INDEPENDENCE: Kyrie Irving had three months to write his acceptance speech. Just like his performance on the court, he nailed it.
Irving accepted his Rookie of the Year award Tuesday with an acceptance speech that had comedy bits and was full of emotion. He thanked the Cavaliers’ fans and organization, poked fun at coach Byron Scott, thanked his father, Dred, for raising him and paid tribute to his mother, Elizabeth, who died when he was a child.
“I know she’s looking down on me and I wish she was here to accept this award with me,” Irving said. “She’s not sitting in that seat, but I know she’s right here in my heart and throughout the season, I know she was with me. She’s going to continue to bless me. I pray to her every single day.”
Irving’s performance on the court removed all suspense — he had the award locked up by the All-Star break. The only question was whether or not he would become the fourth unanimous choice, but he received only 117 of a possible 120 first-place votes. The Denver Nuggets’ Kenneth Faried, the San Antonio Spurs’ Kawhi Leonard and the New York Knicks’ Iman Shumpert each received one first-place vote.
Irving joins LeBron James as the only Cavs players to ever win the rookie award. His total of 592 points more than tripled his next closest competitor. Minnesota Timberwolves guard Ricky Rubio, who missed half the season with a knee injury, was second with 170 points.
Irving handled himself with poise and grace throughout a lockout-shortened season that prevented him from joining the organization last summer and enjoying the type of jump-start most rookies receive entering the league.
Still, he led all rookies (and the Cavaliers) by averaging 18.5 points per game. His 5.4 assists ranked second among rookies. Despite his youth, Irving quickly earned the reputation as a fourth-quarter closer. Scott went to him in the third game of the season, when the Cavs were tied at the Indiana Pacers and needed a basket at the buzzer to win the game.
Even Irving was surprised he got the call so early in his career — he missed the shot and the Cavaliers lost the game in overtime. But Irving on Tuesday called that night one of the defining moments of his season.
“Just him having that confidence in me was a stepping stone,” Irving said. “Whether I missed it or even if I made it, it was a learning experience and I needed it.”
Scott concedes now he had no idea how Irving would react to the pressure moment, but figured that was a great opportunity to find out.
“What I wanted to find out was where his heart was, what type of player he was going to be,” Scott said. “I thought that situation was going to let me know a lot about the type of guy he could be at the end of the season.”
Irving went on to make his share of huge fourth-quarter shots, including the game winner a few weeks later at Boston while his father had a courtside view. Dred was courtside again at Cleveland Clinic Courts, the Cavs’ practice facility, while Irving accepted the award. He praised his father for raising he and his older sister, Asia, and for teaching him so much about the game of basketball.
“I’m overwhelmingly proud of him,” Dred said. “I thought the sky was the limit for Kyrie from Day One. Myself, his AAU coaches, Coach K [Mike Krzyzewski] and the coaching staff at Duke brought out the confidence to believe in himself. That was an integral part in his growth.”
Irving looked at his father and told him to take the award back to their home in New Jersey.
“This award is for us and we’re bringing it back home and we’re going to put it right on the mantel and we’re going to put some flashing lights on it so it shines throughout the whole entire house,” Irving said. “You told me anything was possible and I’m living my dream. Without you, I don’t know where I’d be. You’re my worst critic but my biggest fan — always. I love you, man.”
Jason Lloyd can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read the Cavs blog at http://www.ohio.com/cavs. Follow him on Twitter http://www.twitter.com/JasonLloydABJ. Follow ABJ sports on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/sports.abj.