The making of Kyrie Irving
Pablo S. Torre [ARCHIVE]
ESPN The Magazine
January 8, 2013
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WHENEVER HE HAS a bad game, or misses a defensive assignment, or is hit by the general existentialist dread that tends to befall a 20-year-old, Kyrie Irving writes to himself. It started at Montclair (N.J.) Kimberley Academy, when he would confide to a black-and-white composition notebook that swiftly tattered from daily use. But last spring, the rigors of his inaugural, lockout-compressed pro season forced him to exclusively commit to a more modern platform. "I had to give up the journal," Irving says. So now the Cavaliers' 6'3", 191-pound star conducts his motivational sessions with his thumbs, pecking out words he would never say in a news conference, filling a 3.5-inch iPhone with a vision of himself he hopes to never forget.

Irving wrote this in December 2008, upon transferring to St. Patrick High in Elizabeth, N.J.: The lights are on, baby. Time to show the world what you're really about and who the best is in the country. This was from June 2009, amid a pivotal AAU summer: I'm going to make it, even if I have to run through a ton of walls ... F-- being friends. I'm going to destroy these dudes. More recently, in November 2012: Unleash everything you have and never look back. You are the best point guard in this league, so act like it. Let's go.

"It is," Irving admits, scrolling through the notes, "kind of funny to read these now."

On a recent Friday afternoon, the reigning rookie of the year sits at a polished dining table inside his downtown Cleveland duplex. The rental apartment, perched several stories above a winding crook of the Cuyahoga River, boasts wood floors and floor-to-ceiling windows, with a view of Quicken Loans Arena looming, ever-present, to the left. A framed photo of Irving, his father and his sister on draft day hangs directly across from a four-foot flat-screen, hooked up to a PlayStation 3. An Xbox 360 sits in a crate atop an external fireplace. A bedside drawer stocked with pork rinds and Sour Patch Kids waits upstairs. And, as furnishings go, that's more or less it -- about what you'd expect for a would-be college junior who, after a recent Cavs practice, switched one training-room TV to SpongeBob SquarePants. ("And," teammate C.J. Miles adds, "Kyrie was saying all the words to the show.")

But put a basketball in Irving's hand -- either one; he's ambidextrous -- and the youngest Cav couldn't be more of an adult. Most remarkable to colleagues and competitors? His confidence, especially at the end of games. Last season, according to 82games.com, Irving was the best in the NBA during "clutch time" -- when a game is within five points with less than five minutes left -- scoring 56.4 points per 48 minutes on 54.4 percent shooting. Kevin Durant and Carmelo Anthony finished second and third. "There's definitely some people who have it," Miles says. "Kyrie just has that feel, like he's been doing all this since he was 4."

Scarcely two years ago, as a slight Duke frosh, he was the predominant player in college when he took the court -- all 11 times he did so -- averaging 17.5 points, 4.3 assists, 3.4 rebounds and 1.5 steals a game while shooting 90 percent at the line and 46 percent from three. In his rookie year, he tallied perhaps the finest teenage season in NBA history with a line of 18.5/5.4/3.7/1.1/87 percent/40 percent. In July, while training against the Olympians with USA Basketball's Select Team, he was the "best of all the Select players," according to Team USA coach Mike Krzyzewski. Granted, the Duke head man might be biased, but the praise was echoed by everyone from LeBron James ("He stood out more than anyone") to Kobe Bryant ("Extremely impressive"). And this season, despite missing three weeks with a fractured left index finger, one in a freak string of injuries, Irving is at it again, averaging 23.8/5.6/3.7/1.1/83 percent/43 percent through Dec. 17. Such precocity has even inspired Cavs guard Daniel Gibson to coin a mantra -- Can't teach it -- that he repeats after every game. "You're either born with it or you're not, and Kyrie's got it," Gibson says. "Nothing fazes him. You can't teach it."

Except, that's precisely what someone did.

Do work. Show no mercy. Fear nobody. I am Kyrie Irving. -- Dec. 12, 2008

IN 1992, when Kyrie Andrew Irving was born in Melbourne, Australia, his parents' friends wondered why two vibrant athletes in their mid-20s would want another baby so soon. It was as if they had a plan. The year before, Elizabeth Irving, an ex-volleyball player at Boston University, had insisted on spiking balls in intramural games when she was seven months pregnant with her daughter, Asia. To get her competitive fix this time, with Kyrie, she'd resorted to free throw contests with husband Dred, who'd graduated four years earlier as BU's all-time leading scorer. As usual, Elizabeth -- whose family Christmases involved a rented Seattle gym, foul-shooting duels and knockout marathons -- never lost.

The couple had met as undergrads, at a convenience store on campus. The second he saw her, Dred swore that time stood still -- even though, or perhaps because, Elizabeth was wearing her volleyball gear (knee pads, red-and-white shorts). Within weeks, the two were best friends. They shared the same dry sense of humor; Elizabeth, an accomplished musician, could test Dred in any sport. She was "beautiful, inside and out," Dred says, and in a few years, they were married.

Then, in 1991, they found themselves in Melbourne. A native of the Mitchel Houses in the Bronx, N.Y., Dred had been afforded one shot at his lifelong NBA dream: a tryout with the Celtics as an undrafted free agent. But during the audition, the slick 6'4" guard, an erstwhile Rucker Park MVP, attempted to emulate Boston's collectivist pick-pass-cut ethos on the fly, looking pedestrian in the process. In a word, he disappeared. I should've shown what I could do, thought Dred, who wound up scoring more than 30 a game for a professional Australian pro team called the Bulleen Boomers.

The hurt of NBA exile, though, would not begin to compare to what would happen four years after Kyrie's birth. The Irvings had returned stateside to raise the kids, relocating near Elizabeth's family outside Seattle while Dred looked for work in Manhattan. One overcast September day, Elizabeth checked into Tacoma General Hospital, showing symptoms from what would prove to be a blood infection.

Within hours, her condition had plummeted. Then it plummeted further. And 48 hours later, somehow -- before Dred could even grasp what was happening -- Elizabeth was dead, at 29, besieged by organ failure and sepsis syndrome.

Dred, who'd planned decades into the future with his wife -- career, kids, travel -- was destroyed. To this day, he does not like to discuss the details of her passing. Their only son...
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