NEW ORLEANS: In order to fully appreciate the magnitude of what Kyrie Irving accomplished Sunday night, it’s important to look at the history of the All-Star Game MVP award.
Past winners are among the greatest to ever play the game: Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson, Larry Bird, Julius Erving, Wilt Chamberlain, Oscar Robertson and Kobe Bryant among many, many others.
Until the Los Angeles Clippers’ Chris Paul won it last year, every previous All-Star MVP since 1981 has appeared in the NBA Finals at least once. And given the superpower the Clippers are constructing, it could only be a matter of time before Paul joins that list.
Irving stepped into rare air Sunday when he had 31 points and 14 assists in the East’s 163-155 victory. His 14 assists surpassed his career high of 12, making him the second player to exceed his career high in assists in an All-Star Game, according to the Elias Sports Bureau. The only other to do it was Hal Greer in 1962.
Irving’s 14 field goals and 14 assists paired him with Dwyane Wade as the only other player with double figures in each category, according to Elias. Wade had 12 baskets and 11 assists in 2010 when he was named the MVP.
The fact Irving did it at the tender age of 21 years, 10 months and 24 days made him the second-youngest All-Star MVP behind only LeBron James.
“To be able to win at a young age, it gives you another boost of confidence,” said James, who was about nine months younger when he won his first MVP with the Cavs in 2006. “Obviously you know you’re in the game for a reason, he was voted in by the fans for a reason, but it just gives you another boost of confidence knowing that you can play this game at the highest level.”
The last All-Star MVP who never reached the NBA Finals was George Gervin, who won the award in 1980 with the San Antonio Spurs. He reached the conference finals a couple of times but never played for a championship in either the NBA or ABA.
Mitch Richmond won the All-Star MVP in 1995 as a member of the Sacramento Kings, then played sparingly on the Los Angeles Lakers’ championship team in 2002, his final year in the league. All of the other MVP winners played key roles on their teams that reached the finals.
Irving and his Cavs teammates have plenty of work to do to get there, but as one NBA executive said after the All-Star Game, “He made LeBron better. And that’s hard to do.”
Much will be made (and has been already) of Irving’s and James’ futures and whether they will join together this summer in Cleveland. For now, as the Cavaliers resume the second half of the season today in Philadelphia, they can ride the momentum from the four-game winning streak they carried into the break.
“Regardless of whether I won MVP or not, my focus level is going to remain the same after the All‑Star break, and that’s trying to get as many wins as possible,” Irving said. “We’re doing a better job coming together as a team and competing. And we got four wins in a row coming in, which was big for us and big for our morale.”
It was a big weekend for the Cavs and could’ve been even bigger. Dion Waiters made a strong case for Friday’s Rising Stars Game with 31 points and seven assists, but it was impossible to ignore Andre Drummond’s 30 points and 25 rebounds for MVP votes.
The narrative of the Cavaliers’ future would’ve been fascinating, however, had both Cavs guards left New Orleans with MVP awards.
For now, Irving will enjoy his final few hours as the talk of the league before the focus returns to the Heat, Pacers and Thunder and the chase for the championship.
“He’s one of the best in the world,” Eastern Conference coach Frank Vogel said of Irving. “He showed it [Sunday].”
Jason Lloyd can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.