Breaking the Curse


Jan 20, 2012; Cleveland, OH, USA; Cleveland Cavaliers point guard Kyrie Irving (2) drives against Chicago Bulls point guard C.J. Watson (7) in the third quarter at Quicken Loans Arena. Mandatory Credit: David Richard-USA TODAY Sports

Sometimes, a great system can disguise a mediocre man as a masterful maestro, or oppress a prodigy into a bungle. Perhaps, Mr. Kyrie Irving sensed this like he senses a backdoor cutter before throwing a perfect lead bounce-pass. Maybe, he was a step ahead of history, like he is a step ahead of NBA defenders, or should I say NBA victims.

Kyrie is breaking an ominous tradition that has been upheld since Sir Coach K initiated the legacy of modern Blue Devils Basketball in 1980. With each great Duke team that has come and passed over the last 30+ years, there has been a fantastic point guard running the show. Or so it has seemed.

Dukeʼs offense and defense requires an intelligent floor leader to communicate and orchestrate the game plans Coach K masterfully crafts.This seems simple enough, for any great ensemble needs a steady conductor.

Over the last thirty years, these point guards have appeared to be some of the best in the country, however, when one follows up on their post-collegiate basketball careers (or lack thereof), an eery story of failure perpetuates in a way that would make any Chicago Cubs fan nonchalantly say, “Yup, cursed. Pass the ketchup hunny.”

Kyrie seemed ready to euthanize the Duke point guard curse before he even left Duke. In fact, he has been breaking the Duke point guard traditions left and right from the get- go.

But before we exam Kyrie, letʼs recap some of the incredible point guards in Dukeʼs history since Coach K arrived. First, here is a list of Coack Kʼs greatest point guards and their basic “pg stats” from their final seasons with Duke:

Bobby Hurley 93ʼ17.
Jay Williams 02ʼ21.
Johnny Dawkins 86ʼ20.
Tommy Amaker87ʼ12.
Chris Duhon 04ʼ10.
Quin Snyder 89ʼ7.
Nolan Smith

The numbers are impressive, right? OK…same guys, NBA career stats:

Bobby Hurley3.
Jay Williams9.
Johnny Dawkins11.
Tommy Amakerʼ0000
Chris Duhon6.
Quin Snyder0000
Nolan Smith3.

As the legendary WWF announcer Jim Ross would say, GOOD GOD ALL MIGHTY, GOOD GOD ALL MIGHTY, LOOK ATHE CARNAGE!

The stats donʼt lie, something is up and itʼs not NBA success. But maybe, this “curse” is really a systematic glitch.

When Kyrie was at Duke he did things differently than his predecessors, from spending one year at Duke, to wearing #1, to carrying an innate swagger we donʼt normally see from Dukies .

The more I explored Kyrieʼs success and the othersʼ failures, the more I dared to ponder the seemingly impossible: could the Duke system hinder the development of point guards with great potential? Ponder is the operative word here.

This is by no means an indictment on Coach Kʼs system.This is a greater theological question. Is it more natural for great players to develop in a situation that requires improvisation and overachieving rather than a humble willingness to adapt to a system?

The NBAʼs top point guards of today came from both smaller programs (Chris Paul, Wake Forest) and bigger programs (Deron Williams, Illinois), and I could name countless other players to argue either point. What I canʼt deny is the consistency of the Duke point guards epic NBA failures.

Maybe the real argument is that a fantastic program can elevate the appearance of an average playerʼs ability. Intelligent and disciplined point guards can thrive under the best coaches/systems, especially with top recruits filling the lanes and posting up all around them. Names like Mateen Cleaves (Michigan St.), Khalid El-Amin (UCONN), and Miles Simon (Arizona) all come to mind; players who thrived in great systems under great coaches against the best NBA prospects in the country, but ultimately fell flat after college.

Or…maybe, it is just a curse!

It seemed like both Bobby Hurley and Jay Williams were going to break this Duke curse about ten years apart, until devastating automobile crashes abruptly destroyed both of their careers so early on. Bobby and Jay had NBA talent and then some. Coach Kʼs system seemed to do nothing but enhance their abilities and maturity (which both already had plenty of), grooming them for big-time NBA success. But bad luck snatched it all away.This might be the only concrete evidence that truly proves this is a curse.

With that in mind, we all hope the best for Kyrie. It looks like the Cavs are really building something special around him. If Andrew “Mr. Maturity” Bynum can keep both his knees and brains from imploding, this Cavs team could be just a couple pieces away from contention.

And this summer, as Kyrie prepares for the traditionally epic third NBA season of his career, guess who is coaching him at USA basketball camps? You got it, good old Coach K. Fine tuning every aspect of his game like a genius mechanic.

Next year, expect BIG things from Kyrie. He is already a 20+ ppg guy, with over 5 apg and 3 rpg. I could see Kyrie flirting with 25/7/5 this season. He has that kind of game.

And if you bring up the curse to Kyrie, he will probably laugh it off with his regular swagger. It seems like no defender in the league can catch him, so why would Kyrie think a curse can?