NEWARK, N.J. — Kyrie Irving traveled just a few miles down the road to become the No. 1 pick in the NBA draft on Thursday, while many of the selections that followed him came from across the globe.
Cleveland selected Irving with the first pick in a draft filled with internationals, confident his foot is healthy enough to lead the Cavaliers’ rebuilding effort that follows LeBron James’(notes) departure.
Cheered by friends and family at a draft meeting held not far from where he attended high school, Irving showed no signs of the toe injury on his right foot that limited him to 11 games with Duke University last season.
“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. It was the first time four international players who didn’t play at a U.S. college were selected in the lottery.
Irving also 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. Some potential top-10 picks decided to stay in college rather than nominate for the draft this year.
NBA commissioner David Stern, who could lock out the players next week if a new collective bargaining agreement is not reached, was booed when he came onto the stage.
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.