NEW ORLEANS – There hasn't been much for Cleveland Cavaliers fans to cheer about since LeBron James left nearly four years ago. And when the Cavaliers finally did have a shining moment Sunday night, it was James who actually told Kyrie Irving to hold his NBA All-Star Game Most Valuable Player award trophy up high to allow himself and Cleveland to bask in the glow of it all.
"I just wanted him to have his moment and the moment is holding the trophy above your head," James said. "There are few moments in our year where you do that. Winning a championship. It's winning the MVP. The other championship is winning the MVP of the All-Star Game. And he seemed like he didn't exactly know what to do, and I just wanted to try to give him a tip."
Irving earned MVP honors after scoring an East-high 31 points and dishing a game-high 14 assists during a 163-155 victory over the West on Sunday night. The second-time All-Star joined James, who won it in 2006 and 2008, as the only Cavaliers to win the award. Irving also had 15 points and four assists in the fourth quarter to spark the East's come-from-behind victory.
"There were so many different MVPs out there on the floor, and to be named MVP amongst those great stars is truly an honor," Irving said. "It's a blessing and I'm glad to bring it back to Cleveland."
While it's now Irving's show, James was definitely the heart and soul of the Cavaliers from 2003-10.
The No. 1 overall pick in the 2003 NBA draft is an Akron, Ohio native who led the Cavaliers to a 2007 Eastern Conference Finals championship and won two NBA MVP awards. But after James opted to sign with Miami in free agency in 2010, Cleveland owner Dan Gilbert said via e-mail to the fans that James would never win a title. The Cavs fans burned James' jersey, cursed him and threw stones at his Nike billboard. James got the last laugh, winning two titles and playing in the NBA Finals three times since going to the Heat.
Cleveland has not been to the playoffs since James has departed. The Cavaliers have been so bad that they have drafted first overall twice with Irving in 2011 and Anthony Bennett last year. An experiment with center Andrew Bynum this season was a nightmare as he was cut and recently signed with the East-leading Indiana Pacers. Mike Brown is in his second stint after Byron Scott was fired after last season and general manager Chris Grant was fired earlier this month. The Cavaliers went into the All-Star break with the Eastern Conference's fifth-worst record at 20-33 despite winning their last four.
"I don't think they needed Kyrie Irving to win this award to have a good vibe," James said. "I think they know they have someone very special. He's very special."
Irving has been the only reason for the Cavaliers to smile as he won the NBA Rookie of the Year award in 2012 and was voted in as a 2014 Eastern Conference starting guard by the fans. His award doesn't change the state of the franchise. But for the moment, it did present the post-James Cavaliers in a positive light.
"I try not to get too high or low," Irving said. "It's a great accomplishment, especially bringing [it] back to Cleveland. That's the most important thing."
Wrote Brown via text message: "Winning the All-Star MVP is great for Kyrie, his family, the Cavs organization, the City of Cleveland and all that live in Northeast Ohio. For him to put on a winning performance like he did [Sunday night] is a testament to the hard work he has put into improving his game this summer and current season. He is only scratching the surface of his true potential."
The All-Star Game came down the stretch with four MVP candidates in Irving, East forward Carmelo Anthony and West forwards Blake Griffin and Kevin Durant. Griffin and Durant both scored 38 points and were four points shy of tying Wilt Chamberlain's scoring record of 42 points in 1962. Anthony had 30 points and nailed an All-Star Game record eight 3-pointers.
Irving actually passed the ball to Anthony for a missed 3-pointer with 6.9 seconds left. Had Anthony nailed that trey, the New York Knick might've been the MVP instead. Had the West won, either Griffin or Durant would have likely got the nod. Irving received eight of a possible 13 MVP votes, Durant and Anthony both received two and James got one.
"I was hoping [Anthony] made it so I could just get another assist," Irving said. "That was the only thing I was hoping for. Whether he got it or not, it was just a happy moment just to be out there with all those great stars. But I was hoping he would make it so I could get that 15th assist."
More on NBA All-Star Game