CLEVELAND: Kyrie Irving isn’t just an All-Star, he has now joined an elite circle exclusive only to Hall of Fame players, too.
Irving was named to his first All-Star team on Thursday, named as a reserve by the league’s coaches in just his second season. He becomes the sixth-youngest player ever named to an All-Star team (20 years, 331 days) and one of seven to make it before turning 21.
The list to make an All-Star team prior to 21 is full of players either in the Hall of Fame already or certainly headed there when they finally retire: Kobe Bryant (19 years, 169 days), LeBron James (20 years, 52 days), Magic Johnson (20 years, 173 days), Kevin Garnett (20 years, 266 days), Isiah Thomas (20 years, 276 days) and Shaquille O’Neal (20 years, 353 days).
And now Irving.
“It’s one of the best days of my life,” Irving said Thursday night, after also winning the pro sports athlete of the year award at the Greater Cleveland Sports Awards. “It’s a big deal for me and it’s a big deal for the city of Cleveland to be picked as an All-Star for the first time. I’m turning 21 on March 23 and to be with those guys, to see those names on TNT, that was truly a blessing.”
Immediately after learning of his spot, Irving began calling his father and his girlfriend. He kept his conversation with his father private, but admitted “it was an emotional moment.”
He is the 15th All-Star in Cavs history, joining a list that includes James, Mark Price, Brad Daugherty, Zydrunas Ilgauskas, Austin Carr and Campy Russell.
Cavs coach Byron Scott gave Irving a big hug when he arrived at the awards show and has said for the last week Irving was deserving of a spot on the team. Scott understands the enormity of making it, considering his age and company, but he’s not sure Irving understands yet.
“One of the youngest players ever,” Scott said. “He’s a little bit of a history buff. If he doesn’t know it, he’ll find out pretty soon and that will be something that lasts for a while.
“When we drafted him, we knew he was good. After watching him a few days in practice we said, ‘This kid is better than we thought.’ He has the pedigree. He still has a lot of room to grow. He’s definitely well on his way, barring any injuries, to be one of the best.”
The biggest knock against Irving has been the Cavs’ 11-32 record, but enough coaches around the league looked beyond the record and at Irving's full body of work. He joins Philadelphia's Jrue Holiday as the only reserves to make it from losing teams.
Holiday and Irving, incidentally, were in competition alongside Brooklyn's Deron Williams for two point guard spots. Williams, struggling through a miserable shooting season, was the one left out.
“The type of stuff he can do on the court, the only other player in the league I’ve played with who can do that stuff is Kobe Bryant, who can make the game look that easy,” Luke Walton said. “He’s definitely worthy of making it.”
Injuries have limited Irving to 32 games, meaning he only recently reached the minimum of games played to qualify among league leaders. He entered Thursday leading all point guards in scoring at 23.7 points, which is also good enough to rank sixth in the NBA. He is shooting .467, which is third among point guards in the East and his 5.7 assists are tied for ninth.
“I just hope I don’t air ball my first shot,” Irving said.
Irving is part of a long list of first-time All-Stars in the Eastern Conference, joining Holiday, Indiana’s Paul George, Chicago’s Joakim Noah and New York’s Tyson Chandler. Miami’s Chris Bosh and Chicago’s Luol Deng were the other reserves announced Thursday.
Dwyane Wade, Rajon Rondo, LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony and Kevin Garnett were voted in as starters for the Eastern Conference.
The Brooklyn Nets, despite having the third-best record in the East, do not have an All-Star after both Williams and Brook Lopez were omitted.
The All-Star nomination for Irving even earned a surprised text from his former college coach, Duke’s Mike Krzyzewski.
“First time ever,” Irving said. “I think his assistant sent it for him. My freshman year at Duke, he told me never to text him because he doesn’t know how to text. So times are changing.”
Beacon Journal columnist Marla Ridenour reported from the Greater Cleveland Sports Awards