Irving’s disinterest piques that of Cavalier fans

20130123-102356.jpgA strange thing happened this past weekend: Cavaliers point guard Kyrie Irving, who previously could do no wrong, irked a few fans when he candidly admitted that he was agitated and became disinterested midway through a basketball game. A game wherein the All-Star was benched for the entire fourth quarter — alongside the rest of the team’s starting unit — while his team would ultimately reside on the embarrassing side of the win-loss ledger.

Using his considerably short career as a barometer, the night was nine kinds of bizarre. Irving had one field goal attempt in the second half. His typically assertive and kid-in-a-candy-store body language seemingly transformed into pouting. It was not quite Game 5, but Irving went from leader to lackey in the matter of 48 game minutes. He owned the loss, claiming responsibility, but his quote — “My energy wasn’t there; it was there in the first quarter, then the second and third I was disinterested …” — rang louder than any game-winning bell the second-year marvel has rung.

A vocal cabal of fans took to Twitter to call Irving some form of LeBron James Redux, a superstar basketball player who was beginning to distance himself from underlings and commoners. Irving would not blame officials on Friday evening, but he would not offer comments when asked if his bitterness was rooted in shoddy play of his teammates. Rumors of missed appearances, forced firings, and an entourage growing by the minute all began to bubble. The shy star was, after this night, a demanding diva. Nice things could not be had.

Immediately following his timeline-shaking statements, Irving offered up that not only can said disinterest not happen — it wouldn’t happen. Byron Scott appreciated Irving’s honesty and candor. He found no reason to have to have a one-on-one with his point guard, trusting that he would show resiliency and — in the end — be Kyrie. But the bridges…were they burnt? Singed? Placed in Instagram and given a filter that made them look decrepit and bedraggled?

The answer, at least in the short term, was an emphatic ‘no.’

Crossover drives turned into teardrop floaters, swooping spin moves resulting in high-glass theatrics and immensely clutch three-point field goals. My God, those threes. Irving single-handedly outscored the Oklahoma City Thunder — a team which Byron Scott would later call the best in the game — 7-2 in the final few minutes, outdualing both Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook. A capacity crowd was rejuvenated. What was forecasted to be a bloodbath turned into another win for the Wine and Gold all thanks to Irving.

But one look at his body lauguage following the win and by no means did the 20-year old look like he had just won an emotionally charged contest. Perhaps this was physical exhaustion mixed with the inherent go-through-the-motions rub that comes with addressing the media following a game, but Irving spoke for just a handful of minutes before the horde was kindly urged to wrap things up — he spoke softly, repeating lines which were shared before the game — “It has to come from within,” he would say regarding the need to overcome whatever it was that bothered him so much in Detroit. Is this some new-found “strictly business” version of the kid who was all smiles a week ago after dropping a game-winning three in Toronto? His protective mask has long been removed, but is the emotional armor appliation just getting started? James reportedly left because the Cavaliers could not surround him with enough talent; if Irving is already feeling as if he’s on an island, what does this mean for the future?

These questions — as rhetorical as they may seem — appear to be rooted in the psyche of Cleveland fans who have been disappointed all too often. Irving cannot post a picture of himself online without comments of his departure littering the feed within minutes. He’s from New Jersey after all. Rather than embracing and enjoying, some opt for worry and woe.

Not helping matters is the two-year crusade by some members of the media — and even the team — to ensure the fan base that Irving is “different,” as in he won’t hold a city hostage and then embarrass them on national television. But it is this dichotomy, the one that refreshes, that also leads to self-doubt and the penchant to forecast disaster. The headlines and ledes that followed the Cavaliers’ upset of the Thunder largely reflected Irving being reinvigorated, engaged and — once again — interested in playing the game of basketball. He stepped up and did what leaders do by carrying his teammates and willing all 14 of them to victory, even if he did have to do it essentially by himself1. The aggression, the characteristic which trickles down to his teammates like a feeding tube, was back — and so were the fans.

