For most teams, the last few days of the NBA schedule are relatively meaningless, playoff participants and lottery teams alike locked into their fates. Everyone rests key players, the competition on the floor only matters so much, and the tickets are still full price. It's enough to make a fan go crazy.
To help quell any uprisings, teams typically designate the final home game as Fan Appreciation Night, a time to give attending patrons gifts and ensure them that their loyalty to the team is valued. It doesn't really make up for a 25-win season, but it's a start.
On Monday night, the Cleveland Cavaliers held their Fan Appreciation Night for their final home game, a contest against a Miami Heat team resting the vast majority of their important players. The game ended in the final seconds, with Heat point guard Norris Cole stripping Cavs All-Star Kyrie Irving on the final possession to lock down a 96-95 win.
Irving was not pleased with the result, so he went straight to the locker room after the game. Unfortunately, that means he shirked his Fan Appreciation responsibilities. From Jason Lloyd for the Akron Beacon Journal (via SLAM):
But Irving’s peculiar behavior after the game quickly became just as interesting as another loss in a season filled with them. While the rest of the players lined up to hand selected fans their jerseys and shoes as part of Fan Appreciation Night, Irving immediately sprinted off the court at the buzzer and into the locker room. Irving’s quick exit left a staff member to scramble back to the locker room and gather a jersey and pair of Irving’s shoes to be handed out by someone else.
Coach Byron Scott said he thought Irving was injured on the game’s final play and a team spokesman announced in the locker room just prior to Irving meeting with reporters that he had suffered a bruised right heel. Irving acted surprised upon hearing that.
“That’s what I have? Oh, when was someone going to tell me that?” Irving said. “I’m hurt again? Damn. How long am I going to be out, 4 to 6 weeks?”
Asked when he was injured, Irving said he was fine. “They said I have a bruised heel, but I’m fine,” he said. “I felt it in the first half. Felt something in my heel, but I’m OK.”
He was healthy enough to play 36 minutes, but he couldn’t stick around five more to participate in the festivities celebrating the home finale. Asked why he ran off the court so quickly rather than stick around to hand out his shirt and shoes with everyone else, Irving said he wanted the medical staff to check out his foot.
Never fear — Irving apologized for his actions on Twitter on Tuesday:
I want to personally apologize to all the Cavs fans for my actions yesterday, it was truly unfair to you guys, Im very appreciative for all
— Kyrie Irving (@KyrieIrving) April 16, 2013
Of you guys, your love and passion for the organization and city is what pushes me to be great, — Kyrie Irving (@KyrieIrving) April 16, 2013
In a way, this incident provides a fitting finish to Irving's season after the All-Star break. Although his season will be considered a success due to his first ASG appearance, Irving struggled with injuries and saw his shooting percentage dip precipitously in March and April. He will continue to be the face of the franchise moving forward, but his recent performance may inject some new doubts into his ability to take the Cavs back to contender status.
This incident could very likely register as a footnote to Irving's legacy, and it's a good sign that he apologized hours after everything went down. On the other hand, this is not something that a franchise likes to see from its most prominent player.
This summer figures to be an important one for the Cavs, both because they might replace head coach Byron Scott and due to the expected improvement of their young core. With so many other things in doubt, it's not anything close to ideal to be confused over the fit of Irving in their broader plans. One bad moment shouldn't affect their sense of his ability to lead the team, but it's also true that he was supposed to be the one sure thing on the roster. Minor or not, this event is not the best way to head into the offseason.