NEWARK - When Kyrie Irving was a teenager, he traveled to several Nike basketball camps. There, he met professional players like LeBron James and Chris Paul. Most young players might have been star-struck, but Irving was pragmatic. He started asking them what it was like to be a professional, taking notes and storing them along the way.
Irving said Wednesday that he referred back to those notes as he himself prepared to make the jump to the pros after just one season at Duke. One day later, in his home state of New Jersey, he was made the No. 1 pick by the Cleveland Cavaliers in the 2011 NBA Draft. The influence of those two players definitely helped.
"When I say 'try to emulate their journey,' [I mean] just the way they transitioned themselved," Irving said to the assembled media. "LeBron coming from high school to the NBA and Chris Paul coming from college to the NBA -- the way they conducted themselves on and off the court is truly as a professional should. A lot of community service and taking care of their family. That's kind of how I envision myself."
Irving has really been preparing for this day for a long time. He was smooth, handling each question with the grace of a face of a franchise. Those expecting to find an overjoyed player overwhelmed by the moment instead found someone who seemed like he had been in the league for years.
"Honestly, I'm really holding myself back from really letting all my emotions out," he said when asked to describe the moment.
In this way, Irving is the perfect person to lead the Cavaliers in the post-LeBron James age. He acts like he's been there before. Maybe this is because of his experience at Duke, a school he described as having a "professional program." He even zipped around the obvious question about following in James' footsteps, much like he might do to a slower defender.
"I'm really not looking to replace LeBron, honestly," he said. "I'm just trying to be Kyrie Irving and just contribute to the Cleveland organization as much as I can."
Irving admitted he got no assurances in advance that he would be part of that organization in the days and hours leading up to the draft. Even though most teams figured he'd be the pick, the Cavaliers didn't inform him of that until just before they made their selection. It's something you didn't see last year, when the Wizards informed John Wall he was their guy ahead of time.
Eventually, though, Irving got picked, and then he set his sights on leading his new team. He soon got a surprising new teammate in Texas' Tristan Thompson, selected with the No. 4 pick. When the pick was being made, Irving was still in his news conference, and cracked a smile as he was answering another question. When asked why, he said it was because he approved of the pick.
"Tristan is a great friend of mine," Irving said. "I'm really excited having a fellow [that's] 19 also. He's a young player, and having somebody alongside you that will go through the rookie ups and downs with you will make the transition to the NBA that much easier."
It remains to be seen if Irving can live up to being the No. 1 pick on the court. He played just 11 games at Duke, and some wondered if he was really ready to make the jump to the NBA. Irving admitted on Wednesday that he nearly believed those skeptics himself. But two things changed his mind. First, he returned from injury to play well in the NCAA Tournament, and if that didn't happen, he wasn't going pro. Secondly, he said he was able to absorb more information while sitting out.
"Being a part of the Duke program and shadowing the coaches when I was hurt [made me] really learn a lot how to prepare like a professional," he said. "When I was playing, it was a little different, because things were happening really fast. But when I was hurt, things slowed down for me. So I really got a chance to learn."
If that sounds like Irving putting a positive spin on a tough situation, it is. But again, that's part of his appeal to Cleveland. He doesn't appear disarmed by any question, handling them eloquently and with grace. When he began his media conference, he did so with the line "I want to thank everybody for coming," as if he was putting himself in speech mode. Any public relations guru would have swooned.
You can see why the Cavaliers believe he has the necessary intangibles to lead them into a new era. The only thing left for Cavaliers fans to figure out is if he is indeed the real deal on the court. If so, it won't be long before a certain No. 23 is forgotten.