While the Cavs were in the midst of closing out the Thunder, veteran big man Marrese Speights grabbed Irving by the shoulders, gave him a friendly shake — the visual was very much of a giant and a dwarf — while iterating that the game was “his.” With five seconds remaining and his team about to inbound the ball, Irving gathered his four teammates at center court in a moment of leadership, engaging and quickly describing what was to ensue that would allow the clock to expire and confetti to fall.

The thin ice that accompanies an emotional fan base can provide dangerous grounds on which to walk. One 33-point outing against the Thunder does not cement his stance as the best point guard in the league just as much as a 4-for-10 shooting night is not indicative of his future beyond a rookie contract. In the end, Irving is a 20-year old kid who just happens to be among the best basketball players in the world. His handles job draws, his jumper raises arms. He’s an old soul who just happens to be honest to a fault. But most importantly, he’s a human being who — despite expectations — is not always at the top of his game.

Irving has promised that he will continue to stay engaged, interested and positive. Regardless of his word and what may come of it over time, we can’t expect him to carry out these traits if we don’t do the same.

(Image: Scott Sargent/WFNY)

  1. This is not to be remiss of Marrese Speights, CJ Miles and Tristan Thompson who were all integral in the victory []

  • nobody

    I wonder if the Cavs loss Friday had anything to do with looking ahead to OKC…

  • Hats off to Scott for noting that the narrative of “Kyrie isn’t LeBron” has been pushed upon the fan base by the team and some of the media, almost in an attempt to hide that Irving has his own ego, and that he will still occasionally make mistakes and put his foot in his mouth.

    Irving is not the superhumanly-humble Kevin Durant, even as he also avoids the impossible selfishness of the Allen Iverson era. Because Irving came after Durant and the similarly milquetoast Derrick Rose, people have cast Irving in that same light. Kyrie Irving is not a humble player, and he has a lot more Kobe in his personality than he does Durant. He’s also not nearly as interested in creating a “family” in his teammates the way LeBron is. Irving is his own man, and it is important that the team and the media do a better job of painting an accurate – if flattering – portrait of him.

  • Harv 21

    I’ve been wondering this too, Scott. Two things about the Detroit mental check-out struck me:

    – It came right after him getting all this national attention within a few days: player of the week, game-winning shot, all-star game selection. He is 20, and while he doesn’t have LeBron-level off-court distractions some ups and downs probably have to be expected. Who knows if he was out late partying, etc. In some ways I see him as a less-ebullient court presence and maybe even less professional on the court than LeBron at that age. He can float for long periods and has to be reminded to take over. LeBron did kind of spoil us; his night to night consistency and effort was exceptional at age 20.

    – in a post-game tv interview as he was leaving the court after Speights’s second game Kyrie made a point to thank the FO for getting him help. That moment looked unscripted. I heard that and thought: this kid will not wait indefinitely to decide his next move. At some point soon Grant better start turning future assets into real players or we’re heading down a painfully familiar road.

  • The_Real_Shamrock

    The Cavaliers always seem to struggle against Detroit for some reason especially when the game is away. But as to your second point I’ve been saying Grant needed to step up and make a deal to help this team. I give him credit for being able to take advantage of Memphis who felt they needed to make a deal. This was a great “glue” type trade where it addressed multiple areas but this team still needs another dynamic scoring star to pair with Irving. I like how the young team is developing but I see more role players then stars. One more bona fide scoring threat to pair with Irving then role players like Waiters, Thompson, Zeller, Speights, Varejao and Miles and you could have something.

  • mgbode

    You know, I’m not worried about what may or may not happen years from now. I’m going to sit back and enjoy the ride. I see no reason to let LeBron leaving rob me of that enjoyment for our new star.

    How many teams get to watch 2 of their generations best stars play for their team? Not many. Enjoy Kyrie.

  • deesh

    Maybe Kyrie was just having a bad day?

  • Jaker

    Can’t we just enjoy this? We just beat the Thunder, THE OKC THUNDER, the best team in the NBA, in what was epic fashion by our young SuperStar. It was the most fun ive had watching a game since Baron’s alley oop to beat the Heat, and that was the best since the LeBron era. Can’t we just enjoy all of this? This is so much fun watching him, and id like to enjoy it some more. If he leaves one day, then that will suck but we will deal with it, like we always do. But for now, he’s a member of the Cleveland Cavaliers, and a pretty great one at that.

