The Shot. The Fumble. The Drive.
The Number One Pick. The Chosen One. The Hope. The Rookie of the Year. The Potential.
The Growth. The Fans. The Love. The Excitement. The Finals.
The MVP. The King. The Best Player in the World.
The Anger. The Hate. The Talents in South Beach. The Burned Jerseys. The Worst Record in the Conference.
The story of Kyrie Irving and the Cleveland Cavaliers can’t be told without the story of LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers. Even two-and-a-half years after LeBron took his talents to the Miami Heat, his shadow still looms large above Cleveland sports. In just seven years with his home-state team, LeBron left the Cavaliers as the franchise leader in points, points per game, minutes played, field goals made, free throws made, and steals. He is the franchise’s only ever MVP (he won it twice with them) and their most decorated All Star (six times). He led them to their first ever NBA Finals in 2007, and the best record in the league in 2009 and 2010. He made the previously unknown franchise an international brand. He’s the greatest they ever had.
And then – as seen on national TV – he left them.
The team plummeted on the court without him. The entire city’s economy suffered without him. They were back to an all-too familiar place, but this time, the failure left an even more bitter aftertaste. For their efforts, as a result of their poor record, they ended up winning the draft lottery the following summer.
The No. 1 Pick.
Despite being a big-time high school star, injuries limited Kyrie Irving to just 11 college games with Duke University before he declared for the NBA draft. In what was perceived as a weak draft year, those 11 games and his previous reputation were enough for the Cavaliers to pit their future on his young shoulders.
The Rookie Of The Year. The New Leader. The Most Clutch.
Kyrie Irving is no LeBron James. He doesn’t have LeBron’s athleticism or his worldwide marketability. He has no fancy nickname that makes him sound regal or predestined. He isn’t a regular feature on the weekly top 10 dunks list. Amongst other great point guards of his time, he doesn’t have the speed of Derrick Rose, the vision of Chris Paul, the passing acumen of Rajon Rondo, the shooting stroke of Steve Nash, or the athleticism of Russell Westbrook.
But he has a little of them all in him. He’s a fantastic shooter, a high-scorer, a great passer of the ball, a responsible leader, and has enough speed to leave most competing players behind him. He is a hybrid of all the great point guards in the league. According to 82games.com, he was the NBA’s most ‘clutch’ player in his rookie season (clutch determined by fourth quarter or overtime situations, less than five minutes left, and neither team ahead by more than five points). Thirty seven games into the new season, he has taken over close games more often than any other superstar player (Durant, Anthony, LeBron, Wade, Kobe included) and has hit more than his share of game-deciding shots.
And, he is still not 21.
Despite his Cavaliers still struggling in the bottom rungs of the East, Irving was deservedly named to his first All-Star Game slated for this weekend. With an injury to Rajon Rondo, it is possible that Irving may even get the starting nod. He has jumped his scoring average to 24 a game this season and improved in nearly every category across the board. He isn’t just a future prospect anymore; he’s a present superstar.
In a city cursed by sporting tragedies both on and off the field, Irving’s rise is a refreshing breath of fresh air. But Cleveland has seen this before. LeBron came with far more hype, but his ascent from a No. 1 pick to Rookie of the Year to All-Star to Superstar in Cleveland mirrors Irving’s. As Irving develops into a great player in his own right, he will see a clearly separate legacy from the Cavalier legend before him. If he stays with the team, he could see his name replacing the great records set by LeBron in the past decade. If he stays with the team, he could be their saviour that they never had in LeBron.
The Future. The Love. The Superstar. The New Hope.