Newark, N.J. Kyrie Irving traveled just a few miles down the road to become the No. 1 pick in the NBA Draft.
The players that followed him came from across the globe.
The Cleveland Cavaliers selected Irving with the No. 1 pick in a draft filled with internationals, confident his foot is healthy enough to lead the rebuilding effort that follows LeBron James’ departure.
Loudly cheered by family and friends not far from where he starred at St. Patrick’s High School in Elizabeth, Irving showed no signs of the toe injury on his right foot that limited him to 11 games last season as he walked up the stairs to shake hands with Commissioner David Stern.
“I didn’t have any doubts about going to No. 1. I was looking to the organization to pick who they felt was the right choice,” Irving said. “But now to this moment, from being a fan of the NBA Draft and now being drafted, it’s a special feeling in my heart and knowing that my friends and family were together, it’s a memory I’m going to remember for the rest of my life.”
Three of the first six players taken were from Europe, capitalizing on the absence of some American college players who might have gone in their spots and made this a stronger draft. It was the first time four international players who didn’t play at a U.S. college were selected in the lottery.
Even Irving has international ties. He was born in Australia while his father, Drederick, played professionally there and said he might be interested in playing for the Australian national team.
After grabbing him with their first No. 1 pick since taking James in 2003, the Cavs used the No. 4 selection on Texas forward Tristan Thompson. They were the first team since the 1983 Houston Rockets with two top-four picks.
The Minnesota Timberwolves took Arizona forward Derrick Williams with the No. 2 pick. The Utah Jazz then took Turkish big man Enes Kanter third with their first of two lottery selections.
The league’s uncertain labor situation hung over the draft, and likely weakened it. Potential top-10 picks such as Jared Sullinger of Ohio State and Harrison Barnes were among those who decided to stay in school, without knowing when their rookie seasons would have started.
Stern, who could lock out his players next week if a deal for a new collective bargaining agreement is not reached, was booed when he came onto the stage at the Prudential Center, which is hosting the draft while its usual home, Madison Square Garden, is undergoing summer work.
New Yorkers made the trip across the river to join the sellout crowd of 8,417, cheering loudly when Kemba Walker and Jimmer Fredette were taken in the top 10 and booing when the Knicks made Georgia Tech guard Iman Shumpert the No. 17 selection.
The draft was filled with question marks, with a number of unknown European players expected to go in the first round. Kanter hasn’t played competitively in a year, forced to sit out last season at Kentucky after being ruled ineligible for being paid to play in Turkey.
Lithuania’s Jonas Valanciunas went fifth to Toronto and Jan Vesely of the Czech Republic was taken sixth by Washington.
“Basketball in my country is not so popular, but after this night, I think — I hope — that the basketball will be more popular,” Vesely said. “I will do my best to help that.”
Bismack Biyombo of Congo went seventh as one of six international players who went in the first round, three short of the record set in 2003. The 18-year-old forward moved to Charlotte as part of a three-way deal agreed to earlier that also included Milwaukee and ended with Fredette in Sacramento.
Kentucky’s Brandon Knight went eighth to Detroit as common fans finally heard a name they recognized again. He was followed by Walker of national champion Connecticut to Charlotte and NCAA scoring champion Fredette of BYU — both New Yorkers who were loudly cheered after their names were called. Walker, the Final Four Most Outstanding Player, wiped away tears on the draft stage.
Irving became the third point guard taken first in the last four years, following Derrick Rose in 2008 and John Wall last year. Rose was the NBA’s MVP this season, ending James’ two-year reign.
Irving insists he’s not trying to replace James — whose highlights were booed when showed on the overhead screen — in a different manner now.
“I’m looking forward to getting to Cleveland,” Irving said. “It’s a big sports town and I cannot wait to embrace all of the fans there and the fan support. I can’t wait.”
Indiana took San Diego State’s Kawhi Leonard at No. 15 and traded his rights to San Antonio for former IUPUI star George Hill. That started a number of trades at the bottom of the first round, including a Houston-Minnesota swap that sent the Timberwolves’ Jonny Flynn to the Rockets in a deal that included Brad Miller, according to a person with knowledge of the deal.