Kyrie Irving: Signature Worthy?

May 15, 2012 BY

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Cleveland rookie point guard Kyrie Irving has just been awarded the 2012 NBA Rookie Of The Year award, joining a lineage of superstars-in-the-making that are destined for success at the highest level of competition. In just 30 minutes a game, Kyrie displayed a scoring prowess at the position matched by those who are considered ‘elite’ point guards, all while developing into an NBA-level playmaker by averaging 5.4 assists and pulling down 3.7 rebounds a night. Needless to say, Cleveland is 2-for-2 with their #1 overall picks in the last decade and the doubts sparked by the ‘Duke curse’ have largely been put the bed, but discussions haven’t ceased because the matter of Kyrie’s commercial starpower is still under the microscope. We know he’s an official Nike athlete as he’s worn a Zoom Hyperdunk 2011 PE throughout the season, but is he worthy of being the next Nike signature athlete?

Today’s basketball sneaker scene is dominated by signature sneakers. Period. LeBrons continue to set the pace for Nike Basketball, the Zoom Kobe series enjoys utter dominance in both Asia and the U.S. and the Zoom KD line has sprouted immensely after a slow and steady process of cultivation through the first three signature models. The Hyperdunk 2011, despite being a top-tier high-performance shoe, gained much of its notoriety in the sneaker scene thanks to the exploits of Blake Griffin, who viciously dunked his way into stardom by the middle of his rookie season. It’s quite clear that a big name plays an integral role in driving a sneaker’s success, and with the youngest Nike sig reaching a fifth volume later this year, it’s time to bring in some new blood. Whether or not Kyrie Irving is not only worthy, but capable of carrying such a prestigious accolade comes into question, so we’ll break it down because the answer, quite simply, is not clear.

Historically, guards and guard/forwards have been far more effective as marketing tools than big-men; take for example Tim Duncan and Kevin Garnett, both Championship winners and former MVPs who have ‘failed’ as Nike pitchmen because their ‘games’ aren’t relatable to the everyday consumer. Kyrie Irving’s numbers, style of play, and upside prove that he’s an eventual elite player and potential marketing goldmine, and his MVP performance during the 2012 Rising Stars Challenge proved that he can perform at a high level on the brightest stages. Seems like Kyrie is a no-brainer to step up into the sig-shoe developmental league, but the tragic stories of Rajon Rondo and Deron Williams must be considered; both are bonafide ‘elite’-level point guards, having displayed consistent excellence in All-Star and Playoff platforms, but are mired in the Nike PE purgatory without a signature shoe in sight. If a signature shoe was a reward for performance, we’d see a Zoom Rondo or Air Flight D-Will on store shelves, but a lot more goes into the decision. Penny Hardaway, who enjoyed a span of three great seasons and fell down from the ‘elite’ stage due to injury, continues to be one of Nike’s most successful signature lines today because he was teeming with market potential and success; he’s getting another signature shoe this Holiday, and he hasn’t been an All-Star in fourteen years!

The argument can continue on and on, but we’ve laid out the basic for-and-against for Kyrie’s success and potential as a signature Nike athlete. It seems like fellas like Rondo and Blake should be next in line to receive such an honor, but given the history of Nike big-men (remember a similar Amare Stoudemire had a sub-par signature line in his PHX days) and the passing of the ‘strike while the iron’s hot’ moment in Rondo’s case, we could be rocking Irvings a few years down the road. He’s a great talent with a likeable personality (it’s been noted that he gifted his ROY Kia to his AAU coach), and based on Durant’s rise in Oklahoma City and LeBron’s previous success in Cleveland, it seems like given the right superstar, the ‘big market’ myth is just that – a myth. Your thoughts on this discussion? What do you think truly makes a Nike signature athlete, and do you think Kyrie Irving fits the criteria?

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