When LeBron James hyped up “The Decision” through ESPN and publicly declared his intentions to play for the Miami Heat, not many believed his original team, the Cavs would recuperate. The team in Cleveland was a one-man show, with LeBron often the leader in assists, points, steals and rebounds. He was the centerpiece to this otherwise ridiculed team.
Carrying the Cavs on his back to the playoffs year in, year out was his job while the rest were just paid to fill the space on the floor – at least that is what it looked like to me. Despite being the “showtime” of the Ohioan franchise, LeBron decided enough was enough and shipped docks to Miami Heat.
Questions arose if Chris Grant, the newly appointed general manager in 2010, would ever find a player to substitute LeBron. Many gave up on Cleveland; attendances at games were pathetically low during the first LeBronless season at the Quicken Loans Arena. The revenue from the Arena was so poor that the franchise often rented it out to rock bands just to make enough money to survive. Such was the effect King James had on Cleveland. Season 1 after LeBron’s departure saw the Cavs break all the wrong records: longest losing streak in American professional sports history with 26 and a drop of 47 wins which was a new NBA record. Their record in 2010-11 was an abysmal 19 wins to 63 losses.
In the draft lottery for the ’11-’12 season, the Cavs were one of the favorites to win the number 1 pick, especially considering their offseason trades to acquire considerable odds in their favor. As expected, they won the lottery and with that, had the chance to sign the best prospect out of the 2011 draft class.
Meanwhile, Kyrie Irving was battling injuries during his first year at Duke University. Born in Melbourne, Australia, Irving luckily held no “hometown” connection with any of the franchises. He played 11 games the entire season, averaging 17.5 PPG, 4.3 APG and 1.5 SPG. However, his draft stock skyrocketed during the NCAA tournament where he put up magical performances. One of them was in the defeat against Arizona where, despite his team being lack-luster, Irving played a good game. After Duke’s elimination, Irving declared his intent for the 2011 draft, forgoing three more years of eligibility.
Through some great pre-draft workouts and media hype, Irving was selected as the numero uno pick in the 2011 draft by Chris Grant and the Cleveland Cavaliers. He had huge shoes to fill, those of the departed LeBron Raymonne James. Being calm and composed, he said he wished to be the only Kyrie Irving, not a second LeBron James and was really excited to be playing in the city of Cleveland.
Yet, not many of the pundits predicted this. Why would they? Irving had no assistance in a very poorly built Cavs team. His coach was new, the management just took office two months ago and the fans were not so enthusiastic. While the city of Cleveland lost hope in their beloved franchise, a 6 feet 3 inches point guard dreamed to prove them wrong.
The lockout in the beginning of the season diverted attention from Kyrie and the Cavs. Not many were so apprehensive that a season would actually take place. With many of the players refusing to sign contracts, it was evident that the NBA was stuck in a limbo. However, the issues were soon resolved and a shortened season was proposed. And then began the 2011-12 season and the rise of the Kyrie Irving era in Cleveland.
As clocks ticked, excitement grew in the NBA. The season was keenly awaited by the fans for several reasons – firstly, critics wanted to see if LeBron can win that elusive NBA title while others wondered how the Mavs would defend their title or at least put up a fight after losing Tyson Chandler in the offseason. The Knicks, where Chandler went, were strong contenders as well, with their attack being termed one of the most formidable in the league. Eastern Conference was competitive than ever before with the Bulls, Knicks, Heat, Celtics, Hawks and Pacers in contention for a chance to face the Thunder or the Spurs from the West (despite being a stronger conference for years, had only two clear-cut favorites). Media fever surrounded Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, with many doubting the duo can’t play together. On the other hand, Tim Duncan, struggling to stay fit, was dubbed to be playing in his final season as a Spur. Chris Paul and the Clippers too grabbed the headlines as there was a new stronghold emerging from the city of Los Angeles. All this was just proving beneficial to Cleveland’s new main man, Kyrie Irving.
Just as the whole NBA contingent focused on more attractive stories, Kyrie had numerous things working in his favor. The Cavs, who had two first round picks in Irving’s draft, would basically be building a dynasty thanks to James and other trades. They gathered a host of first and second round picks till 2015. Therefore, the team would have a completely new look by the time they are contenders in the 2013-2014 season. This could very well turn Kyrie Irving into the next generation superstar.
Another domain which helped Irving was the fervor surrounding the association between Cleveland and LeBron James. Now, nobody is going to have loyal expectations in Kyrie since he didn’t belong to the state of Ohio, nor was he a much acclaimed phenom like LeBron was. To make it even better, the point guard from Melbourne, Australia would get a lot of ball handling which could generate sensational plays out of his caliber. Yes, Irving only had to show up to the court and make the best out of his advantages. And in the season that followed, he very well did.
Irving won the Rookie of the Year, starred in the All-Star weekend and hit a dozen game winners in 2012. His efficiency was second to none while his flexibility on the court produced positive results from his team mates. Antawn Jamison, J.J.Hickson and Omri Cassipi were now recording close to career high numbers while Tristan Thompson, the number 4 pick from the ’11 draft class, was voted into the NBA All-Rookie Second Team. Irving was unanimously included in the NBA All-Rookie First Team. At the end of the regular season, the Cavs won 21 games and lost 45, in deep contrast to their laughable 19-63 record in the longer 2010-’11 season. Irving finished with stats of 18.5 PPG, .469 FG%, 5.4 APG and 1.1 SPG – record numbers since Chris Paul’s rookie year (although Paul had a way better supporting cast than Irving).
For the new season, the festivity looming around Kyrie Irving is sky high. The city has its newfound hero. Grant, the GM, has vowed to build the team around this budding star. If all works out well, Andrew Bynum could be featuring in the “old school wine and gold” Cavs uniforms, if the Dwight Howard deal does go through. Irrespective of that, the team can afford to risk playing a young and inspired team in the form of Tyler Zeller, Tristan Thompson, Dion Waiters, Omri Cassipi and our very own, Kyrie Irving. Together, these youngsters could transform this dying franchise into Conference winners.
It is confirmed: Cleveland has founds its new franchised face, Kyrie Irving. Will he be the next LeBron? Maybe not as his size isn’t as athletically freaky as LeBron’s. But this young man, wearing the number 2 for the Cleveland Cavaliers, sure will light up the NBA and more importantly, the jinxed city of Cleveland.
And for every NBA fan reading this, you have gained yourself a treat to watch Kyrie Irving.