Happy 21st Birthday Kyrie Irving, This Is Your Life
Irving's had a very turbulent two years in the NBA, fighting injuries, trying to help his Cavaliers overcome the loss of the league's best player and making them one of the league's most attractive young teams, despite the fact that they remain lottery-bound.
Along the way, Irving has racked up awards, become one of the league's most beloved young players, become a part of one of the league's most interesting ad campaigns, made an All-Star Game and sold people that he, when healthy, has the potential to be the best point guard in the NBA.
Give him a few years and a more mature body, perhaps the injury ails will trail away, but for the time being, we'll have to deal with the slightly fragile, insanely talented Irving that we've grown to love over his two shortened seasons.
In celebration of Irving's 21st trip around the sun, it's time to take a look back on his basketball life.
The Early Years
Kyrie Irving, playing high school ball at St. Patrick High School in Elizabeth, New Jersey, was just short of being called a phenom, but he was a very exciting young man, with recruiting visits coming from the likes of Duke, UConn, Georgia Tech and a ton of other schools.
Irving was always a sought-after prospect, but once the summer of 2009 came around and he was tearing up the Orlando Showcase and AAU Nationals, it was a foregone conclusion that Coach K would be getting his man.
Irving led his New Jersey Celtics team to upsets of some of the showcase's most heavily favored team, and Irving became one of the top seniors in the country.
Looking at what Irving was capable of as a teenager is downright mind-boggling.
We watch him today and remain amazed at the fact that his incredibly crisp crossover is capable of putting the most sturdy defenders on skates, yet that was just another step for Irving. He was doing the same to high school kids a few years ago.
He hasn't developed this innate ability to fool players in the past few years, it's a skill he's had since his school days that has become more refined as he's gone along.
Already he's become one of the best ball-handlers in the league, and the fact that he's just now turning 21 leaves us in awe of what he may become.
A Minute at Duke
Signing with Duke, it seemed that Irving's status as a one-and-done player was all but sealed once he played a few games with the Blue Devils.
As good a team he could have been a part of, he was head and shoulders above the rest of his competition. You could see it in his hidden quickness, his fool-making crossover and the long ball that seemed to fall at will.
In Irving's first few games, he was incredibly steady, balancing a bit of scoring with a bit of passing, never looking to take over the team until he saw an opening.
He found that opening when Michigan State came to town as the country's sixth-seeded team. Thirty-one points, six rebounds, four assists, two blocks and two steals later and Irving was exactly what everybody thought he would be; amazing.
Irving would go down a few games later with a strange foot injury that can really only be described as "Kyrie Toe" that held him out until the NCAA tournament.
Irving would help Duke to the Sweet 16, where it was eliminated by Derrick Williams' Arizona team, although Irving tossed in 28 points for his troubles.
The Draft, the Rookie Season and the 1st Game-Winner
As much as it seems a crazy thought now, there was some debate over who the Cleveland Cavaliers should draft with their top pick back in 2011. There was much debate between Irving and Derrick Williams, as this was an exceptionally deep draft as far as point guards go, and Cleveland also owned the No. 4 pick.
Alas, Cleveland picked Irving, Irving became its new centerpiece and neither party has looked back since.
For the first month of Irving's rookie season, Cavs fans watched a young player adjust to the NBA, and they were happy with what they saw. It's hard to say they were ecstatic at this point, but they were definitely happy with the pick.
Irving had showed his explosiveness, his ability to get to the bucket and score at will, and his lethal crossover. However, on January 30 he did something that it took LeBron James, their former hero, years to do. Irving hit a game-winner in the waning seconds.
It was a regular-season game in January that ran Cleveland's record to 8-11, but it was the first showing of many of Irving's cold-blooded instincts.
Irving has hit a ton of similar shots over the past year, and Clevelanders have loved every minute of it. He's become a Mr. Fourth Quarter of sorts for the Cavs.
Along the way, Irving racked up three of a possible four Eastern Conference Rookie of the Month Awards and the 2012 Rookie of the Year Award.
During his rookie season, Irving signed his first big endorsement deal, picking up a role hocking Pepsi Max.
Initially, it was just a commercial here and there featuring Kyrie Irving, but it became so much more than that.
In less than a year, Irving has become "Uncle Drew," the old man looking to teach "young bloods" in the art of getting buckets.
With a guest appearance from Bill Russell and Kevin Love in the second installment of Uncle Drew, Irving's character has become more than just a commercial, it's become a full-fledged ad campaign, something that only superstar players end up landing.
Sure, Irving still doesn't have a signature shoe, but he's got a signature commercial, so he's more than on his way.
Year 2 and the 2013 All-Star Weekend
For the Cavaliers fans, the start of the 2012-13 season was a slightly nerve-racking one.
They had just drafted a fairly unknown Big East Sixth Man of the Year fourth overall with Dion Waiters, Tristan Thompson's rookie showing was moderately successful at best and Irving had broken his hand before the team could even practice together.
The season started with a win over the Washington Wizards and those fears melted away, mostly because of Irving.
Regardless of the injury concerns, the strange draft picks, the fearful future or the pestilent past, Irving was playing in the present and getting better by the week.
Not only had the entire state of Ohio jumped on his bandwagon, but Irving was quickly becoming the league's most popular young player.
2013 would be another injury-filled year, but it would also be a buzzer-beater filled year, and a year in which Irving became the story of the All-Star weekend.
With a huge showing in the Rising Stars Challenge (including a destructive crossover on Brandon Knight), a victory in the Three-Point Shootout and a solid showing in his first All-Star Game, Irving had arrived.
His season may very well be over with just 49 games under his belt, but those 49 games were nothing short of scintillating.
Obviously the first two seasons of Kyrie Irving's career haven't been perfect, but they've been about as close to perfect as a player could ask for.
He's seen very little turbulence in terms of hitting a rookie wall, settling into a sophomore slump, feuding with players, coaches, fans or broadcasters. Irving's continually improved, made strides to become a better all-around player and become the face of an organization.
The only problem is that Irving has just 100 games in two seasons, falling to injuries left and right.
Ever since his mutated turf toe at Duke, people have been skeptical of Irving's health, and those concerns have rightly stuck around.
He's racked up seven different injuries that have kept him out of games since the beginning of 2010, including shoulder, knee, foot, hand, finger and face injuries.
The debate over whether Irving is injury prone or just unlucky rages on, although it's looking a lot more like he's injury prone with every new nick he picks up.
Looking into the crystal ball proves to be a bit of a difficult task with Irving, as it generally is with basketball players.
Grant Hill proved that injuries can be devastating, but not career ending, and Irving's situation remains dissimilar to HIll's.
Were he consistently healthy over the past two seasons, it would be easy to look at Irving and see nothing but stardom in his future. Right now, it's a very bright possibility, but there are many ways in which greatness could be snatched away.
Irving's future looks incredibly bright, as does the future of the Cleveland Cavaliers, but we've seen Cleveland's bright future turn into a mortifying presence before, so cautious optimism seems to be the best course of action in this sense.
Regardless of what part of Irving hurts on any given day, it seems most important to appreciate what we've seen from him so far, and what he shows us on a daily basis when healthy.