NEW ORLEANS (AP) Kyrie Irving validated the fan vote and offered a glimpse of how good he can be when surrounded by first-rate players.
The Cleveland Cavaliers' point guard was selected MVP of the NBA All-Star game Sunday night after scoring 31 points, racking up 14 assists and playing with the energy required to rally the Eastern Conference from an 18-point deficit in the second half of its 163-155 victory over the West.
"It was definitely special, just being out there with all these great athletes," Irving said. "There's so many different MVPs out there on that floor, and to be named MVP amongst all those great stars is truly an honor."
Irving missed only three of the 17 shots he attempted, and all of those were from 3-point range, where he was 3 for 6.
He was at his best in the second half, hitting 11 of 13 shots and dishing out seven assists. Often refusing to settle for long jumpers unless they came in rhythm, he went hard to the basket and finished, showing the competitive spirit often lacking in All-Star exhibitions.
"I feel like that's what all the fans want to see us do is just compete at the highest level," Irving said. "I just wanted to give the fans what they wanted."
Eastern Conference coach Frank Vogel of the Indiana Pacers said Irving's performance was a reminder that while winning is important, players should be judged by more than just the records of the teams for which they play.
The Cavaliers are 20-33 at the All-Star break, 11th in the Eastern Conference. Still, Irving was elected by fans to start for the East alongside perennial All-Stars LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony and Dwyane Wade.
"The history of the league is to reward the teams with winning records and the best players on those teams" with All-Star selections, Vogel said. "But there's certain players that stand out beyond that, and Kyrie is definitely one of them. ... He's one of the best in the world, and he showed it tonight."
Not bad for a 21-year-old in his third NBA season - even if he was the first overall pick in 2011.
When Irving was given the trophy, he got a little advice from James, who also was playing for the Cavs at age 21 when he won his first All-Star MVP award in 2006. James and several others reminded Irving to hold the trophy high above his head, so fans could see it.
Cleveland rooters watching on TV might have enjoyed that the most, offering hope that all the losing that has followed James' departure for Miami may end sooner rather than later - if Irving can get a little more help.
"It's a great accomplishment, bringing this (trophy) back to Cleveland," Irving said. "That's the most important thing."