiving 117 of 120 possible first-place votes. The front row of chairs on this day were comprised of the same bodies which sat proudly during Irving’s introduction: Cavaliers majority owner Dan Gilbert, vice chairmen Jeff Cohen, managing partner Nate Forbes, Irving’s father Drederick and his agent Jeff Wechsler. The messages conveyed, however, could not be more different.

Last July, a sheepish Irving sat on a stool alongside fellow-first-rounder Tristan Thompson as the two soon-to-be-rookies fielded questions about their pasts as well as expectations of what was yet to come. Despite possessing an innate belief in his abilities, even Irving admits that he wasn’t aware of what his immediate future would be, having no statistical goals or crystal balls. Playing in only 11 games at Duke, the detractors to the Cavaliers’ selection were pounding their fists on the e-tables as loudly as possible — he’s inexperienced, his body fat is too high, Derrick Williams had a good tournament, he’s not Derrick Rose! On a beautiful Cleveland afternoon, outfitted in a navy suit and light grey tie which was continually tugged upon in the way a child does at a wedding or recital, Irving showed that it was not only his game that grew, but his personality was no longer that of the 19-year-old who landed in Cleveland a year earlier, quietly keeping to himself during training camp pre-season practices.

“I came in as a 19-year-old and I got to be myself,” Irving said in front of his friends, family and a few stretch limousines full of third-grade boys from Cleveland’s Kenneth Clement Leadership Academy. Embraced by Scott and assistant coach Nate Tibbets, Irving quickly sprouted into the kid who stood proudly

This relaxed attitude was no more prevalent than in the moments where Irving casually lobbed jabs at Cavaliers head coach Byron Scott, or “the bald-headed man.” Whether it would be a vivid description of the way Scott’s bald head wrinkles up in times of ire or the way it would shine when camera back lights would be present, Irving spoke of Scott as his on-court father figure, helping pave the way for the pomp and circumstance which would be celebrated on this very day. For Irving, the transition from his father Dred to Scott would be an easy one — you know, because, for starters, “they’re both bald.”

Irving’s thank-yous, written on a notecard which was gracefully pulled from the pocket of his suit, included his father, his sister Asia, and his late mother Elizabeth; his close-knit group of friends who keep him grounded and humble and human; his teammates, from Luke Haragody to “Lesantiy” and the veterans who helped guide him through the season; his sponsors Nike and Armani and Tods and Pepsi MAX; the Cavaliers front office, ownership team and coaching staff, Duke’s Mike Krzyzewski, whom Irving called his “mentor,” and his agent Jeff Wechsler who not only helped his client every step of the way, but introduced him to Robin Pound, whom Irving considers to be the “best trainer out there.”

Perhaps standing as the most glaring contrast to the time the Cavaliers and the city of Cleveland sat inside of Cleveland Clinic Courts to celebrate the accolades of a first-overall draft selection, was the way Irving went about his first season in the NBA, continually striving to get better, being his toughest critic, but also in the way that he was treated by the front office and coaching staff. Presumably surprised when the horde of photographers wanted to take a picture of him, alone, with his shiny new trophy, Irving spent the vast majority of his time with the Clement students as well as the team’s employees. He was was was nervous heading into camp and was not told he would be the starting point guard until the day of his first game. He was surprised by the call Coach Scott barked into the huddle during the waining seconds of the team’s third game of the year, the overtime loss to Indiana – a high pick-and-roll that would allow the 19-year-old to take the final shot of the game.

“I’m glad I didn’t get treated like a [first-overall pick],” Irving said of his first year in Cleveland.

Wherein the awards presented to LeBron James were received in Akron, Ohio, serving to provide that well-documented line of delineation, Irving made sure that the city of Cleveland was along side him every step of the way. While hoisting the Rookie Game MVP award during the most-recent All-Star break, Irving instructed the photographers to ensure that the “Cleveland” on the front of his jersey made all of the shots. When doling out his thank-yous this afternoon, Irving stated that, despite the trials and tribulations of the season, the Rookie of the Year award was not just for him, but for the lakeside city in which he lives out his dreams on a daily basis. It also helps that he cherishes fourth-quarter moments, preferring the basketball in his hands as the clock draws closer to zeros.

