Kyrie Irving’s summer ended with a broken hand, but that bad break can’t erase what he gained.
Which was a lot.
Irving spent the past couple weeks practicing for the U.S. Select Team, a group chosen to work against the Olympic Team. The constant buzz that came out of Las Vegas during and after these practices was that if one player stood out, it was the Cavs Rookie of the Year.
“It was a great experience for him,” Cavs coach Byron Scott said via phone from Las Vegas. “He’s appreciated it. It gives him a pretty good idea of where he stands with some of the better point guards in the league. It’s a confidence boost as well.”
Scott arrived in Vegas Friday to watch the Cavs summer league team, and the two went to dinner together where they talked about Irving’s experience. Irving’s message to his coach?
“It was something that was needed,” Scott said.
Because until a player is among the best, he’s never sure if he belongs with the best. Irving had the chance to prove he belonged, and he did that – even if the summer ended with an injury.
“This brought out the best parts of his game,” Scott said. “At the end of the day when all was said and done he felt he belonged on that floor with those guys.”
Practices were closed, but a highlight tape showed Irving breaking a press by dribbling around and through three players. It showed him scoring, driving, fading and using some nasty crossovers to escape defenders.
Cavs fans have seen this from Irving, but in these practices he wasn’t going against the eighth player on a roster. He was going against the premium in the league.
And when practice was over Irving didn’t shoot or practice with the Select Team, he chose to work with the Olympians.
Again, as if he belonged.
“He got a chance to see himself in a different element,” Scott said.
Another video highlight that has gone viral shows Irving chattering with Kobe Bryant, discussing a one-on-one game with the loser donating $50,000 to charity.
Scott didn’t see the tape, but he heard about it.
“I heard they both were talking a bunch of smack,” Scott said.
To say the least.
When Irving told Bryant he wanted the game, Bryant looked at him and asked twice, incredulous: “Are you crazy?”
“You have to guard,” Irving said, adding Bryant would not lock him up.
Later, Irving told Bryant: “You think you’re talking to a high school kid.”
Retorted Bryant: “You just came out of high school, kid.”
Irving later chuckled about the exchange on Twitter, pointing out he had “nothing but respect for the greatest player in our League!!”
“But one thing I know about Kyrie,” Scott said, “he’s not going to back down from a challenge.”
Irving is starting to enjoy some of the trappings of fame. He was featured in a Pepsi commercial, where he played Uncle Drew, an old man taking over a pickup game.
He’s gotten special shoes, endorsements and notice. He’s had parties in his name, one in New Jersey to celebrate winning Rookie of the Year.
But he’s presented himself as the same grounded guy he’s been since he came to Cleveland. One Father’s Day he posted a heartwarming picture of himself with his Dad on Twitter with the words: “Happy fathers day to my dad!!! Allowed all of my dreams to come true…”
Assuming the broken hand is, as he said, a “minor bump in the road,” the future looks more than bright for the Cavs young guard.
And these two weeks could be a key step in his growth.