Kyrie Irving shouldn’t still be this enjoyable. Everything was set up for us to turn on him, quicker than he turns on some supersleek All-Defense forward.
He went to Duke, to start, if barely. Spun under two of the NBA’s top Twitter targets in Byron Scott and Mike Brown for a few years, hardly moved a needle in Cleveland, then was handed the ability to park in LeBron James’ garage. Just because James had some narrative to work out.
Sometimes, he still doesn’t play defense. Sometimes the guy actually gets lost on that end – not indifferent to the goings-on, but of an active mind and actually lost – in ways that would leave you wondering who the rookie was. If that beard wasn’t so prominent. If that attitude hadn’t leveled something far short of cocksure, insuring that it charmed, even during that part of the year where he talked about whatever the hell he talked about with the Earth being flat.
In a culture that tires of its characters by the end of the commercial, Irving shines on. Even Irving’s own Uncle Drew bits were only entertaining once Kyrie could play himself. About to head into his third NBA Finals after a three-legged line of seasons that featured Irving on national television from October through June ceaseless times, the league and its partners have never been more excited to introduce these Cavs – something far more than just LeBron James – back into ABC’s lives again.
James couldn’t do that on his own. Not the solo-run championships, that may have happened eventually, but in drawing national eyes and excitement toward his Supreme Being work in Cleveland. The crap, one-sided settings didn’t do much for ratings, but the interest in the Cavs outside Ohio screams in a way that was not around in 2007, during LeBron’s move to drag an otherwise-awful Cavaliers team to one of history’s least-loved Finals.
LeBron has a lot to do with that, he’s grown wise in ways that draw in the eyes, but Irving’s presence does so much for a fan’s interest in warming to these Cavs yet again, despite the team’s ubiquity.
There’s a willingness to talk about him that his (still stellar) averages of 25.2 points and 5.8 assists don’t fully serve. Irving shares a similar sense with Earl Monroe, in that regard, fawned over by observers in ways that even the less humorless types weren’t able to completely find fault in. The type of player even sportswriters walk slow through the airport to take in, minding that flickering TV full of high-def Kyrie highlights sparkling above that chicken finger and lager factory.
Isiah Thomas didn’t share the same relationship with on-record outsiders, shamed from several directions by very-1980s fears about his size or hardship status, in ways later forgotten because it became absolutely just fine to dislike Isiah Thomas as a player as his career moved along. Respect the man, no doubt – perhaps more than anyone else in the league. Root for the guy? Hell no – it wasn’t all Bill Laimbeer, on those Pistons.
Irving’s more than just the Isiah you can love, though, he’s the addition of Joe Dumars as well. Not just the guy that dragged those championship Pistons around while going off glass, but the one that shrugged in spite of his age and fired 7.1 (seven point one!) three-pointers per 36 minutes at age 35 in his final season, hitting 40 percent of his looks.
So he’s the combination of the two-time title-winning Detroit Piston backcourt, famously mixed with a bit of Rod Strickland as well. Strickland, that eventual journeyman and peerless artist around the goal. Chided unmercifully by writers at the time for his behind-the-head pass during a season-ending playoff game in 1990, cackled at when his pregame dietary habits led to some disgusting on-court viewing.
Kyrie Irving gets none of that. At least not by anyone you’re reading. Same guy – with the thing, about the Earth.
In a year moved by the mostly superhuman, watching Kyrie Irving play is a delight unlike any other in the league. The agreeable way in which those four lurching quadrants of his make their way toward the rim (or glass) is intoxicating in real-time or slowed viewing. Whereas Russell Westbrook, Kobe Bryant and James Harden often work their best with “you had to be there” caveats, sweating through the pressure and creating atmosphere over outright moments, Irving brings something else.
A completely capable scoring machine, likely unmatched in HORSE, no doubt untouched behind the scenes in the hidden-from-view Cavalier one-on-one bouts. That’s the joyous image Irving reminds of at first thought, not of an interloper or too-lucky, lacking star. It may take Dwyane Wade years for us to recall him as he’d probably prefer, as the bounder who was able to do it all in leading the Heat to a 2006 title. Kevin Love, comparatively, is just starting to get his due after three very full seasons spent in a personalized sort of wilderness.
Kyrie Irving just won from the start. His stylized games is so weighty at this point, not liking his game is as perverse as not liking the sport itself.
Chatter, even in the too-long days before Game 1 of the Finals, wants to know if Cleveland will win. If the team that was barely briefed on its way to the Finals can down a Golden State team we’ve repeatedly been told is playing at a historically-great rate. If the defending champs can make it out of the first week of June. Because Warriors.
The Cavaliers are underdogs in Las Vegas, and while they may tire of that dark horse status, that doesn’t mean the Cavs aren’t the favorite. Kyrie Irving, with his game forever aggressively probing for new ways to delight us, is your favorite reason why.
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