As you may have heard, the Cleveland Cavaliers have traded four time NBA All-Star Kyrie Irving to the Boston Celtics for point guard Isaiah Thomas, small forward Jae Crowder, center Ante Zizic and Brooklyn’s unprotected 2018 first round draft pick.
While it is unfortunate that things turned out this way, Irving will always be a legend in Cleveland.
Seven years ago, the Cavaliers lost to the Celtics in the second round of the NBA Playoffs, failing to make the NBA Finals for the third consecutive year. The Cavaliers were out of assets to continue to build a championship team. We all know what happened next.
LeBron James took his talents to South Beach and left the Cavs’ franchise in shambles.
The team that was built to suit LeBron was forced to go out there and play without their two time NBA MVP.
There was a lot of losing, a lot. 26 games in a row to be exact. Quicken Loans Arena, The Q, was still full however because season tickets were renewed before LeBron announced that he was leaving.
It seemed like the losing was never going to end and that this was going to be the Cavaliers’ future for the next decade.
On February 11th, 2011, the streak was over. The Cavs defeated the Los Angeles Clippers 126-119 in overtime. Antawn Jamison, acquired a year before to help the Cavs get over the hump, scored a game high 35 points, J.J. Hickson grabbed 14 rebounds and Mo Williams dished out 14 assists. It was just their ninth win of the season.
13 days later, the Cleveland Cavaliers defeated the Los Angeles Clippers again. This time not on the basketball court, but off the court.
The Cavaliers acquired Baron Davis from the Clippers for Mo Williams and Jamario Moon. But the Cavs did not win the trade because of Baron Davis, they won the trade because they got an unprotected first round pick in the 2011 NBA Draft.
The Cavaliers finished the 2010-2011 NBA Season with a record of 19-63, far from their record of 61-21 the year prior.
Cleveland got its 20th win of the season, the most important one, not in a game but at the 2011 NBA Draft Lottery. Believe it or not but the Minnesota Timberwolves had a worse record than the Cavs that season. Cleveland had the 2nd highest odds of getting the number one overall selection in the draft, a 19.9% chance. Because they had the Clippers’ pick as well, that selection had a 2.8% chance of being the top selection in the draft.
The draft lottery was moving along, sticking to the board with results. Then Deputy Commissioner Adam Silver, now NBA Commissioner, pulled the next card out of the envelope. The card was supposed to have the Cavs’ logo on it being as they only had a 2.8% chance. Instead, it had a Detroit Pistons logo on it.
Unbelievable. The Cavs’ pick that they received from the Clippers had vaulted into the Top 3. Two cards later, the Utah Jazz also vaulted into the Top 3 meaning that two teams that were in the Top 3 were bumped down. When Silver got to the 4th pick, we saw the Cavs’ logo.
The Cavaliers were still alive to receive the top selection. Then this happened.
The Cavaliers did it. They won the lottery as they did 8 years before when they selected LeBron. Unfortunately for the Cavs, there was no LeBron in the 2011 NBA Draft.
However, there were Kyrie Irving and Derrick Williams. Debate went on for months, even before the lottery, on who the Cavaliers should take. Should they take a point guard in Kyrie Irving? Or should they take a small forward, a position left empty from LeBron, in Derrick Williams. I will admit I was wrong in this. Derrick Williams seemed to be the better option at the time.
Ultimately the Cavs decided on Kyrie Irving. They also drafted Tristan Thompson with the fourth pick in the draft.
Kyrie had big shoes to fill in Cleveland coming to a franchise still under the shadow of the departure of LeBron.
He did his best to fill them. As a rookie, you could see the excellence that he possessed. He averaged 18.5 points per game, 5.4 assists and shot 40% from three. He was the only rookie unanimously named to the NBA All-Rookie First Team. The sky was the limit for Kyrie.
In his second season, the injury bug bit Kyrie but that did not impede his progress as a NBA player. He became the youngest player to score 41 points in Madison Square Garden, passing some guy named Michael Jordan. Irving was named to his first NBA All-Star Game putting him on the same team as one named LeBron James. The same weekend, Kyrie won the Three Point Shooting Contest. Irving finished his second season averaging 22.5 ppg and 5.9 apg.
Irving’s third season as a Cavalier was a whirlwind. He was selected by the fans as a starter in the NBA All-Star Game. He won the MVP of the All-Star Game. That season the Cavaliers officially retired the jersey of Zydrunas Illgauskas during a halftime ceremony. LeBron James attended that ceremony.
Rumblings began to circulate around the NBA that LeBron could possibly return to Cleveland in the offseason. Things started to get crazy in Cleveland. Sports radio shows were blowing up. The media and the fans were absolutely loving it.
What did Kyrie think about it? He didn’t. Kyrie’s play on the court was all that was on his mind. He continued to play hard and improve his game. He put his head down and continued to focus on what he wanted to do. And that was help the Cavs return to the NBA Playoffs for the first time in four years. Unfortunately that did not happen.
In the off-season, Kyrie signed an extension to remain with the Cavaliers. And then Cleveland got the news it was hoping for.
“I’m coming home.”
LeBron James was coming home to rejoin the Cleveland Cavaliers. The Cavs also had the number one overall pick in the draft again for the third time in four years. They traded Andrew Wiggins and Anthony Bennett (thank goodness) to the Minnesota Timberwolves for Kevin Love thus officially building a ‘Big Three’.
The Big Three thrived making it to the NBA Finals in their first season together. Kyrie was hurt in overtime of game one and was out for the remainder of the NBA Finals. The Cavs lost the finals 4-2.
The Cavaliers and Warriors met in the NBA Finals for the second consecutive year the following season. All season Kyrie was determined to get back to finish what was taken from him the year before. The Cavs had no problem getting to the finals again. Neither did the Warriors. They broke the NBA record for wins in a season with 73. Steph Curry was the first ever Unanimous NBA MVP. The Warriors jumped out to a 3-1 lead in the finals. We all know what happened next.
The Cavs won Game 5 with a suspended Draymond Green on the other side. They won Game 6 at home to even the series.
Then came the best two words in all of sports. Game 7.
There are many phrases in Cleveland sports history that describe terrible events such as “The Drive” or “Jose Mesa”. Game 7 of the 2016 NBA Finals would give Cleveland some positive phrases such as “The Block” or “The Lockdown” or most importantly…
The Cavaliers did the unthinkable, the unbelievable, the impossible. They were the first team ever to come back from a 3-1 deficit in the NBA Finals and win.
While this offseason has been full of headlines surrounding the Cleveland Cavaliers, Kyrie Irving and LeBron James, it will not change the fact that Irving hit the biggest shot in Cleveland sports history. He has achieved legendary status in this town.
It would have been very easy to dismiss the Cavaliers when LeBron left but Kyrie made those games watchable. He made me personally a bigger basketball fan than I already was. Sure it sucks that he requested a trade out of here and did not want to be in Cleveland anymore but there is no bitterness anywhere for me personally.
Thank you Kyrie Irving for all that you have done for the City of Cleveland, the Cleveland Cavaliers and for me. You will be missed. But now you are a member of the Boston Celtics and we will see you Opening Night. Good luck. You are going to need it.