SANTA FE, N.M. — Saturday, he was grand marshal in a parade through the streets of Los Alamos on what the county council officially proclaimed “Alex Kirk Day.”
Monday morning in Cleveland, the 7-foot former University of New Mexico center had an even more memorable day as he signed a two-year contract with the NBA’s Cleveland Cavaliers.
“It was an awesome feeling,” said Kirk, who is in Cleveland this week working out at the Cavaliers facility with several other new team members. “They pulled me out of a workout we were doing and had the papers laid out. I think I was even dripping sweat on one of the pages of the contract. But this was the dream. It was an amazing feeling and now it’s back to work.”
Kirk said he kept a souvenir from Monday’s life-changing experience.
“I kept the pen,” he admitted. “It was just a regular old pen — didn’t say Cavs on it or anything and didn’t even work very well, but that thing’s going up in the trophy case at some point, for sure.”
It certainly got the job done on Monday.
While Kirk and his agent had been talking with the Cavs for several weeks about a possible deal, the former Los Alamos High standout said it was a relief to finally get the formality of signing the papers completed.
Neither the Cavaliers, who announced the deal on the team’s website on Monday, nor Kirk, who went undrafted in the June NBA Draft after leaving UNM with one season of eligibility remaining, would disclose specific details of the contract, but the Journal has learned it is a two-year deal with a partial guarantee of salary.
Should Kirk make the regular season roster, the NBA’s rookie minimum salary for the 2014-15 season is $507,000.
Kirk spent most of the month of July practicing and then playing with the Cavaliers as part of the NBA Summer League in Las Vegas, Nev.
First-year Cavs head coach David Blatt told the Journal in July that Kirk, regardless of the minutes he played in some games during the summer league, was clearly making an impression on the organization as an undrafted free agent.
“Alex has been great for us,” Blatt said. “He was one of the best players in our (pre-Summer League) camp and he’s doing all the things he’s being asked to do. We’ve been very pleased with Alex.”
Kirk was in the starting lineup for the Cavaliers first summer league game, which happened to be on the day LeBron James announced he would be returning to the team. That news, coupled with the summer league game featuring this year’s No. 1 NBA Draft pick, Andrew Wiggins, made for a circus-like environment at UNLV’s Cox Pavilion. Nevertheless, Kirk took it all in stride and grabbed a game-high 12 rebounds.
“The key for me,” Kirk told the Journal after that game, “and what I think everybody wants to know is how am I going to rebound the basketball with all these athletes. I think I showed that I can do that.”
As for the news of James’ rejoining the team, Kirk said he was obviously excited but in his position he had to focus on blocking out distractions to focus on the things he needed to do to make the team, adding watching players around him get cut or traded at a moments notice was a reminder that basketball is a business now.
“I’m going to take advantage of every opportunity in front of me,” Kirk said. “I always have and always will. Honestly, it’s going to be about how hard I work. And that’s the goal, to make an NBA roster. This was the best fit we saw for me after the draft and now I need to make the most of it.”
Kirk, who earned his marketing degree from UNM in May, had one season of eligibility remaining for the Lobos as he sat out his sophomore season after surgery on a herniated disc in his back. He averaged 13.3 points, 8.7 rebounds and 2.7 blocks per game this past season for the Lobos, en route to being named to the Mountain West’s All-Defensive team and all-league third team.
He said that while there were more than a few fans vocal with their criticism of his leaving UNM with a season of eligibility remaining, he has nothing but love for all the supporters in his home state.
“This is the happiest my family and I have been in awhile,” Kirk said. “And I wouldn’t be here today doing this without all the support from everyone that’s a Lobo fan or Hilltopper fan or all the people who have supported me through all this. This is a dream come true.”
Despite the contract, Kirk can still be cut from the Cavaliers and still has work ahead of him to make the team’s opening day roster with what is now a somewhat crowded frontcourt. Cleveland’s roster as of Monday, even before the anticipated addition later this month of 6-10 power forward Kevin Love of the Minnesota Timberwolves, has projected starting center Anderson Varejao (6-11), forward Dwight Powell (6-11), forward Malcolm Thomas (6-9), forward Eric Murphy (6-10), center Brendon Haywood (7-0), among others.
NBA rosters are allowed 15 players under contract, 13 of whom dress out for each game.
Kirk is the third former Lobo who has signed a professional contract in the past month, joining Cameron Bairstow, who signed a three-year contract with the Chicago Bulls after he was their second-round draft pick in the June NBA Draft, and Kendall Williams, who signed a one-year deal to go overseas and play for the Italian professional team Vuelle Basket Pesaro.
Tony Snell, who along with Kirk, Bairstow and Williams was a part of UNM’s 2010 recruiting class, was drafted by the Bulls in the first round of the 2013 NBA Draft.
Snell, Bairstow and the Bulls are scheduled to play Kirk and the Cavaliers in the preseason on Oct. 20 in Columbus, Ohio.
Kirk said he’ll spend this week working with the Cavaliers and then meet up with some professional trainers at a few cities around the country in the coming weeks to work on various aspects of his game before getting home for a few days to pack up and move to Cleveland for training camp in September.