LAS VEGAS, Nev. – With two large ice bags wrapped around his knees while sitting on a training table next to a makeshift locker room beneath the bleachers of Cox Pavilion, Alex Kirk was experiencing the full spectrum of the NBA life on Friday night.
While conducting a postgame interview with a lone reporter after his professional debut with the Cleveland Cavaliers Summer League team, the former University of New Mexico Lobo center could look 15 feet to his right and see the outer boundary of a media scrum of about 50 reporters. The gathering surrounded Kirk’s teammate, No. 1 overall draft pick Andrew Wiggins.
Wiggins, perceived to be one of the league’s next superstars, was being peppered by national media with questions about his pro debut and about the prospect of playing with the league’s premier superstar, LeBron James, who announced Friday morning he would be returning home to play with the Cavaliers next season.
“It’s been a weird day, but all I can do right now is focus on my little part of all this and that’s just trying to make an NBA team right now,” Kirk said of how he dealt with the James news. “I think it’s awesome, obviously, but we all also learn here pretty quick that this is a business.”
And, as Friday proved, there is no bigger business in the NBA right now than James.
After news the 29-year-old, four-time MVP and two time world champion would be returning to Cleveland, Cavalier fans around the world, and especially in Las Vegas, had plenty to cheer about. James’ once familiar No. 23 Cavs jersey, at least the one Cleveland fans didn’t burn four years ago when he decided to go play for the Miami Heat, could be seen on the backs of several fans in Sin City.
But for the players, Friday was about something different.
“Obviously it’s exciting news, but we just all really tried focusing on what we had to do here, because that’s what our jobs are right now is what’s happening here,” said second-year Cavaliers point guard Matthew Dellavedova, who is an Australia Boomers teammate of former UNM Lobo Cameron Bairstow.
“As much as people want to talk about that, we tried hard here not to have anything distract us.”
Kirk, who finished his first Summer League game with a game-high 12 rebounds and six points in 28 minutes of play in the Cavaliers’ 70-68 win over the Milwaukee Bucks, pointed out that just in the past few days he’s seen a Summer League teammate (Sergey Karasev) traded, and at halftime of Friday’s game – yes, at halftime – starting guard Scotty Hopson was pulled from the locker room and told he had been traded to the Charlotte Hornets.
Both of those trades were moves made to clear cap space for the James acquisition, and another reminder that Kirk is now in a cutthroat business that doesn’t allow players the luxury of sitting back and getting too caught up in things like free-agent deals, no matter how big they are.
“This is a business – a business I’m trying to get into, and I need to work hard to make a team,” Kirk said. “If I’m lucky enough to make the team, then I can sit back and think about who I might be playing with.”
Not only were Kirk, Wiggins and others were making their Cavalier debuts Friday, so, too, was new head coach David Blatt, the first-year coach who took the Cleveland job just three weeks ago.
“I really don’t want to talk in too much detail right now. It’s not appropriate,” Blatt said when asked about the James news. “I do want to say that to have the opportunity to coach the best player in the world is a blessing I would wish for everyone. And I know that because of the type of player he is and the type of man he is, our team will be better for it in every respect.”
The Associated Press contributed to this article.