2012 was one crazy year in the wild wacky world of Cleveland Sports. Some would tell you 2012 was as bad as it has ever been here. As the year comes to a close, like we have done the last four years, WFNY will take a look at what we view to be the 10 biggest sports stories affecting our local sports scene. Each day through the rest of the year, we will be counting down from ten to one. We started the Buckeyes Final Four trip. Number nine is something that happened just a short two weeks ago. The Ohio State perfect 12-0 season was number eight while Chris Perez’ harsh and honest words clocked in at number seven. Our sixth-biggest story came around the same time of the year, as the Cavaliers added to their young core. Ranking fifth, the man those two additions joined.
Kyrie Irving came into the league as a 19-year-old rife with question marks. He had only played 11 games as a collegiate Freshman thanks to a fluke injury to his toe. He was neither as explosive as John Wall nor as athletic and physically gifted as Derrick Rose; both point guards who just so happened to be selected first overall in their respective draft classes. What Irving would go on to do, however, was nothing short of dramatic — game-winners, a never-ending a smile and a city that had been emotionally rendered to ashes arising all on his accord.
He provided excitement. He provided hope. He provided a can-do attitude that had vanished a summer earlier. He, at the ripe age of 19, led a team in dire need of leadership; the box scores were merely an added bonus. The end result: much-deserved hardware (After taking 117 of 120 first-place votes despite a cult-like Internet push for Mineesota’s Ricky Rubio) and the belief that the epic losing streak of 2010-11 was not only worth it, but that Cleveland was somehow being compensated for all of its undue angst.
While everyone in attendance for Irving’s coronation into the ROY ranks wanted to focus on the lockout-shortened year that had just been completed, I opted to inquire about the future. What did this kid have in store for us on a going-forward basis? What sort of advice did he have for those rookies rookies — we would later find out that there would indeed be two first-rounders — who would follow in his footsteps, hoping to end up on that exact same stage with that exact same cheesy grin?
He spoke of how much he had learned over the course of his rookie campaign, both on and off of the court. How the business side of the professional game was just as big — at least from a time and resources standpoint — as the part that involves attempting to put an inflated piece of composite leather through a cyllander hoisted 10 feet into the air. But in doing so, Irving brought a swagger long removed — one that came with an affable side that gave the appearance of a child living out his dream and enjoying every minute of it even if it meant pulling pranks on teammates and his coach’s bald head.
With that, Irving made sure to include all of those who had touched him in any capacity over his freshman season.
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.”
Fittingly, Irving’s brand was shared throughout Cleveland Clinic Courts as this would be the day that Nike, the point guard’s apparel sponsor, unveiled the “Kyrie Never Stops” campaign. It wouldn’t be long after that Irving lifted the curtain on what was the first of (likely) man commercials featuring the old soul as an actual old soul in the bucket-getting Uncle Drew. A mere months following Irving’s award, he was outfitted with his very own player exclusive Nike Hyperdunks. And fittingly, this mantra has (fortunately) held true despite a concussion, an shoulder injury, a broken right hand, a fractured index finger and a fractured cheek bone. Even with masks of varying thickness and opaquness, Irving’s game has yet to stop.
It was just a few days prior to Irving’s acceptance speech that Cavaliers majority owner Dan Gilbert discussed the team’s future.
“We want to build a franchise with Kyrie or with other superstars, not around superstars,” said Gilbert. “We think that that’s probably not a great formula for success, otherwise we would have rings already — we would have a championship trophy. We believe that ‘with’ is the key here.”
New Expression, but one that continues to not be branded by the players as much as the team. If anything, Kyrie Irving demonstrated that he is very much both, a player and the team. While the future will undoubtedly depend on who Gilbert and the Cavaliers front office can piece together in hopes of building with Irving, the year provided by the first-overall selection in the 2011 NBA Draft undoubtedly provided a season to remember exactly one year after a season many fans would love to forget.
Irving’s Welcome to the NBA moment came when he slashed his way to a game-winner against the Celtics on their own floor. He went coast-to-coast in a matter of secnds against the Nuggets, sealing a win in Denver. He just finished dropping a career-best 41 on the upstart New York Knicks in Madison Square Garden.
The best part: This is only the beginning. It is the acts that follow that will keep everyone watching. But it was the acts that preceded that make Irving and his Rookie of the Year seasonone of the best stories of 2012.