The day former UNM Lobo Alex Kirk made his NBA Summer League debut last July with the Cleveland Cavaliers in Las Vegas, Nev., he learned quickly that he was in for a wild ride.
The same morning, some guy named LeBron James announced his decision to return to the Cavaliers to try to deliver a championship to Cleveland.
Tonight, James and the Cavaliers play the Golden State Warriors in Game 1 of the NBA Finals, four games away from fulfilling that promise.
While Kirk, the undrafted free agent from Los Alamos who worked his way onto the Cavs opening-game roster, played half a season with the team before being traded and finishing his rookie season in the NBA D-League, won’t be at the game, his rooting interests are clear.
“I’m rooting for them, for sure,” Kirk said Wednesday from Florida, where he is training at the IMG Academy with the hopes of making another NBA roster this coming season. “It’s not like when I watch Cam and Tony (Bairstow and Snell, his former UNM teammates who played this past season with the Chicago Bulls), but all those guys on the Cavs are all my dudes, too. They treated me great when I was there. … I’m definitely going to be cheering for them.
“That’s the team that gave me the opportunity to play in the NBA and I’ll never forget that.”
Kirk found out quickly that the NBA is definitely a business and there isn’t much room for emotion or hard feelings, even when you’re traded (to the New York Knicks) in January, only to be waived before ever suiting up with the new team.
While the players the Cavs got back in the Kirk trade (J.R. Smith and Iman Shumpert) have at times played vital roles in Cleveland’s postseason run, Kirk’s fate after the trade wasn’t as fortunate.
NBA rules don’t allow players to return to the team that traded them away in the same season, but his D-League rights were owned by the Canton Charge, which is affiliated with the Cavaliers. That meant when Kirk was waived by the Knicks, he had to return to a D-League team whose NBA partner couldn’t call on him to return.
“Yeah, I was pretty much stuck,” Kirk said. “It was roller coaster this season, no doubt. But I got a lot out of it.”
And now, he’ll be rooting for his old Cavs teammates to reach the goals they set when he was still on the team.
“I know I wasn’t a part of the championship run,” Kirk said, “but I’ll always know I was at least some part of that team. That’s pretty amazing when you think about it.”
NBA SUMMER LEAGUE: Kirk has committed to play for the Memphis Grizzlies in the Orlando NBA Summer League session (July 4-10) and with the New York Knicks in the Las Vegas NBA Summer League session (July 10-20).
He also has been invited to work out at two team combines with NBA teams in the next couple months, but did not want to say which teams those are.
KING KIRK ON KING JAMES: “He just knows so much about timing,” Kirk said about playing with James. “And not just on the court, but he knows how to do it and when not to over do it. He knows all the moments when to be a brainiac of the game – and he knows everything about the game – and also when to goof around with teammates.
“In the game, he knows when he needs to go force it, go finish and get buckets for himself. But he also knows when it’s best to facilitate and get everyone else involved. In that way, he’s a freak. There’s not many who know the timing like he does.”
LOBO ALL-STAR GAME: Like many of the participants in the June 28 Lobo all-star game being played in the Pit that will see some proceeds go to the UNM Lobo Club and the Pink Pack Fund, Kirk said he’s pretty excited about the event.
But in his case, as a New Mexico native, he has the added interest of being a longtime fine of the Lobos before he ever attended UNM. The game will give Kirk an opportunity to finally meet one of his favorite players as a kid.
“Ruben Douglas was my favorite Lobo,” Kirk said. “He was there right at the age I was really getting into watching basketball. I’m pretty excited to meet him, actually.”