Though the front row for the Irving-centric press conference was largely the same, Irving will enter Year 2 of his NBA career no longer surrounded by the cloud of the great unknown. He may not have John Wall’s speed, but he toasted all five members of the Denver Nuggests, full court, with the opposition getting a head start. He may not have Derrick Rose’s shoulders and strength, but he already has a resume of game-winners and the innate desire to be even better than he was during his Freshman campaign. He may not have Chris Paul’s defensive prowess, but he has a Drill Sergeant in Byron Scott that will keep on him every day of their collective coexistence.

The same play which was called for Irving in the stepping stone overtime loss in Indiana, was not much different from the one he pulled on Arizona’s Derrick Williams in the Sweet 16 a few months prior to the NBA Draft, complete with his trademark cross-over dribble and the basketball dropping gracefully through the net. That “I can do this” moment propelled Irving to the NBA and into the friendly confines of the practice courts where he happily received his new piece of hardware.

“We’re going to build something special here,” said Irving. “We’re in it for the long haul.” 

Irving plans on entering the 2012-13 season in even better shape than the one in which he presently exists, ready to work and understanding the careful balance between basketball and business. Proud of what he has done to this point yet possessing the desire to accomplish so much more, hearkening back to the days of his dad laying out exactly what it is he needs to do be it in the gymnasium or driveway, and transitioning to today where he racks up single-digit dunks and countless hearts across Cleveland. The now 20-year-old Irving will be forced to take on an even larger leadership role for the Cavaliers of the future, but if the Nike t-shirts that branded his name and a “ROY” on the sleeves have anything to say about the next several years, this will not be a daunting task.

Kyrie Never Stops. Cavaliers basketball never stops.

(AP Photo/Mark Duncan)

  • St. McDuck

    Friggin’ awesome. 
    Kyrie’s a class act and Cleveland deserves someone of his character.
    Can’t wait to watch year 2 unfold.

  • JNeids

    But did he forget to thank his baby’s mama?!?

    Seriously though, you never know until it’s too late (i.e. 7 years later) if athletes mean what they say, or if they’re just saying the right things. I obviously hope, but I also believe Kyrie is sincere. Until I’m proven wrong, I’m gonna enjoy watching him mature, along with the rest of the roster, into a fun team to watch, but more importantly, a contender.

  • http://www.zfcomics.com dgriff13

    this guy is filling up a recently vacant and slowly healing spot in my heart .. and that’s dangerous for me.
    All I can hope is if he ever leaves for more money or for a better team, he’ll do it in a respectful manner.

  • Mike E

     I liked everything you said except this:

    “But did he forget to thank his baby’s mama?!?”

    I just don’t get it.

  • TobaccoRoad

    Being both a native Clevelander and a 2x Duke alum, I cannot express how happy I am to see Kyrie’s success.  Between Irving and Richardson, this city finally seems to be getting franchise players that “get it”.

    Here’s to many more awards for Irving and the Cavs..

  • cmm13

    please oh please oh please let this be the next photo for a caption contest….

  • AlexMathews

    LeBron reference?

  • https://twitter.com/jimkanicki jimkanicki

    >>>After 11 games played at Duke, the detractors to the Cavaliers’ selection were pounding their fists on the e-tables as loudly as possible — he’s inexperienced, his body fat is too high, Derrick Williams had a good tournament, he’s not Derrick Rose!>>>

    what the hell man?  
    geez.

  • JNeids

    It was a cheap shot at Lebron, although I think it was one of his MVP speeches, not ROY.

  • http://www.waitingfornextyear.com/ Scott @ WFNY

    Yes?

  • Mike E

    Ahhhhhhh, I forgot about that. Thanks.

  • Harv 21

    Yeah, don’t remember anyone pounding tables about taking someone else. Some suggested a risky shortcut rebuild strategy taking Williams #1 and getting the second best PG, but that was about position filling, not because Williams was a better player.

    But whatevs, we didn’t blow the first pick and that’s not a given in the NBA draft.