    Lets hope Gilbert and Grant learned from the LeBron experience and do what they can do to build a Champion, which would likely start with keeping this kid. The question shouldn’t be will Kyrie leave, it should be ‘do we trust Gilbert to get it done’?

  • FearTheRoo

    Honestly it was a game in Detroit. A team worse than the Cavs and fanbase that had all of 15 people in the stands. I don’t blame him for being disinterested.

  • Jaker

    Where are you getting this? How can we possibly know what Irving, Kobe, Durant, Rose and LeBron are “actually” like when the cameras are off? Granted, we know first hand about LeBron, and Kobe has been around the block a few times, but do we actually believe that we know exactly what these guys are thinking? Maybe LeBron is actually sorry and wants to return. Maybe Kobe is a better teammate than people report. Maybe Kyrie ‘ is’ humble like Durant. We can’t just assume these things about these SuperStars

    “Kyrie Irving is not a humble player, and he has a lot more Kobe in his personality than he does Durant.” How the hell do you know that?

  • Yeah we need to just enjoy it. Why worry that Kyrie might leave? Gimmie a break, it would be 1/10th the detonation LeBron left, and we’re still standing. We’ve seen the worst of the pro-athlete/fan marriage. Nothing is certain. he MIGHT leave. He might blow out both his ACLs next year and join Brandon Roy in woulda/shoulda/coulda heaven. He might become the greatest basketball player of all time and the Cavs still never win a championship. This is nothing new. LeBron was different and that entire anxiety-ridden 7 years was something the city had never dealt with. I’m just going to enjoy the current Cavs to whatever end. I enjoyed the hell out of those Mike Fratello squads. The teams that I can’t enjoy are the ones that don’t work hard/leave it all on the court.

  • Jaker

    BOOM. Thank you

  • getrdone

    You got to admit, he probably is tired of having no help most nights.Losing Andy was a BIG loss for a team this young.Gee is worthless when it comes to scoring and getting rebounds,Zeller doesn’t light up the scoreboard either, but at least he will block a shot and get some boards.Waiters and Miles just wanna shoots 3″s most of the time and maybe have a game over 12 points once a month.TT is the only other constant player on the floor with him and that’s only good for 10 points most nights. He probably is wishing for a team full of Speights, guys that hustle, play D, rebound and score. But he shouldn’t get to cocky until he can learn to guard someone also.Thats the facts of having a team full of 20 year old pro’s. The FO should have signed a couple of good veterans to go along with this group.Gibson and Walton are basically useless, Neither it seems can play 2 games part time in a row. add a couple of GOOD veterans, 1 being a SF that can score and defend, yes i said both,and another guard that can put up some quick points penetrating and getting to the line, this team would be light years better.

  • Vindictive_Pat

    Agreed… I know the Cavs have an awful record, but I’ve really enjoyed watching our young team this season. The consistency isn’t there, particularly on defense, but each game you see a couple of guys shine and show how they could develop for the future. Irving is obvious… some games he just takes over and looks unstoppable from anywhere on the floor. Waiters when he’s making smart choices with the basketball and picking good times to drive at the hoop. Gee when he’s hounding the ball-handler on defense and refraining from jump shots and wild drives. Thompson when he’s using an array of post moves featuring both his right and left hand (we see this almost every game now… really has me pumped), Zeller when he’s hitting the mid-range jumper, drawing charges, and attacking the glass rather than passively letting things come to him. Miles when he’s taking shots in rhythm and attacking the basket rather than trying to shoot jumpers off the dribble. I really love what we’ve seen from Speights and Ellington as well… they seem like solid role-players for a winning team. One of these days, the defense will catch up to the offense and the Cavs will be a contender, but for now it’s fun watching the sparks that are trying to ignite a fire.

  • deesh

    Agreed! Plus, I’m still not convinced Kyrie just wasn’t having a bad day.