Comparing Kyrie Irving to Every Other Under-21 All-Star in NBA History
Cleveland Cavaliers point guard Kyrie Irving will make his NBA All-Star debut on Sunday.
At 20 years old, Irving will become just the seventh player in NBA history to appear in an All-Star game before his 21st birthday.
This article compares the progress Irving has made thus far—midway through his second NBA season with the Cavaliers—in regards to where each of the aforementioned NBA legends were when they first broke through as All-Stars.
In addition to highlighting the individual production that earned each young star their first All-Star appearance, the NBA veterans who welcomed each player to the game—much like Garnett and Bryant will now do for Irving—were also identified.
Magic Johnson, Los Angeles Lakers
Earvin "Magic" Johnson started opposite Julius Erving and Moses Malone when he made his NBA All-Star debut for the Western Conference in 1980.
He was a 20-year-old rookie for the Los Angeles Lakers at the time.
Sharing a starting backcourt with San Diego Clippers guard World B. Free, Johnson scored 12 points on five-of-eight shooting in 24 minutes.
However, the West would go on to lose the game in overtime, 144-136.
During 77 regular season games that season, Johnson averaged 18 points, 7.7 rebounds and 7.3 assists.
But while he did score fewer points than Irving as an under-21-year-old All-Star, Johnson's Lakers would win at a much higher rate that season.
With the help of Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Michael Cooper and others, Johnson would lead the Lakers to his first of five NBA championships by the conclusion of his rookie year.
Isiah Thomas, Detroit Pistons
Isiah Lord Thomas III started 72 regular season games for the Detroit Pistons during the 1981-82 season as a 20-year-old rookie from Indiana University.
He averaged 17 points, 7.8 assists and 2.9 rebounds while earning his way to the 1982 All-Star game.
In his first All-Star appearance, Thomas finished with 12 points while starting alongside Tiny Archibald, Artis Gilmore and a young Larry Bird.
During that rookie campaign, his Pistons closed out their regular season with a 39-43 record.
While his team was certainly more competitive than Irving's Cavaliers have been over these last two seasons, Thomas missed the postseason as a 20-year-old All-Star.
Despite a second-straight All-Star campaign the following year, it wouldn't be until the 1983-84 season that Thomas would finally arrive in the NBA playoffs.
Eventually, he would lead Detroit to back-to-back NBA championships in both 1989 and 1990.
Shaquille O'Neal, Orlando Magic
You really needed to watch Shaquille O'Neal's arrival on the NBA scene live in order to truly understand how immediate of an impact he made at the time.
After starring at Louisiana State University, O'Neal's professional career began during the 1992-93 season with averages of 23.4 points and 13.9 rebounds for the Orlando Magic.
He was a 20-year-old monster.
For the next 12 years, O'Neal would finish with a double-double during every season, and eventually became the biggest star in the NBA universe.
In his second All-Star appearance, O'Neal would be famously "frozen-out" by teammates while finishing two-of-12 from the floor for eight points.
As an under-21-year-old All-Star, though, his experience at the 1993 game was a much more enjoyable one. Starting alongside Michael Jordan and Isiah Thomas, Shaq finished with 14 points and seven rebounds.
On the season, O'Neal's Magic would finish a respectable 41-41 while losing out on a tiebreaker to miss the playoffs.
In 1995, O'Neal would lead Orlando to the NBA Finals before losing to the Houston Rockets in four games. He'd eventually win his first ring with the Los Angeles Lakers in 2000.
Kevin Garnett, Minnesota Timberwolves
Like Kyrie Irving this year, Kevin Garnett was also in his second NBA season when he became an under-21-year old All-Star in 1997.
After averaging 10.4 points and 6.3 rebounds in 80 games as a 19-year-old rookie, Garnett improved his averages to 17 points and eight rebounds during his next season while earning his first trip to the All-Star game.
In a 132-120 Western Conference loss, Garnett finished with six points on one-for-seven shooting in 18 minutes off the bench.
The East was paced by 26 points from Glen Rice, while the Western Conference was led by 19 from Latrell Sprewell.
Garnett's Minnesota Timberwolves would finish the regular season with a record of 40-42 that year.
During that same season, they'd also advance to the playoffs before losing in the first round. In three postseason games, Garnett averaged 17.3 points and 9.3 rebounds.
A decade later, he'd finally win his first NBA championship in 2008 as a member of the Boston Celtics.
Kobe Bryant, Los Angeles Lakers
Kobe Bryant appeared in the 1998 All-Star game as a 19-year-old shooting guard for the Los Angeles Lakers.
He was two years removed from taking Brandy to his high school prom.
On seven-of-16 shooting from the field that day, he finished with 18 points.
Yet Michael Jordan finished with 23 points for the Eastern Conference and led his team to the 135-114 win.
A year younger than Irving while making his first All-Star appearance, Bryant—like Irving—was also in his second NBA season.
During that 1997-98 campaign, he came off the Lakers' bench in all but one of the 79 games he appeared in.
Bryant finished that season averaging 15.4 points, 3.1 rebounds and 2.5 assists in 26 minutes per game.
His Lakers would eventually be swept by the Utah Jazz in the Western Conference Finals after finishing the regular season 61-21.
In 11 postseason games that year, Bryant averaged 8.7 points.
From there, Bryant would average no less than 19.8 postseason points for the next 13 years while on his way to winning five NBA titles.
LeBron James, Cleveland Cavaliers
LeBron James was only 279 days younger than Kyrie Irving when he first represented the Cleveland Cavaliers on the NBA's All-Star stage.
In his second season, the 20-year-old James earned his first All-Star appearance on the strength of averaging 27.2 points, 7.2 assists and 7.2 rebounds during the 2004-05 season.
In 31 minutes as an All-Star starter that year, James scored 13 points in the game on six-of-13 shooting from the field. He also collected eight rebounds and dished out six assists.
Current Miami Heat teammate Ray Allen (then with the Seattle SuperSonics) was the game's leading scorer with 17 points for the Western Conference.
Despite a winning regular season record in James' second season (42-40), the Cavaliers narrowly missed out on a trip to the '05 playoffs.
It wouldn't be until James' third NBA season that he'd eventually lead the Cavs to the postseason.
This past year, as a member of the Miami Heat, James would win his first championship in his ninth NBA season.
Kyrie Irving, Cleveland Cavaliers
The list of under-21-year-old All-Stars that Kyrie Irving now joins are all Hall-of-Famers—either present or future.
That much jumped out at me initially.
What's also interesting, though, is that each of these under-21 All-Stars have also gone on to win an NBA championship.
Magic Johnson, Isiah Thomas and Kobe Bryant each won their championships for the teams who drafted them.
Shaquille O'Neal, Kevin Garnett and LeBron James would go on to win at the next stop along their NBA journey.
Despite what the future may hold for Irving as far as championship success is concerned, the progress he's made thus far stacks up favorably from an individual standpoint.
While playing for the least talented team on this list, Irving is currently averaging more points at the time of his under-21 All-Star appearance than every player on this list besides James.
He isn't winning nearly as much as Johnson's Lakers did as an under-21 year point guard, or dishing out as many assists as Thomas, but Irving's production thus far is certainly respectable.
After averaging 18.5 points as a rookie last season, Irving will enter Sunday's game scoring 23.5 points this time around.
All eyes will be on the 20-year-old rookie throughout All-Star Weekend as a result.