Cleveland Cavalier fans were shocked to find out that Kyrie Irving, their franchise point guard had asked for a trade, and wanted to leave the franchise that had taken him to three straight NBA Finals. Cavs fans (who tend to not take these breakups well) couldn’t believe it. Who wouldn’t want a guaranteed shot at the Finals every year? Who doesn’t want to play with arguably one of the top two players in the history of the sport? Well, to answer these questions, we have to return to July 8, 2010.

It was one of the biggest moments in the history of sports. It was easily the most talked about topic on sports talk radio and ESPN during the summer of 2010: The Decision. LeBron James was coming off of yet another disappointing playoff run with Cleveland, and his future was up in the air. Would he stay loyal to his hometown team, or join the budding duo of Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade? Of course, now we know he chose to take his talents to South Beach, but at the time it was one of the most shocking reveals in television history. And it was reality. Cavalier fans were betrayed, jerseys were being burned. It was arguably the ugliest breakup in the history of professional sports.

LeBron James would go onto four straight NBA Finals. The Cavs wouldn’t see the playoffs during that span.

As you all remember, the 2010-11 season didn’t go well for Cleveland. Believe it or not, a roster built to support a superstar, didn’t fair well without said superstar. Their luck began to change in the summer of 2011, as the Cavs would end up with two lottery picks, one of those being the top pick in the draft. With the top pick in the draft, they selected Duke’s Kyrie Irving. We hadn’t seen much of Irving in college, but his potential couldn’t be question. Good defender, good shooter, excellent ball handler. At the time, only Chris Paul and Derrick Rose looked like point guards to build your team around, but Irving had all of the qualities of a franchise player. The young rookie would give Cavs’ fans new life.

Kyrie Irving all alone
Photo credit: Erik Drost

During his rookie campaign, Irving would average 18 points and five assists on his way to being named 2012’s Rookie of the Year. In his second year he made the All-Star team. The following year he was voted MVP of the All-Star game. But during the first seasons of his career, he couldn’t take the Cavs back to the playoffs. But in the summer of 2014, everything would change, as The King would return.

LeBron James announced he was returning to Cleveland after four years, and winning two titles–he was forgiven and James was no longer a villain. He wasn’t to blame for the four previous years of missing the playoffs, he was to thank for all of the young talent the franchise had acquired during his absence. I personally never understood how it happened–he left them for dead. He burned the team to the ground when he left in 2010, and one letter in Sports Illustrated made the fans do a complete 180. And within weeks of his return, they began to shape the roster to his liking, something he had not done with Kyrie.

Of course when you have the best player on the planet on your team, he’ll make a huge difference. Cleveland made it to the NBA Finals for just the second time in history, but would fall to the Golden State Warriors in five games, as they were without Irving and Kevin Love. LeBron couldn’t beat the three point powerhouse on his own; a familiar theme in the career of James.

The following year, brought another great year, and another Finals appearance. This time, things would be different. At full strength, the Cavs took everything the Warriors threw at them, and Kyrie’s phenomenal play was overshadowed by LeBron’s phenomenal play. Here’s where my point comes in: with less than two minutes left, Andre Iguodala led the Warriors back to break the game’s 89-89 tie, when LeBron performed his signature chase down block; an act the superstar has done time and time again during the span of his career. It was a huge play, no question, but it was worth zero points, as all blocks have been throughout the history of basketball. Kyrie would go on to hit the shot that would go on to literally win the franchise its first title in history with 53 seconds left. But that block was all anyone wanted to talk about. Of course, basketball purists took notice of Irving’s shot, but in the SportCenter generation, the highlights win the attention of the fans. LeBron’s block received more attention than the game-winning shot.

It’s tough to not give credit when credit is due. Whether it’s at your office job or winning an NBA title, it’s nice to get credit right? Kyrie may have wanted to leave Cleveland, but he should not be vilified. He resigned with Cleveland before LeBron announced his return. He stuck with them during the dumpster fire years the LeBron left behind him. Kyrie Irving was not a gift to the franchise from LeBron James, he was a golden nugget found in his absence. And most importantly, his shot, not a block that was worth zero points won the franchise its only title. Kyrie Irving just wants to shine, not be eclipsed by the greatness of LeBron James and he is not a villain because of that.

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