  • http://www.waitingfornextyear.com/ Scott @ WFNY

    There was plenty of anti-Irving sentiment heading into the draft, even carrying into the beginning of the season. Written, spoken, take your pick. Whether it was rooted in “position need” or player quality, the fact remains.

  • Foghorn Leghorn

    You know Iman Shumpert, that bum PG from the Knicks, actually got a 1st place vote??  How in your right mind could you say that guy is a better PG than Irving?  Faried of Denver and Leonard from San Antonio also got votes.  Those choices are bad, but picking Shumpert is just the worst of the NYC media being the trash they are.

  • Mark

    I think you are overstating it Scott. Irving was just about everyone’s top choice for the Cavs. There wasn’t any backlash. Now, there was plenty of doubt that Irving would ever be as good as he already is. But because it was a “weak draft” Irving was the consensus choice by default.

  • cleveland__rocks

    most awkward picture ever

  • DK45

    Anyone know if Nike is going to make those “KYRIE NEVER STOPS” t-shirts for sale? Way cooler than anything in the Cavs team shop.

  • jim

    Right. The doubt was on whether Irving would perform to the level expected of the top overall pick; not whether the Cavs should pick him number one.

  • mgbode

    there were quite a few DW + Knight people.  11 games of Duke scared off alot of people.  I was mesmerized by those 11 games, so I didn’t care (he actually made me cheer for Duke while watching).  

    Irving was the overall choice by most, but there was a vocal minority pushing away from him.  after the pick was made, they were on-board.

  • ClevelandFrowns

    So Kyrie didn’t hold his ROY press conference in Akron? That’s so weird. Such an interesting line of delineation. Why did LeBron ever do all that stuff in Akron, anyway? I might never get my head around that.

    Also, can you tell us more about how Kyrie “graciously” pulled the notecard from his pocket? Like, describe the path that the notecard took through the air, so we might get a better idea of the graciousness of the whole thing?

    All jokes aside, it should be clear enough by now that when folks talk about “LeBron victim complex,” they’re talking about a real thing.

  • mgbode

    like you didn’t smile when LeBron missed those FTs tonight :)

  • Jonathan Christmas

    Can I buy the kyrie never stops shirt.??

  • BrownsFanSF

    seriously.  Can’t find it on Google, I pretty much need one of those

  • http://www.waitingfornextyear.com/ Scott @ WFNY

    Kyrie didn’t hold his press conference in West Orange, assuming you’re trying to say Akron is an acceptable location because it’s his home town.

    I don’t think this is an unfair comparison at all. And nice try with the notecard jab. Made sure to get something snarky crow-barred in there.

  • porckchopexpress

    I didn’t smile but I really was shocked when he took such a passive path to the basket on Wade’s ill-fated final layup attempt.  If you watch that replay a charging Lebron would have been open for a dish as the 2bl came to Wade instead he kind of veered wide in the lane.  Wade has to feel like Iceman when he thought Maverick wasn’t going to engage the MIGs at the end of Top Gun.

    Side note,  did anyone notice how David West screamed and dragged every Pacer who was celebrating back into the locker room?  Again if you missed it watch the very end of the game he is literally shoving guys off the court to make sure they don’t give any motivation to the Heat.  Just saying that when the Cavs go building this team a veteran who knows how to teach youngins how to “act like you’ve been there before” is vital.

  • http://www.waitingfornextyear.com/ Scott @ WFNY

    I would imagine that they will hit stores eventually. Similar to the initial “Witness” run, I believe this first batch is a limited edition of sorts. It sounds like this “Never Stops” campaign has legs judging by the official “congrats, Kyrie” imagery linked within.

  • ClevelandFrowns

    Another thing about the Akron, OH vs. West Orange, NJ thing is that Akron is a lot closer to Cleveland. Like, a lot. Anyway, yes, let’s demonize LeBron for everything we can, including for having held press conferences in his nearby hometown. Pure evil. Bin Laden-esque.

