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Dec 9, 2012 8:58pm
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INDEPENDENCE, Ohio—Once Kyrie Irving finished cracking jokes, thanking
Clevelands fans, his teammates and coaches, he looked down from the podium at
the person who promised this would happen. Torrey Smith Youth Jersey . He was the NBAs
Rookie of the Year. “This award is for us,” Irving said to his father, Dred, who
raised his son after his wife, Elizabeth, died 15 years ago. “Were bringing it
back home and were going to put it right on the mantle and were going to put
some flashing lights on it so it shines throughout the whole entire house.” This
season, Irving shined brightest. The 20-year-old ran away in voting by a
nationwide media panel that could have handed in ballots with two months left in
the season. There was really no other choice. Irving received 117 of 120
possible first-place votes from writers and broadcasters and finished with 592
points, more than three times as many as Minnesotas Ricky Rubio (170), who
finished second despite missing most of the season with a knee injury. Denvers
Kenneth Faried (129) was a distant third. Faried, San Antonios Kawhi Leonard and
New Yorks Iman Shumpert received the other first-place votes, stopping Irving
from joining Blake Griffin (2011), David Robinson (1990) and Ralph Sampson
(1984) as the only players to win the award unanimously. Irving played beyond
his years and above everyones expectations—including his own—this season
when he routinely took over games in the fourth quarter and renewed the hopes of
a Cleveland franchise still putting together the pieces after LeBron James left
as a free agent two summers ago. Irving always felt the award was within his
reach. “It was a goal of mine,” Irving said. “I kept it on the back burner. I
knew as long as we won games and we beat great teams that it was going to come.”
The first pick in last years draft, Irving led all rookies—and the Cavs—in
scoring with 18.5 points per game. He also led first-year players in field-goal
percentage (46.8), was second in assists (5.4) and became one of just six
rookies in league history to average at least 18 points and five assists.
However, it was the other elements of his game—a nasty crossover dribble, a
fearless desire to get to the basket, and a clutch, cold-blooded instinct in the
fourth quarter—that separated him from the others. Cavs coach Byron Scott
knew Irving was special long before he made his pro debut. “The day we brought
him in for his individual workout before the draft, I thought he was definitely
the best player that we had,” Scott said. Still, Irvings first season, delayed
because of the leagues labour lockout, began with some doubting whether he was
deserving of the top pick or if Cleveland had made a mistake. Irving had played
in just 11 games at Duke because of a toe injury. It didnt take him long for him
to show the Cavs made a perfect choice. “When they drafted me, there were a lot
of questions about my toe and everything, would he live up to the hype or
whatever,” he said. “I didnt pay any attention to all that, just being in these
closed doors helped me have a vision and be focused every single day. I wasnt
the most heralded No. 1 pick. I had my own goals and I had my own team goals.”
Irving made spectacular moves and game-winning shots and earned MVP honours at
the Rising Stars game during All-Star weekend in Orlando. But when asked what
moment stood above all the others in a magical first season, Irving had a
surprise answer. It came, of all places, in a huddle during a timeout at
Indianapolis. With 4.4 seconds left and the Cavaliers tied 84-84 with the
Pacers, Scott, who has formed a tight bond with his young star point guard, drew
up a play for Irving to take the last shot even though he was playing just his
third game as a pro. “I was surprised,” Irving said. “We kind of knew each
other. I didnt really know the bald-headed man. I just knew that when he told me
it was a high screen and roll, I was like, Im going to do my best to get to the
basket.” Irvings left-handed layup rolled out, and the Cavs lost in overtime.
But Irving knew that from that moment on that the Cavaliers were his team and
that Scott expected him to lead them. “Just him having that confidence in me was
a stepping stone for me,” he said. “It was a learning experience, and I needed
it.” A month later in Boston, with his father sitting courtside, Irving made up
for the miss at Indiana. With the Cavs down by one, Irving, ignoring his failure
in the previous situation, drove to the basket, split two defenders and flipped
in a left-handed layup to beat the Celtics. Irving arrived with none of the
superstar trappings. There was no entourage or multimillion dollar shoe
contract, no cameras chronicling his every move. He often tossed the praise on
others and minimized his role in victories. “One of his biggest attributes—
you can ask all of his teammates—hes willing to give up a little bit of
himself for the greater good of the team,” said general manager Chris Grant.
“Thats truly what makes great leaders. Thats what makes great people and great
players.” Irving appears to be the major piece the Cavs can build around, and
they plan to get him some help next month with three of the top 34 picks in the
draft. “Hes great and the way he carries himself is really remarkable,” said
Cavs owner Dan Gilbert, who opened his downtown casino Monday night. “Hes 20
years old. He cant have a drink legally or come into our casino but he can do
everything else.” Irving, too, is excited about the future in Cleveland. “I know
what were building here is something special,” he said, “and Im here for the
long haul.” Anquan Boldin Jersey . —Luis Mendoza felt
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