Striving For (A Particular Kind Of) Greatness

The final battle between Bhima & Duryodhana

For a moment, I beg of you to try and envision yourself as Kyrie Irving, in several stages of his life[1]. You’ve got perhaps the best handles in the history of basketball, routinely curling camels through needles’ eyes for fun as you lampoon your beguiled opponent before an adoring crowd, which screams at you to end the procession and join your only true love, the basket, in eternal harmony. They recognize you from Sprite commercials; you recognize them from the hordes of people shielding their eyes, but peeking through, as you did this in your youth to many nameless foes in the neighborhood, on schoolyard courts and in parks near and far.

One minute, it’s 2016, and you’ve hit The Shot™, solidifying your immortality, both in the annals of professional basketball and to Clevelanders everywhere. The next minute, it’s 2017, and you’re requesting a trade out of the city that drafted you, that crafted you, that created a media megalith despite its decidedly Middle America setting. If the preceding period is any indication, twelve months is enough to change anything, least of all the presumption that a team owns an entire conference because of one man. You are not that man, but you strive to be. And now, you need to be.

Kyrie Irving isn’t reliant upon LeBron James for his personal success; even as a nascent 19-year-old entering the league as the first overall draft pick in 2011 following a single, injury-riddled season under Mike Krzyzewski at Duke, the promise was apparent. Do your job, first and foremost, but have fun doing it, and very apparently look like you’re having fun: this was Irving’s modus operandi for his first three years in the league…

…during which the Cavaliers won a total of 78 games. Yes, Irving averaged 20.7 points, 5.8 assists and 3.7 rebounds for his first three years in the league. Yes, the objective of the Cavaliers post-Decision was specifically to create a roster of young, viable players in order to draw a star, which has become a common theme among rubbish teams not named the Knicks these days[2].

But also: Irving’s true shooting percentage went from 54.8% to 57.2%. His usage rate is roughly the same as it was in a pre-LeBron world. He’s literally playing alongside the greatest basketball player alive, the best of his generation and one of the two best players in history, taking everything into account.

Then again, he and Kevin Love shoulder the blame for Cavs losses. That blame can be inordinate, at times; even The King makes mistakes, though we, the mostly objective basketball-watching populace, are loathe to admit it. It’s easier to blame problems on younger people; they have more time to fix them, in theory[3].

It could be that Kyrie Irving’s desire to move is a retaliation to the way he has been treated in Cleveland, even if not outside of it: Irving is a bona fide star, the kind of player who can single-handedly change a franchise, and may very well would have, had LeBron not returned to fulfill his own promise. Irving, like James, is a top draft pick; Irving, like James, seems to want to leave a legacy of something he built, an entire house instead of the lake house-ferry he’d uncomfortably assembled with Dion Waiters once upon a time of James’ re-introduction.

It seems that Irving is on to greener – maybe greyer, actually – pastures, and, as Jason Concepcion pointed out, fans should commend him as much as they chided Kevin Durant last Independence Day. If league parity is what we want, Irving’s exit should address at least some part of it, if he’s smart about it. Then again, making mistakes at 25 is something I imagine many of us have done, sometimes to extreme lengths. If Irving now believes he is the player many thought, the culmination of promises and expert tutelage, there is no reason[4] not to let him strive for his own greatness.

*     *     *

[1] Firstly, congratulations! You’re a native Australian; second, you went to Duke; thirdly, and most regrettably for most of you, you grew up in New Jersey.

[2] Which, while we’re here: Kyrie, you don’t want no part of the Knicks. Do not force your way to this rancid carnival.

[3] If the problems are as insurmountably imposing as LeBron’s frame, or the tax code, then: all the more luck to you, me, all of us – young person, in each of our own minds.

[4] Other than, you know, the salary cap and potential returns, cc: Dan Gilbert.


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