When Kyrie Irving was chosen No. 1 in the 2011 NBA Draft, he knew his rookie year would be impacted by the league’s lockout. He just didn’t know how great that impact would be. After his close brush with unemployment, the Rookie of the Year front-runner can now resume the business of proving he belongs here.
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Kyrie Irving, with his Duke University education and 19-year-old optimism, might describe it as an unshakable faith. Something like an impenetrable belief in the inevitable conclusion that this is the life meant for him. He might say it’s an unflappable conviction in the face of reasonable doubt.
I’m just going to say that Kyrie Irving has a set of balls on him.
When Irving decided to forgo three years of college basketball eligibility and enter the 2011 NBA Draft, he knew the risks involved. When he was taken No. 1 overall by the Cleveland Cavaliers, those risks had not changed.
And so it was that shortly after the draft, when NBA owners locked out their players and the league’s worst labor dispute since 1999 reached critical mass – leaving Irving and his fellow rookies unable to sign contracts and facing uncertain futures – Irving never blinked. When the originally scheduled date of the 2011-12 season opener came and went, when the NBA players’ union threatened decertification and antitrust lawsuits, when even player-turned-owner Michael Jordan dug in his heels for a lengthy battle with his former colleagues, Irving never doubted.
“No, not at all,” says Irving without hesitation when asked if any part of him regretted going pro. “I knew there was going to be a lockout, but I wasn’t going to allow that to stop me from reaching my goals. I understand what’s at stake (for NBA players) and what we need to do, and I know everybody is working hard to get a deal done. When it gets done, I can get on the court and help my team win games.”
That was from my first interview with Irving in late-October. One month later, when the NBA season was on the brink of being wiped from existence, the players and owners settled on a new Collective Bargaining Agreement. Opening Day for a 66-game season was scheduled for Christmas.
Kyrie Irving could finally call himself a pro.
There is a certain professional cockiness I caught while speaking with Irving.
The kid can walk and talk the company line like an old veteran, and having been in the athletic-phenom spotlight since he reigned as the best high school point guard in the country at St. Patrick High School (Elizabeth, N.J.), he is seasoned in what to say – and what not to say – to the media. It’s the professionalism in him.
And then there’s the cocky part. Have you ever listened to a Common album and noticed that underneath the 25-cent words and dimpled charm that allows the hip-hop artist to land the lead role in a romantic comedy, lies the same bravado of the roughest rappers bred in the gutters of Anyhood, USA? That’s Kyrie Irving. Underneath the media-trained diplomacy and outward humility, lies the same fire-breathing ego that separates a Dwyane Wade or a Kobe Bryant from the nameless, faceless punch lines who co-star on their highlight reels.
“I feel like I belong,” says Irving. “Even though I haven’t played any games yet, from a social standpoint I feel like I’m a pro. People knowing who you are when you go places, there’s a lot more responsibility to be professional everywhere you go. But I don’t carry myself any differently. It’s just about being more aware.”
His basketball resume reflects that earned confidence.