  • ClevelandFrowns

    Another thing about the Akron, OH vs. West Orange, NJ thing is that Akron is a lot closer to Cleveland. Like, a lot. Anyway, yes, let’s demonize LeBron for everything we can, including for having held press conferences in his nearby hometown. Pure evil. Bin Laden-esque.

  • http://www.waitingfornextyear.com/ Scott @ WFNY

    The crux of the column above is the location of said press conference/ceremony. I’m sorry your boy opted for otherwise due ceremony apparent arbitrary radius of acceptable relocation. There’s no demonizing whatsoever — you’re overreacting to a comparison.

  • porckchopexpress

    I do remember there being a pretty vocal contingent of  DW + Knight people.   I don’t think the argument had the same passion as something as critical as which 4th string running back the Browns should keep, but there defintely were some people waiting to “I told you so!” when D Will ran wild on Irving.

  • http://twitter.com/bbo13 B-bo

    You guys could totally take this act on the road

  • https://twitter.com/jimkanicki jimkanicki

    i would think it’d be possible to write a ‘congrats KI’ article without clucking at folks who had legit questions about taking a guy #1 overall who only played 15 games in college. particularly when his 15 games are juxtaposed with another player who shined under the brightest lights the ncaa has to offer.

    i mean, is the goal here to staunch debate?  because when reasonable arguments in favor of williams + kantor/knight are categorized as ‘pounding their fists on the e-tables as loudly as possible’…  i mean that’s some absurd hyperbole. absolutely trolling.  and to what end?

  • http://twitter.com/bbo13 B-bo

    As someone who had definite questions about Irving leading up to the draft, I’m hardly left feeling “clucked at” by the article. There were KI critics. Vocal ones. Making less-than-reasonable arguments–perhaps not you or I, but they were out there. Not seeing the harm in pointing it out. 

  • ClevelandFrowns

    “I’m sorry your boy opted for otherwise due ceremony apparent arbitrary radius of acceptable relocation.”

    May I have a translation here, please?

  • mgbode

    are you new around here?

    dredging up old debates in a loosely related thread should not come as a surprise :)

  • mgbode

    I did see that and loved it.  West is an absolute pro.  I don’t think it was about ‘motivation for the Heat’ but more about ‘this is 1 game, expect to win’ type of deal.

  • mgbode

    How about the Wade flagrant on Collison.  What a whiny little female dog.  He gets mad with a call so he goes behind someone and shoves them to the ground while they are driving to the hoop? 

    there’s no way that Wade gets a game suspension because of what it would mean to the networks, but if it was another player there would be an uproar about it today.

  • mgbode

    I was more bummed than angry when LeBron left.   but, I actually like how it has all played out (if he was going to leave).   what better way to show the power of our fanbase than to absolutely kill his national brand.  now, granted, he helped us do it.  but, he and his people definitely underestimated the amount of negativity that can come from the Northcoast.

    now with Windy trying to help spread the rumors of him coming back to the Cavs, which I think it is a pure load of BS that LeBron’s people are trying to shove down our throats in an effort to quell the hatred that eminated from Cleveland and spilled out throughout the country and tarnished his image.

    if Cleveland forgives LeBron, then everyone else will. once again though, his people underestimate the resiliency of the negativity of which the Northcoast is capable.

  • http://www.waitingfornextyear.com/ Scott @ WFNY

    Comment should read:

    “due to some.” Not “ceremony.”

  • porckchopexpress

    If Indy doesn’t take the bait and fight the Heat or get into a fouling war of attrition they can win this thing.  You are dead on that Lebron/Wade can get away with things that Granger/Hill can’t because the Refs are going to swallow their whistle on a flagrant against either of those guys. 

    Just to not be an absolute hater I do want to aknowledge that 4th quarter failings aside Lebron is a pretty amazing player.  He defended every Indy player except Hibbert last night and gave a great effort.  There were a few sequences where he jumped out on one of the George’s, slid over and stopped Granger, and then bodied up on David West who is just about as physical a player as you will find.  I can’t help but admire the talent it takes to play defense like he does, unfortunately I think it takes its toll on the offensive end. 

  • vermanator

    where can i get one of those shirts???????