He came, he saw, he left would-be defenders flailing about the floor like one of Ne-Yo’s backup dancers. Cleveland Cavaliers point guard Kyrie Irving arrived upon Houston to join the NBA’s best and showed, instantly, that he belonged in the conversation.
Irving may be unassuming. In a land where pyrotechnics and bass-thumping beats are met with strobe lights and giant video screens, Irving, a slow jam rhythm and blues fan, greets the mid-ovation crowd with a two-handed waive. While the media hordes follow him from stand to stand asking him the same question which had been lobbed to those before him, he offers dry, straight-to-the-point response — when asked about his strategy for the three-point contest, he offered “to make shots.”
And make shots he did.
For all of the talk regarding Irving’s fatigue leading some to question whether or not he should participate in all of the events he had scheduled to during a weekend where the rest of the league is unwinding both physically and mentally, the 20-year-old Irving appeared to be in no hurry to squander the opportunity to play with the best the league has to offer. Whether he was logging all-too-many minutes in the Rising Stars competition and providing what may very well be the highlight of the weekend, or surprising the world by winning the three-point shootout despite doing most of his in-game damage while on the move, Irving showed the rest of the league’s fans what Clevelanders have been fortunate enough to have already known for some time — this kid, at his ripe young age, is already in must-watch territory.
While Eastern Conference “starter” Chris Bosh was on the laugh-inducing end of two separate nut-megging incidents at the hands of Western Conference point guards, it was Irving who stepped on to the All-Star stage mid-way through the first quarter and immediately meshed. His first All-Star statistic was a hard-fought rebound. He would have logged a quick assist after crossing up San Antonio’s Tony Parker had Miami’s LeBron James not missed a three-point opportunity. From there, Irving dazzled with an array of behind-the-back dribbles, spin moves, trap-splitting slashes and a two-handed dunk en route to a modest line of 15 points, three rebounds and four assists.
TNT commentator Reggie Miller dubbed this past weekend as Irving’s “coming out party.” His college Chris Webber, typically a bit more biased towards big men, listed the 6-foot-3-inch Irving among his three best players for the first half of the actual All-Star game. Certainly, the NBA League Pass aficionados and hard-core NBA fans have already seen Irving do work. But given that the Cavaliers have been featured on nary a nationally televised contest since Irving’s arrival, this weekend was — much to Cleveland’s chagrin — Irving’s arrival. Sure, we have all seen the game-winners. We’ve seen the drives. The spins. The mid-air, off-glass leather acrobatics that allows the ball to splash through the net from seemingly impossible angles. The dagger threes. They have all been front and center in our own little intimate venue — our Peabodys or Beachland ballroom — that make these sort of events ours.
After this weekend, Cleveland will officially have to share Irving’s work. There will be more commercials, more rumor and speculation, and more halftime discourse with 2 Chainz. This region will still reap the benefits. As Miller stated before the All-Star game, Irving undoubtedly gives Cavalier fans a reason to smile. The national attention and relevance will soon follow. LeBron James was a national spectacle from the day he waltzed on to the court and dropped 25 points, nine assists, six rebounds and four steals on the Sacramento Kings. Irving’s arrival took a bit more time — and knowing how Cleveland fans are, and the lessons that have been learned, this may not have necessarily been a bad thing.
There are other aspects that will allow Cleveland to keep their reverence and hagiography at bay. Unlike James, Irving is not a chiseled God-like specimen who can accomplish physical feats that were once only executed in video games. There’s also the overriding (or underlying) feeling of lovers scorned. We saw it the second that Irving used the word “disinterested” in a recent loss to the Detroit Pistons — hands were verbally thrown into the air as if to signal that we weren’t as close to committing a foul as the impending whistle would insinuate. The egg-shell walk is a tedious one, and it will be times like this past weekend that will suck us all in for more. After all, there’s something inherently exciting about watching an electrifying player do things with a basketball that had previously only been seen in And 1 mixtapes and Harlem Globetrotter highlights and then be able to call him ours.
After a bevy of pictures with friends and coaches and local rap stars and team owners, Irving sat at a table with his three-point championship trophy in front of him and declared that all of his accomplishments, all of his awards — All-Star weekend or not — would be dedicated to the Cleveland Cavaliers. The MVP of the All-Star game, seemingly the only award Irving did not win this past weekend, went to Chris Paul, a player to whom Irving continues to be compared. As expected, Irving left Houston with a bit of exhaustion — such is the case when one is forced to endure as many appearances off of the court as on.
A quick-study just 80-plus games into his NBA career, Irving handles each challenge with grace, whether it’s during the field of play or hunched over on a stool, enduring questions about his pastimes and preferences. The stages keep getting bigger, the expectations larger, the music louder and the lights brighter.But Kyrie isn’t one for strobes and club-thumping rap and trance. He prefers Springfield, Ohio’s John Legend, conveniently the same man who sang the National Anthem before the Sunday night festivities. Like 2 Chainz, he’s different.
The coming out party happened. Everyone was invited. How Clevelanders choose to conduct themselves while amidst the congregation from this point forward is up to them. Praise Irving if you wish, keep your distance if you so choose. In the meantime, Irving will just continue to do what he does best, leaving a trail of broken ankles and agape jaws in his wake.
He’ll make shots.
(AP Photo/Eric Gay)