A father's love extends well beyond the confines of a basketball court
Drederick Irving taught his son lessons on and off the basketball court
His son, a senior-to-be, is now a heavily-recruited high school phenom
The gap between the two may have widened on the court, but definitely not off
UNION, N.J. -- Drederick Irving, the 43-year-old with gray in his facial growth and low-cut Chuck Taylors on his feet, walks into the Y.W.H.A. basement gym and slips off his sneakers. Nine players -- including his son, Kyrie -- from the New Jersey Roadrunners AAU program wait idly for their tenth man in order to start a pick-up game. He pulls on a pair of size-12 sneakers that his son was given at a recent camp. "Old school time," the father says as he stretches on a recent Sunday. "The kids think I'm just Kyrie's dad."
What follows is a lesson in genetics. On one play, the father -- who starred at Boston University in the late 80s and earned Rucker Park MVP honors one summer -- steps in front of a pass by midcourt, takes four dribbles and leaps off his left foot for a two-handed slam. Head down, the 6-foot-4 former guard jogs back as his 17-year-old pumps both fists in the air, receives him with a chest bump and bellows, "Aaaahhhh!" "Not every father gets to do that," the elder Irving says.
Two plays later his ambidextrous son repeats the sequence, but jumps off his right foot and dunks with his left. "That," the son says, "was special."
Father always bested his progeny one-on-one until last summer. The two would battle in the playgrounds of the Bronx, parks in Newark or their suburban driveway. Drederick would try to "boogie" on the perimeter and back the youth down low, throw a fake and finish. If he pulled up, his set shot was impossible to reach, releasing from behind his head. Kept in check, the son would run inside the house and cry in his room.
The gap between their games shrank as the son's arms lengthened. His steps quickened, too, and the father could no longer anticipate his moves, finally straining his neck to watch his son get by him in the driveway. On the victorious afternoon, the 6-foot-2½ son completed a victory lap around the pavement and jawed at his speechless dad. "It was the highlight of my career," Kyrie says. "I knew the day would come."
Kyrie -- who Rivals.com ranks as the No. 21 player in the class of 2010 -- blew past many of his peers in the last year as well. After leading Montclair (N.J.) Kimberly Academy to its first Prep Class B state title in March 2008, he transferred to national power St. Patrick in Elizabeth before school let out in May.
The quaint nature of the $28,800-a-year school had been welcoming with eight-student math class sizes and parties at 15-bathroom mansions that had an elevator inside. Still, he felt unchallenged on the court, and wanted to see how his 26. 5 points per game held up against better players. The move rankled some for its transparent focus on basketball, but the family stood resolute in its decision and maintained that it would offer the best of both worlds.
At St. Patrick, an inner-city school surrounded by black gates and jagged corners, Irving had his mettle tested early in the dank gym where banners of former players Al Harrington and Shaheen Holloway hang. He was also exposed to what success as a Celtic could portend when the New York Knicks' Harrington, wearing a brown fur coat and driving a Bentley, showed up to peddle his new sneaker line. "Montclair may have more expensive books," says St. Patrick coach Kevin Boyle, who watched Irving help his team to the state title after sitting the mandatory 30 days, "but we have a better pizzeria."
Word got out about Irving last summer. Traveling the B-List circuit of showcase camps, he took home top honors as the never-before-awarded Most Outstanding Prospect trophy at Eastern Invitational. When Dan Hurley, coach of rival St. Benedict's, heard that the guard would be squaring against his backcourt, his response sounded dire: "Damn it!"
The father's experiences, both in and out of basketball, helped whittle the wish list when colleges gained interest. After trying out with the Celtics in 1988, he spent a year in Melbourne, Australia with the Bulleen Bombers and averaged more than 38 points. Kyrie was born down under before returning stateside to Seattle and then to his father's roots in the Mitchell Houses of the South Bronx.
At four years old, Kyrie lost his mother to a sudden sickness and was raised with his older sister, Asia, by their father. Taking up work as a broker at world-class financial services firm Cantor Fitzgerald on Wall Street, Drederick treated clients to nights out and knew what it meant to woo for a living. "I listen to these coaches' pitches politely and wait for their sell," says the father, who left Cantor six months before its World Trade Center offices were destroyed in the 9/11 plane crashes.
One Big East assistant, in particular, irked him by insisting that he heard he was better than his son. After repeating that his son, whose court vision is more expansive than his ever was and overall game more polished at this stage, he has since lost the recruiter's number. "I was just like, 'Why wouldn't I want my son to be better?' " he says.
The recruiting trail has doubled as memory lane for the father. Kentucky assistant Rod Strickland, who grew up with him playing on metal garbage cans outside their project building, is Kyrie's godfather and funded the AAU team, Next Generation, that Irving first gained attention with during grade school. UConn assistant Andre LaFleur played against the father while starring at Northeastern and later in Australia. Texas A&M is on the son's list of 11 schools, in part, due to the relationship the father has with former BU teammate and current Aggies assistant Scott Spinelli. "When decision time comes, it's not about me," the father says.
Irving has established a fan base. On a recent lark with a friend, he joined Twitter to see how many followers he could attract. In they came, recruitniks ranging from reporters to Notre Dame coach Mike Brey and Oklahoma's Jeff Capel, to name a few of his 522 devotees reading into his 140-characters or less posts like: "On my way to "fill in the blank" for an unofficial visit...hope it's ready for me to step on campus jk let's get it.
The obfuscated school was UConn, but another program's mention on message boards required his reaction. At 8:21 a.m. last Monday, he responded to an internet rumor that his father was wearing an Indiana hat and sweatshirt while at the Rumble in the Bronx AAU tournament: "I have not committed to Indiana...my recruiting is still the same...the guy with the sweatshirt was my uncle not my DAD..nba camp tmrw".
His father called the Indiana coaches to clarify, but it's a question that he used to ask his son in one-on-one battles that all coaches giving chase want to know. Each time the father would get by his overanxious son, he'd crane his neck backward and ask, "Where you going?"
The answer was not gift-wrapped for Father's Day, but it should be coming soon.