April 23, 2014

My Cleveland Sportsman of 2013: Kyrie Irving

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No other athlete put Cleveland on the map like Kyrie Irving
(Scott Sargent/WFNY)

Sports Illustrated’s Sportsman of the Year is an annual must-read. Given that the national recognition rarely has anything to do with the teams or individuals whom we cover. In turn, WFNY will soon announce its choice for 2013′s Cleveland Sportsman of the Year. Here’s one of the nominations for that honor by an WFNY writer.

WFNY’s Sportsman of the Year
_________________________

MITCH: Ohio State head coach Urban Meyer
RICK: Browns cornerback Joe Haden
JON: Tribe pitching coach, Mickey Callaway
ANDREW: Cavs poing guard, Kyrie Irving
SCOTT: Coming Soon
CRAIG: Coming Soon
TD: Coming Soon
KIRK: Coming Soon
JACOB: Coming Soon

Like most awards, I suppose there’s a degree of built-in ambiguity when it comes to something called “Sportsman of the Year”. Perhaps some would view this ambiguity as a negative, but I think it’s exciting. It opens the door for a vast variety of candidates and criteria for the award. There will be focus on many different attributes. Some will involve winning, teaching, charity, impact in the community, and national awareness. There’s probably no right or wrong answer. All of these excellent candidates have something to offer the Cleveland sports scene.

But the candidate I am nominating isn’t much of a surprise for those who follow my writing and who know my sports preferences. For Cleveland Sportsman of the Year in 2013, I am nominating Cleveland Cavaliers’ All-Star point guard Kyrie Irving.

Make no mistake about it, 2013 has been an up and down year for Kyrie. It hasn’t all been glowing sunshine and lollipops. We’ll get to some of those downs in a minute, but the biggest reason why Kyrie Irving deserves to be Cleveland Sportsman of the Year is because nobody did more to elevate Cleveland on the national scene in 2013. Nobody had a better start to 2013 than Irving. Of course, part of that was because the Browns season was over and the Indians were getting ready for Spring Training. But Kyrie’s excellent start to 2013 wasn’t merely by default.

It all started with an unforgettable month of January. In what was one of the best months of his career, Kyrie scored 25.8 points per game that month on 48% shooting from the field, 42.9% from three, to go with 5.4 assists, 2.4 steals, and 3.3 turnovers. On January 27, Kyrie earned the first Eastern Conference Player of the Week award for his efforts.

But January was just the warm up act for what February would bring. It began with Kyrie being selected to the first All-Star Game of his career. It wasn’t just about the All-Star Game itself, though. It would be about the entire All-Star weekend festivities. As a second-year player in the league, Kyrie would once again be participating in the Rising Stars Game, an event he won MVP in the previous year. He would also be participating in the three-point shooting contest as well.

Kyrie’s weekend began with the Rising Stars Challenge, in which Kyrie would lead Team Shaq in points and rebounds with 32 and six, respectively. But the most memorable event of that entire game was Kyrie’s move on Brandon Knight that caused some to think that Kyrie had literally broken Knight’s ankles:

Kyrie Irving breaks Brandon Knight’s ankles

Kyrie would follow this up the following night in the Three-Point Shootout competition. After edging out Steve Novak in the first round, Kyrie would then face the Spurs’ Matt Bonner in the final. After making 19 in the first round, many felt Bonner was the favorite in the final. But Kyrie went off, hitting 23 shots and finishing just two short of the all-time record. For the second year in a row, Kyrie Irving was hoisting an individual trophy on All-Star Weekend.

Finally, Kyrie wrapped up his weekend with a solid showing in the All-Star Game itself. Kyrie played 25 minutes, scoring 15 points off the bench on 6-of-11 shooting from the field (3-6 from three) along with 3 rebounds and 4 assists. Some wondered if Kyrie was ready for this level of spotlight, but Kyrie didn’t just look comfortable, he looked right at home playing alongside some of the best players in the world. While the Cleveland Cavaliers were toiling in relative anonymity, Kyrie was putting Cleveland basketball back on the map on one of the biggest stages.

