(Originally posted on http://www.iamagm.com on August 29, 2011)
The sleepy-eyed Kyrie Irving’s unflappability displayed moments after being selected number one overall by the
Cleveland Cavaliers at this past June’s 2011 NBA Draft will be tested because the future may be full of false hopes and unfortunate fate.
The 6-3 point guard didn’t face any summer scrutiny on the court as the rookie leagues were a victim of the lockout. But cloistered away on the Duke campus attending summer school he may have some time to reflect upon what’s in store for him.
Not only does his surname sound reminiscently familiar to Julius Erving and Earvin Johnson but he has to follow LeBron James only one year after his exodus.
And although, not even a toe injury that limited his freshman season to 11 games would prevent the former St. Patrick’s (Elizabeth, NJ) star from being the first New Jersey high school player to be drafted with the No. 1 pick, the NBA, mysteriously, has not been kind to high-drafted Garden State guards.
The state has a rich basketball tradition such as hosting the first professional game in Trenton, NJ. One of the first high school players drafted directly to the NBA was Bill Willoughby from Englewood, NJ. And while many New Jerseyans have made it to the NBA, the last great NBA player in my opinion who played high school basketball in the state is Rick Barry (Roselle).
Despite that annually there are a couple of high schools from the state rated at or near the top of the national rankings, many of the players’ All-American status has meant little to predicting pro success. Good coaching could be the reason why team success may outdistance the individual success. But the high esteem may also be the result of these generally North Jersey area teams and players getting a biased view from the New York metropolitan media hype machine.
Irving was born in Australia but he’s Jersey-bred much like sweet Jersey corn. Down-under just happened to be the place where his parents were living at the time of his birth as his dad pursued his professional basketball career. The younger Irving was reared in West Orange, NJ and as mentioned played his school-boy ball in the state.
Conversely, Shaquille O’Neal who wears his Newark roots as a badge of honor was first recognized overseas stationed with his military step-father and then playing high school ball in San Antonio, Texas. And recently Hall-of-Fame enshrined Dennis Rodman born in New Jersey (Trenton) does not claim the state as home as he quickly left and grew up in Dallas, Texas.
Busts and disappointing players may not be regionally discriminatory but the spate of bad luck that has befallen Jersey ballers like Irving is eerie. His predecessors have met some Sopranos-like shit sidetracking their NBA careers.
Bobby Hurley, a six-foot point guard also from Duke born in Jersey City, NJ who played high school ball at the city’s St. Anthony’s was drafted 7th overall in 1993 by the Sacramento Kings. In his first 19 games, he was playing well for the Kings producing 7.1 ppg and 6.7 apg.
But on the way home from that 19th game, he was driving down a dark road without a seat belt when he had an accident that threw him100 feet into a ditch. His lungs collapsed and he had broken ribs, a fractured shoulder blade, a compression fracture of his lower back, a torn tendon in his right knee and soft tissue injuries.
His rookie season was done and the next five years he was in the league but only played a total of 44 games.
Another New Jersey and Duke point guard faced a more definite ending to his career. Jason “Jay” Williams from Plainfield, NJ played scholastically at St. Joseph in Metuchen. He was drafted third overall at the 2002 NBA Draft by the Chicago Bulls and finished his first season on the All-Rookie Team.
However, that summer, Williams crashed his motorcycle into a streetlight. He was not wearing a helmet, nor was he licensed to drive a motorcycle and it was in violation of his contract. The accident severed a main nerve in his leg, fractured his pelvis and tore three ligaments in his left knee including the ACL.
He never played another minute in the NBA.
Finally, DaJuan Wagner, 6-2 guard from Camden, NJ who played one college season at Memphis and was selected sixth in the same draft as Williams. Wagner, as Irving, was drafted by the Cleveland Cavaliers. He missed the first few months of his rookie season with an injury but burst onto the scene scoring in droves. He finished the year scoring 13.4 ppg.
After 11 games into his second season, he was hospitalized for ulcerative colitis and eventually had to have his colon removed. His Cavalier career was over and a comeback with the Golden State Warriors was aborted when they brought out his two-year guaranteed contract due to his poor health after just one game.
But Irving has already been through what most can not imagine. At the age of four, his mother, Elizabeth, died from Sepsis Syndrome and a multisystem organ failure. And he almost lost his father, Drederick, ten years ago when his dad witnessed the mayhem while narrowly escaping death at the World Trade Center during the 9/11 tragedy.
So, maybe these macabre musings pale in comparison to his actual experiences and he will remain unflappable.