INDEPENDENCE, OHIO (AP) - Once Kyrie Irving finished cracking jokes, thanking Cleveland’s fans, his teammates and coaches, he looked down from the podium at the person who promised this would happen.
He was the NBA’s Rookie of the Year.
“This award is for us,” Irving said to his father, Dred, who raised his son after his wife, Elizabeth, died 15 years ago. “We’re bringing it back home and we’re going to put it right on the mantle and we’re going to put some flashing lights on it so it shines throughout the whole entire house.”
This season, Irving shined brightest.
The 20-year-old ran away in voting by a nationwide media panel that could have handed in ballots with two months left in the season. There was really no other choice.
Irving received 117 of 120 possible first-place votes from writers and broadcasters and finished with 592 points, more than three times as many as Minnesota’s Ricky Rubio (170), who finished second despite missing most of the season with a knee injury. Denver’s Kenneth Faried (129) was a distant third.
Faried, San Antonio’s Kawhi Leonard and New York’s Iman Shumpert received the other first-place votes, stopping Irving from joining Blake Griffin (2011), David Robinson (1990) and Ralph Sampson (1984) as the only players to win the award unanimously.
Irving played beyond his years and above everyone’s expectations _ including his own _ this season when he routinely took over games in the fourth quarter and renewed the hopes of a Cleveland franchise still putting together the pieces after LeBron James left as a free agent two summers ago.
Irving always felt the award was within his reach.
“It was a goal of mine,” Irving said. “I kept it on the back burner. I knew as long as we won games and we beat great teams that it was going to come.”
The first pick in last year’s draft, Irving led all rookies _ and the Cavs _ in scoring with 18.5 points per game. He also led first-year players in field-goal percentage (46.8), was second in assists (5.4) and became one of just six rookies in league history to average at least 18 points and five assists.
However, it was the other elements of his game _ a nasty crossover dribble, a fearless desire to get to the basket, and a clutch, cold-blooded instinct in the fourth quarter _ that separated him from the others.
Cavs coach Byron Scott knew Irving was special long before he made his pro debut.
“The day we brought him in for his individual workout before the draft, I thought he was definitely the best player that we had,” Scott said.
Still, Irving’s first season, delayed because of the league’s labor lockout, began with some doubting whether he was deserving of the top pick or if Cleveland had made a mistake. Irving had played in just 11 games at Duke because of a toe injury.