Kyrie Irving stood on on a small box which served as a riser, explaining that he — despite winning the NBA’s Rookie of the Year award just a few months earlier — did not anticipate the toll that a compressed season as a professional would take on his body. It was the team’s media day, taking place on an October afternoon, where spirits were high and expectations were married with curiosity. Irving acknowledged that he possessed an 190-pound frame that carried more baby fat that he would prefer; the NBA game coupled with his style of play forced him to add what weight he could so he took it upon himself to add five pounds of muscle in the offseason.
The ultimate bout of irony was that while Irving spoke of the bumps and bruises his body was forced to endure while bouncing off of opposing big men en route to a stellar campaign, he was doing so with a four-inch scar on his right hand — the souvenir from his time spent with the Olympic Select team in Las Vegas, Nevada where his run would cut short after a frustration-based slap of a padded wall resulted in surgery and a two-month absence from the game.
Prior to the incident in Vegas, Irving had sustained a concussion after he had hit the back of his head on the knee of Miami guard Dwyane Wade. Not long thereafter, he sprained his right shoulder when reaching across the lane in a contest against the Milwaukee Bucks — this injury would serve to cut his rookie season short. Since the fractured hand, Irving has fractured the index finger on his left hand, broke his jaw during a nasty fall — again, against the Milwaukee Bucks — and hyperextended his knee during a team practice.
The proverbial icing arrived Monday morning when the team was made aware that Irving would miss the next four weeks after suffering a strained left shoulder, an injury sustained during a collision which he’s had many times before. In the midst of a road game against the Toronto Raptors, Irving had the ball in the corner, noticing that the baseline was open for his having. Raptors center Jonas Valanciunas was late to help out, but made the smart move by stepping on the baseline and forcing the point guard to earn any points he would ultimately net. Unfortunately for Iring and the Cavaliers, he would net only one point after shooting a pair of free throws with only one hand as his left arm would lay limp from the blow it had just sustained.
Irving may be a lot of things: a fan favorite, an All-Star, a marketable personality. But if Cleveland fans have learned anything, he is by no means indestructable.
“He still is very young,” Cavaliers head coach Byron Scott said of his oft-injured point guard. ”His body hasn’t fully developed. I’m just not that concerned about it, to be honest with you. All the injuries that he has gotten have been legitimate injuries. It’s not something that keeps recurring over and over again. From just what I saw last night with the little hip check, it was just an unfortunate foul that hit him right on the spot. So I’m not really concerned about it.”
As a member of the Cleveland Cavaliers, Irving is provided one of the best training facilities in the National Basketball Association. When he takes the floor, he may as well be outfitted for the roller derby given all of the padding he has affixed to his elbows and knees. But as Cleveland has seen with players like Anderson Varejao, all of the medicine and mechanics in the world can only do so much. All to often, fans tend to see players like LeBron James and assume that his ability to take hits and rarely miss games is the rule when it is undoubtedly the exception. For starters, James is 6-feet-8-inches and 250 pounds of chiseled flesh; comparing him to a point guard is superfluous at best. James’ teammate in Wade had several seasons cut short due to contact-related injuries — it was not all that long ago when the now-defunct Converse made a campaign over the spills Wade had taken. Chris Paul played in just 64 games during his sophomore season; he played in just 45 in 2009-10. The last two point guards to be selected No. 1 overall, John Wall and Derek Rose, have both missed considerable time. Rose provides support for the argument that even the most muscular of players can fall victim to injury.
This all said, while Irving’s injuries can be classified as “legitimate,” fans in Cleveland have a legitimate right to be concerned. Their star player, who prides himself on getting to the hoop with ease — either converting a highlight-ready lay-up or getting to the free throw line and earning his points the old-fashioned way — will continue to be knicked up until he can add weight. The team already has plans for Irving to spend considerable time in the weight room this coming off season — he’s already pretty good at the whole “basketball” thing; it’s now up to him to ensure his body can carry him through an entire career of playing.
The Nike campaign dictates to us that Kyrie Never Stops. If the point guard will not change the way he plays, he will undoubtedly have to change the body he is playing in. His future depends on it.
Just as fans in Cleveland hold their breath every time a star player puts himself in harm’s way, the frequency of doing so will just increase once Irving is able to play again. It is safe to assume that Iriving may have been able to add more than the five pounds he did this past offseason if not for the fluke broken hand that forced him to take considerable time off. He has missed 29 of 129 games since being drafted by the Cavs. The team is 8-21 without him, including 4-10 this season. It remains highly unlikely that fans will get to see No. 2 on the floor again before the 2012-13 regular season comes to an end. All they can hope for is that the next time he’s standing on a make-shift riser, his shoulders are broader and his frame that much more ready to sustain the next collision.
(Photo by David Liam Kyle/NBAE via Getty Images)