Kyrie Irving’s Uncle Drew is a raspy reminder of a romanticized sport, a pure chapter of skyhooks and bank shots that recalls an era of basketball long elapsed. A frail, hobbled man decrying the extravagance and exalting the fundamental miraculously taps into the fountain of youth and schools the “youngbloods.”
It’s youth clothed in mortality, a near-teenager draped in the ashen cloak of inevitable age. But as Kyrie Irving breaks, sprains, clatters, and fractures, his mortality is highlighted instead of hidden, and it threatens to derail the career of one of the NBA’s most promising prospects.
Irving’s truncated collegiate career is seen as an advantage by some, less tread on the proverbial tires. In 11 games, Irving scored 17.5 points per game and flashed the ability that made him a lock as the pole-sitter in the NBA Draft. By missing the majority of his year at Duke with a toe injury, Irving may have foreshadowed his own professional demise.
For a 20-year-old
kid man, Irving is a magnet for injury baggage, hoarding hard knocks and demonstrating a zeal for collecting ailments. Professionally, it was tabula rasa for Irving until February of his rookie campaign, when he greeted Dwayne Wade’s knee with his skull and missed time with a concussion. A subsequent shoulder sprain sidelined him for another 10 games in April; Irving said it was the same shoulder that he hurt sophomore year in high school.
Irving “only” missed 15 games in a lockout-shortened season, but the early injuries may be the tip of the iceberg. A brawl with a wall during a summer league practice broke Irving’s dominant right hand; a puerile lapse for a player who personifies a collected veteran in the media.
“It wasn’t so much a lesson,” Irving said. “It was one of those things that was just a freakish accident. Honestly, it could have been me being smarter, but going forward, I’m staying away from pads.”
I doubt the padding of the wall is as much of a problem as the conscious, aggressive decision to strike barely-cushioned cement, but even if his message is misguided, Irving’s intention to repent is sound.
After surgery on the hand, Irving carried a clean bill of health, save the wisdom teeth extraction that plagues young adults pedestrian and professional alike. Until November, that is, when a fractured left index finger caused him to miss almost a full month. He almost made it a full week before the latest dust-up, a collision with the hardwood floor where Irving fractured a bone in his jaw.
Along the way, believe it or not, he acquired the label of “injury prone,” but the fragile star insists he’s anything but.
“I’m not worried about being injury prone,” Irving said in October. “Not at all.”
It’s important to consider Irving’s rave reviews on the court along with his checkered injury history. Irving earned 117 out of 120 first place votes for Rookie of the Year, becoming one of 6 players in history to tally 18 points and 5 assists per game in their inaugural seasons. The others: Oscar Robertson, Magic Johnson, Michael Jordan, Allen Iverson (would he write off Irving’s punch because it was only practice?), and LeBron James.
His stint on the USA Select Team, practice fodder for the Olympic squad, provoked unanimous adulation. James said that Irving stood out on the Select squad, and organizer Jerry Colangelo tabbed Irving as “a player you could move from one court to the other court,” referring to the stratified practice setting between Selects and Olympians.
“Kyrie always impresses me,” USA Basketball frontman (and Irving’s college coach) Mike Krzyzewski said. “This week, he’s been who I think he is, which is one of the top guards anywhere.”
Irving was born in Australia before moving to the United States, and has dual citizenship. He publicly pondered playing for the Australian Olympic squad, so it will be interesting to see if the glut of American guards pushes Irving to the dark side. Watch him destroy current guards Russell Westbrook and James Harden in this camp footage, especially the ridiculous spin at 0:26.
It seems that Irving doesn’t miss a beat when returning from injury. He torched the Lakers with 28 points and 11 assists in his return from the finger injury. In his first game wearing a giant mask to protect his fractured jaw, he makes Jason Kidd look like Uncle Drew before the bones stop creaking, en route to a career-high 41 points against the Knicks.
In Greek mythology, Kid Icarus had the potential to escape Crete, but pride and ambition led him to assume risk and fly too close to the sun. His wings melted, and he dropped from the sky and drowned. Kyrie Irving can become an NBA great if he can avoid the crash and burn.
In Greek language, the name Kyrie means “Lord”. Body willing, Kyrie Irving has the potential to rule the game. With moves like he ones he put on Westbrook and on Kidd, it’s “Kyrie eleison!”- Lord have mercy! Change the tone and the phrase becomes a mantra, a plea of Cavs fans wishing health upon their injury-riddled cornerstone. “Kyrie, eleison.”- Lord, have mercy.