Irving rewards father's perseverance
MIAMI – Drederick Irving looks forward to celebrating Father's Day this year over dinner with his three children. His big gift, however, might not arrive until four days later when his son, Kyrie, could be the No. 1 overall pick in the NBA draft in Newark, N.J., a short drive from his house.
While the draft promises to be memorable for the Irvings, Kyrie doesn't believe it will be thanks enough for his father, who raised him alone after Kyrie's mother died when he was 4.
"I can't even give my father a proper gift," Kyrie said. "Every single Father's Day means so much to me. I'm so close to him. He's my big brother, but also my father."
Kyrie's love for basketball grew from watching his father play. Drederick Irving helped lead Boston University to the 1988 NCAA tournament as a senior, and the Terriers lost to Duke – where Kyrie would play at 22 years later – in the first round. Drederick met his wife, Elizabeth, at college, and she followed him when he began his professional basketball career in Australia after failing to make the Boston Celtics. Kyrie was born on March 23, 1992, in Melbourne. Two years later, his family, including his older sister, Asia, returned to the United States.
Back in New York, Drederick always took his children with him to any of his pro-am or adult league games.
"I would have them in a stroller at the end of the bench when they were like 1 and 2," Drederick said. "As they got older, I would take them from the babysitter after work and bring them to my game. They would sit at the end of the bench and watch. They were well-behaved kids. If they needed something, I'd call a timeout and tend to the kids, but very rarely."
Elizabeth died suddenly from an illness when Kyrie was 4. Kyrie was too young to remember much about his mom, but keeps pictures of her. "She is always with me," he said.
Drederick has done his best to keep his widow's memory alive with Kyrie and Asia, who is now a 20-year-old accounting major at Temple University.
"She was a wonderful and brilliant person," Drederick said. "She loved them very much."
Being a single father wasn't always easy, but Drederick embraced it and leaned on his four sisters for help.
"A lot of women [are single parents] and they get no recognition," said Drederick, who also now has a younger daughter. "I don't want the recognition, to be honest with you. I just handled the responsibility as a father.
"There were challenges, but I think, overall, Kyrie and [Asia] have a good life, and I just tried to provide to the best of my abilities."
Kyrie loved watching his father play. Once he was old enough, Drederick tested his son by taking him from New Jersey to play with New York kids. Though talented, Kyrie, then 9, lacked confidence and was intimidated by the trash-talking New Yorkers.
Having seen enough after one game, Drederick spent 90 minutes in the car talking to his son about how he shouldn't be afraid of anyone. Nor should he be afraid to fail. Those words have stayed with Kyrie.
"I'm probably one of the most competitive people ever," Kyrie said. "I want to go out there and destroy people, honestly. It's fun to me. It comes mainly from my father."
Said Drederick: "I knew there was another gear in him he had to embrace."
Kyrie said his big moment came when he beat his father 15-0 in consecutive games of one-on-one. Kyrie was 16, his father 42.
"He thought I was going to give him this lecture," Drederick said. "I said, 'Ky, the way you beat me is the way you should beat a 42-year-old. He killed me, beat me 15-0 and it wasn't even a game. I felt good because he got me. He wasn't nice to me because I was his dad.
"He destroyed me and was talking smack the whole game. To me it was validation that Kyrie was ready to move on to make the next step."
Kyrie started as a freshman at Duke this past season, averaging 17.5 points and 4.3 assists, but was limited to 11 games by a toe injury. He decided to declare for the draft after scoring 28 points in Duke's loss to Arizona in the Sweet 16. Kyrie has been living in Coral Gables, Fla., at the home of his agent Jeff Wechsler while working out twice a day at the University of Miami with a trainer.
"I'm only 19 years old, but I feel I was ready to go on to the NBA, and I'm going to make a difference once I get there," Kyrie said. "That's a decision that I made and I wasn't going to look back on it."
Kyrie worked out last week for the Cleveland Cavaliers, who own the top draft pick. Cavs coach Byron Scott said the franchise is also considering Arizona forward Derrick Williams for the first pick. The Cavs also have the fourth overall pick and are receiving trade interest from other teams, sources said, which could influence what they do with the top pick.
Kyrie is excited about the possibility of playing for the Cavaliers.
"It's a rebuilding team," he said. "Whoever goes there, the pressure is going to come regardless. Just being in the top three [picks] has pressure. It will be a lot harder in Cleveland knowing that LeBron [James] left. But whoever is picked there should just worry about themselves and being focused on bringing a new culture to the team and contributing as much as they can."
Scott was impressed with Kyrie during his recent visit to Cleveland. Scott believes Kyrie and veteran point guard Baron Davis(notes) could play together.
"He has very good size for a point guard," Scott said of Kyrie. "He's not real thin or thick. He has a very good base. His quickness was impressive. I was really impressed with his leaping ability as well."
Kyrie says he has dreamed of making it to the NBA ever since he learned his dad didn't make it. That dream grew stronger in the fourth grade when his youth team played on the New Jersey Nets' court during a trip. After what Kyrie called, "the best day of his life," he wrote on a piece of paper, "I will play in the NBA, I promise."
With his proud father sitting next to him at the draft, Kyrie will realize his dream on Thursday.
"I wouldn't be where I am as a young man without him," Kyrie said.