“I’m going to take my talents to South Beach.” These are words that will live on in Cleveland infamy, haunting the same city that hasn’t won a professional sports title in 49 years.
When LeBron James, the most talented basketball player on planet Earth, ditched Cleveland nearly three years ago, the future for the Cavaliers looked anything but bright. In the 2010-11 season following LeBron’s departure, the Cavaliers looked like anything but an NBA team. A long, exhausting stretch of struggles and hardships left the Cavaliers with an overall record of 19-63 that season, a mark poor enough to ultimately net the Cavs the first pick in the 2011 NBA Draft.
The good news was that the Cavaliers had a chance to select the best collegiate player in that draft, which would in turn automatically improve the talent level on their roster. The bad news? The 2011 NBA Draft class was one without a blue chip, superstar prospect. There was no Kevin Durant. There was no Derrick Rose. There was no Blake Griffin. And of course, this had to be the case the year that the Cavaliers had the top pick. At the time, it just seemed like more rotten Cleveland luck.
Analysts and other talking heads debated who the Cavaliers should take with the top pick, or perhaps whether they should trade the pick away entirely in return for a package of players and picks. Eventually, the two top choices for the Cavaliers were narrowed down to Duke’s Kyrie Irving and Arizona’s Derrick Williams. Unless you’re a sports fan who’s been living under a rock, I think you know which direction the Cavaliers went with that pick.
Fast forward nearly three years later, and the Cavaliers have resurrected themselves from the cellar of the basketball world. Irving, a point guard who was born in Australia, is quickly grabbing the attention of the basketball world – and for good reason. At the young age of 20, Irving isn’t even old enough to legally purchase alcohol – but he is old enough to be playing in the 2013 NBA All Star game, his first, in Houston on Feb. 17. Irving is also coming off of a three-game stretch in which he averaged 35.7 points per game on 61 percent shooting, a stretch of excellence that was good enough to earn him Eastern Conference Player of the Week. How’s that for a list of accolades before turning 21?
After LeBron left, many believed that it would be years before the Cavaliers were back on the NBA map. Fortunately for the city of Cleveland, all of those predictions have gone out the window. Playing in the shadows of LeBron James is not an easy thing to do – not by any stretch of the imagination. It takes a special kind of talent to make an entire city forget about the man who was once their hero, yet that’s exactly what Irving is: a special, once-in-a-decade type of player.
Don’t get me wrong: the NBA is chock-full of young, athletic and talented point guards. But anyone who has seen Kyrie Irving play knows that this kid is unique. He’s different. There’s just something about watching Irving that leaves you in awe, as your mouth waters for one more Irving jumper.
This past October, I predicted that Kyrie Irving would be a top-15 player in the NBA by the season’s end. As of this moment, I think it’s safe to say that Irving is well on his way to not only being a top-15 player, but perhaps one of the best players in the entire league. While we’re on the topic of predictions, I’m going to take it one (or two) steps further: The Cavaliers will win an NBA title in the next decade.
LeBron James left Cleveland fans with some fantastic memories from his time here, but if Kyrie Irving can bring a title to Cleveland during his career, you might as well wipe LeBron’s name out of the Cleveland history books for good. That’s how good this 20-year-old kid is.