Kyrie Irving is an entertainer on and off the court. Not content captivating crowds with arguably the fastest hands in the NBA, the point guard recently starred in the film Uncle Drew and lent his voice to sitcom Family Guy.
Irving’s tight ball control and eye for the net instantly marked him out as a star, but in 2014 returning hero LeBron James took back the limelight in Cleveland and last year Irving felt it the right time for him to become the leading man somewhere else.
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Now with the Celtics, it is Irving’s time in the spotlight but can he deliver Boston’s first NBA Championship since 2008? Sky Sports takes a look at Irving’s journey.
Born in Australia to American parents, Irving’s father Drederick was a standout player at Boston University, setting the record for points scored, before going on to play professional basketball for the Bulleen Boomers in Melbourne. The family moved back to the States when Kyrie was just two years old but at age four he lost his mother, Elizabeth, to sepsis.
A highly talented player in his own right, Irving made a name for himself whilst still at high school in New Jersey, and was widely viewed as one of the top prospects in the country.
His time at Duke University was hampered by injury but, despite registering only eight starts for the Blue Devils, Irving was the first name off the board in the 2011 NBA Draft. He joined a Cavaliers roster still reeling from the loss of talismanic powerhouse James a year previous, and who had finished the previous season bottom of the Eastern Conference with a dismal 19-63 record.
Irving was the top draft pick
Irving immediately proved his worth, displaying incredible athleticism, quick-handed crossovers and uncoverable footwork, going by defenders as if they weren’t there.
He went on to win Rookie of the Year, amassing 117 of the 120 votes on offer, but the Cavs didn’t make it back to the Playoffs until the return of James in 2014. Two years later, Irving and the Cavs secured the title that the people of Cleveland had been longing for, for over 50 years.
Without a major championship in any sport since 1964, it was hometown hero James that took the plaudits, but Irving’s 41-point performance in game five was critical in sparking a Cavaliers comeback. Throughout the seven-game series, Irving finished second behind James in points scored, totalling 190, including a clutch three-pointer with less a minute to go in Game Seven which handed Cleveland the Championship-winning lead.
The Cavs returned to the Finals in 2017, once again matched up against the Warriors. This time though, it wasn’t to be the Hollywood ending and, despite Irving’s 40 points in Game Four, it was Steph Curry who starred in a 4-1 victory.
By this point, Irving felt he had outgrown Cleveland. He wanted to lead a team and, still under the shadow of James, Irving requested to be traded. In August 2017, he moved east to join the Boston Celtics, but a knee injury in March cut his season short.
Without Irving, the Celtics still managed to get to the Eastern Conference Finals, but the loss of their star guard ultimately told as James and the Cavs went back to the Finals, for a record fourth straight shootout with the Warriors.
“The hardest thing to do sometimes is accept the uncontrollable things life throws at you,” Irving posted on Instagram. “It’s simply a test of your perseverance and will, to be present, even in the wake of what’s going on.”
But Irving has always been more than just a basketball player. He is a star.
Away from the court, he has proved himself to be one of the most marketable players in the game. Alongside his Nike shoe range, Irving’s deal with Pepsi saw him portray ‘Uncle Drew’, a 70-year old man who would turn up to street games and destroy the players around him with incredible skill and trash talk.
The adverts were so successful that earlier this year, Uncle Drew became a feature film with Irving the lead. Shot in the off-season, Irving was intent on taking his responsibilities as an actor as seriously as he would playing point guard.
“I was trying to come in every single day remembering lines to where I didn’t have to be, ‘Line, please,” ‘ Irving said.
The role gave Irving a welcome distraction from the on-court soap opera that had engulfed him, following his leaked trade request away from Cleveland. Reports suggested that the leak had emanated from James, amid rumours that the two didn’t get along, though both claims were denied.
Having paired up with LeBron in Cleveland both men have moved on to pastures new
But, despite his brief romance with the silver screen, Irving has his eyes firmly set on another Championship.
Though still early in the season, and having key players such as Gordon Hayward returning from injury, Irving and the Celtics have been criticised for a slow start.
But against the Detroit Pistons, Irving silenced his critics with a 31-point performance, following it up with 28 against the second-placed Milwaukee Bucks and 43 to seal an overtime win over Eastern Conference leaders the Toronto Raptors.
Irving hit an impressive 31 points against the Detroit Pistons
In 2018, 26-year-old Irving wants to be a leader. The Celtics have shown they have the quality to conquer the East and make the Finals for the first time since 2010. However, Irving is now playing a different role. He has learned how to manage an offense; when to drive to the bucket, when to pass and when to get back in and do the dirty work defensively.
It is fair to say that Irving is still finding his feet as the orchestrator, but he is establishing a firm footing fast, and the Celtics are swiftly turning into the offensive juggernaut coach Brad Stevens hoped they would be.
It is the evolution of a great player getting even better and it is an exciting time for Celtics fans.
Just as important as winning percentage, Irving makes the Celtics fun to watch. He is a creative mastermind, jinxing opponents with mind-bending agility and raw power. His own supporting cast is nothing to be sniffed at, either. Irving, Hayward, Jaylen Brown, Jayson Tatum and Al Horford is perhaps the most talented starting five in the NBA, and Boston are in a ‘win-now’ Championship window.
Irving has the charisma, the quality and, perhaps most importantly the team around him, to be the leading man for the Boston Celtics’ next NBA Championship-winning side.
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