Kyrie Irving went nuts last night. He set the franchise record for most points in a single game, which is notable, because LeBron James has spent a lot of time playing for the franchise. He did it in insane fashion, scoring in ways that only a handful of players of his size have ever been able to do at the NBA level. Ever. I'd like to calm down, to say that this is excited hyperbole. Maybe it is, but at this point, well, maybe it's not. This is the second time in 2015 that Irving has scored at least 55 points in a basketball game, and both performances came against very good teams. He hit crazy shots that might not be easily repeated ... except we've seen him repeat these shots.
Irving turns 23 later this month.
Fans should revel in this. Irving is the payoff (okay, the Cavs got the pick from the Clippers, but it was a tanking move to let Mo Williams go) of tanking. Cleveland drafted him with limited information, as Irving had been hurt for most of his single season at Duke. He has participated in three All-Star games, started in one, and each time there were varying levels of controversy. Did Irving deserve to be in the game? This isn't to say the doubts were wrong, or unfair. Irving's defense came and went early on, and it was clear that he didn't trust his teammates on offense.
Then came the summer, when Irving made Team USA over Damian Lillard and John Wall. And then started over Derrick Rose. And then won MVP of the FIBA World Cup over Anthony Davis. Then he got a signature Nike shoe. Much has been given to Irving, and there've been questions about whether he's earned it every step of the way. National writers questioned the plaudits and awards. Cavs fans questioned the plaudits and awards. Again, there was plenty of reason to. I've spent a lot of time defending Irving. I thought the criticisms were a little over the top for a guy that was still so young, had so much room to improve.
In the end though, if Irving was going to be vindicated, it would have to be something he earned. He was going to have to put together a consistent, efficient season. He was going to have to show he could be a key contributor on a winner. He was going to have to show he could co-exist in an offensive system and not dribble away the shot clock. He was going to have to make strides defensively. There was no way of settling the debate outside of simply watching Irving grow up. He was either going to do it, make the step into super-stardom, or not.
He has the attention of the NBA. When you hit a buzzer beater in San Antonio to force overtime, and then promptly dominate extra time, that's what happens. He's getting the respect of people who cover and obsess over the league. LeBron James is but one admirer. And no one can say he hasn't earned it.