The summer would see Kyrie once again playing side-by-side with some of the NBA’s best at Team USA’s summer camp. One of the biggest moments was the White vs Blue intrasquad scrimmage that occurred. Kyrie was sensational in the game, leading everyone with 23 points. But more important than the points themselves was the style with which they were accrued. In that game, Kyrie was the show, and NBA pundits across the globe took notice.

Kyrie Irving’s huge performance at a Team USA scrimmage

Of course, 2013 wasn’t all great for Kyrie. The Cavaliers would falter down the stretch of the season. A mixture of injuries and poor shooting woes would derail his season a bit, culminating in the unfortunate skipping out on Fan Appreciation Night. His coach would be fired. The 2013-14 season would start with a complete mess leading to a player’s only meeting which evidently got somewhat heated. In Cleveland, fan support for Kyrie seems to dwindle more and more every game.

And it’s true that Kyrie has not been able to bring team success to Cleveland. We can debate another time how much blame he deserves for that, but this award isn’t a team award and it’s about something bigger than just team wins and losses.

And for his part, Kyrie has been nothing short of a model citizen in Cleveland. He has apologized for his missteps, he has donated time and money to a handful of charities and hospitals. In Australia, Kyrie donated his time to a 24-hour free throw shooting event to raise money for basketball programs in Australia. Kyrie is also involved with UNICEF and in August Kyrie went to South Africa as a part of their Schools for Africa program. While there, Kyrie was taped taking part in a dance off with a student at one of the schools:

Kyrie Irving takes part in a dance off with a student in South Africa

Between all of this, the random pickup game at Montclair State University, the latest Uncle Drew commercial, etc. Kyrie’s profile has grown exponentially in 2013. Cleveland is woefully short on superstars. If you had to give someone from Utah one reason to watch something Cleveland sports related, it would be hard to tell them anyone or anything other than Kyrie Irving.

In the wake of losing LeBron James, the Cavaliers’ future has been pretty bleak. But for two and half seasons now, Kyrie has been the one brief hope of relief. He has given Cavs fans something to be excited about again. And most importantly of all, in 2013 Kyrie Irving has put Cleveland basketball back on the map. And he’s still only 21 years old. His future is still brighter than ever. For all these reasons and more, Kyrie Irving is my Cleveland Sportsman of the Year for 2013.

  • boomhauertjs

    The fan appreciation no-show is an automatic DQ from consideration.

  • mgbode

    plus, his comments to the media at the end of last season (basically outing our tanking strategy through injuries + some of the sullen attitudes, etc.).

    don’t get me wrong. Kyrie would be on my ballot for Cleveland Sports MVP of 2013. but, Sportsman is different and this is the first nominee where I disagree with the nomination.

  • The_Real_Shamrock
  • http://www.waitingfornextyear.com Andrew Schnitkey

    That’s interesting. There’s no way I would put Kyrie on the ballot for Cleveland Sports MVP, because the Cavs record has been so terrible. Like I said at the beginning, there’s no definition for what Sportsman of the Year means. I think elevating an entire city into the public conversation is worthy of being a Sportsman.

    Anyway, I knew people would be skeptical of this nomination. But for all the reasons I mentioned, I truly think he deserves it.

  • mgbode

    Exactly, there is no definition for what it should be. I was clarifying my parameters only. You obviously are welcome to your own.

    The reason that I would have put him as a MVP nominee (though definitely not winner) is that he was oftentimes the sole reason to watch (or enjoy watching) the Cavaliers last season. The play on the court is the one thing that I would focus on including some of his furious 4th quarter comebacks. So, despite the Cavs record being poor, I’d have considered him.

    With Sportsman, I want good play on the court/field/diamond, but also a ton of off field stuff. I guess I don’t get as much utility from the national things he has done compared to guys like Haden who seem to do more locally. Fair or not, it’s how I would vote is all. A good write-up regardless though.