With the turn of our calendars quickly approaching, now is as good a time as ever to review what was the Cleveland Cavaliers 2013 year before 2014 brings a fresh new start for everyone. Starting on December 27th, Right Down Euclid will be counting down some of the biggest moments that occurred both on and off the court in 2013 overall. That means we’ll be looking at the latter half of the 2012-13 campaign, this past offseason and what has happened thus far in the 2013-14 season. After every post, you, the fans, will be able to vote on which moment you deem as the most impactful in 2013 (or decide if we missed one of your favorite 2013 memories). Enjoy the final days of the year, and make sure to let us know what you think of our choices by voting at the end of every post.
Last February, Kyrie Irving made his first trip to All-Star weekend and was set to compete in three events–the three-point contest, the Rising Stars Challenge and the All-Star game itself. As a second-year player, yet to fully blossom as a star but known to be a gifted player, Irving wasn’t really expected to do anything out of the ordinary. If anything, his appearance was just a proper step in his developmental curve.
Watching from my friend’s futon at college, Irving’s appearance was more of an excuse to watch the Three-Point Shootout than anything else. Competing against the likes of Steve Novak (then of the New York Knicks), the Warriors’ Stephen Curry and the Hornets’ (now Pelicans) Ryan Anderson, Irving wasn’t expected to win, much less compete, despite the fact that his stats indicated that he was indeed a real threat to win. And win he did, beating Matt Bonner in the finals.
That, in itself, was nice. It raised Irving’s profile and he finished within two points off the all-time record. But considering it was a token–more fun than serious competition–it didn’t make anyone look at Irving as more than an uber-talented young point guard a few years away from superstardom.
And in the previous night, matched up with poor Brandon Knight in open space, he did this:
Quite possibly the best part of the crossover seen around the world isn’t the move itself – it’s how Irving calmly nails his jump shot, back pedals away and then grins devilishly from ear to ear. At the same time, he puts a single finger up to his mouth, asking the crowd to gently put the then Detroit Piston to sleep after he broke his ankles. It was cold and plain nasty, like Irving enjoyed humiliating Knight.
That crossover accelerated Kyrie Irving’s path to superstardom. Immediately, in the aftermath of the weekend, he became one of the topics of the basketball world. On Sunday, with no Rajon Rondo, he was the best point guard on the Eastern Conference roster in his second season and only 20 years old. In his debut, he scored 15 points and had four assists. Nothing special, but he didn’t appear fazed by the moment, playing alongside the NBA’s elite, not even old enough to drink legally yet. He looked like he belonged, far before he was expected to get there. Since then, he has been expected to be amongst the crop of NBA stars.
After that weekend, Irving hasn’t always looked fully elite. He still struggles on defense, although the numbers suggest he’s getting better. He was held scoreless by the Atlanta Hawks on Dec. 6, missed more games due to injury near the end of the 2012-13 campaign and, in his third season, fully has the weight of a city on his back. And despite his owner and city expecting a winner now in ridiculous anticipation of comparing LeBron James with Irving, Kyrie is being asked to do more than be expected when his best teammates are a center who no longer has the passion to play basketball, a shooting guard who may or may not even want to be his teammate and a power forward still trying to fill out his skillset. And that doesn’t even begin to mention the shot-jacking point guard that was signed to help lessen Irving’s scoring burden.
If voting for the 2014 All-Star game ended today, Irving would be the starting point guard for the Eastern Conference squad. Alongside him would be James, Dwyane Wade, Paul George and Carmelo Anthony. A year ago, I would have told you this was a lock and that he would rightly be in this spot come the 2014 All-Star game. But, partly due to his slow start, Irving might not be the best point guard in the East right now when you look at his resume. Washington’s John Wall is having his best season yet and probably has earned the right to be the starter ahead of Irving.
But back to that crossover for a moment: In that game, Irving scored 32 points playing for Shaquille O’Neal’s team, but his team lost. And it didn’t matter one bit. No one remembers the outcome of that game, who else played or who the MVP was. They remember Irving’s crossover. They remember Knight falling forward, flat on his face. They remember Irving calmly hitting his jumper. And they remember him backpedalling, putting that one finger up to his mouth and not-so subtly relishing his own greatness.
Irving might not be poised to be starting his first All-Star game at the age of 21 if it’s not for his crossover of Knight and his debut All-Star weekend as a whole. He might still be a largely unnoticed, but crazy talented, 21-year-old toiling away on the shores of Lake Erie.
“This weekend was just basically about earning everybody’s respect and getting a chance for people to see me that don’t usually see me,” he said at the time. “We’re not nationally televised. This weekend is to show my face to the fans and get everybody acclimated to my face in the league.”
And without question, Irving did that. By crossing over Brandon Knight, Kyrie Irving truly arrived as a star and became a player to watch. From then on, not so much.
Cleveland Cavaliers Year in Review Poll: