Kyrie Irving touring Melbourne has to be one of the best advertisements for basketball our country has seen in a long time. Having me host him at the Melbourne Zoo could have potentially been the worst. Luckily - as I also managed to do when I met Luol Deng recently - I somehow kept my NBA fandom in check and stay composed. No major damage was done to our game, or our country by having me involved. SUCCESS.
Kyrie Irving was born in Australia and raised in Kew, until he was two years of age. He lived there while his father, Drederick, was playing professional basketball for the Bulleen Boomers. During that time Drederick played alongside former Melbourne Tigers Assistant Coach Simon Mitchell. Simon and Drederick have stayed in touch over the years and through that seemingly simple connection the whole plan to bring Kyrie to Australia happened.
I would like to thank and congratulate Simon on his efforts in getting such a high profile NBA player to come ‘Down Under’ and also for making sure he promoted the game as much as possible while he was here. Kyrie visited numerous charities and worked many basketball camps promoting the game to the next generation while he was here in OZ.
However there was one thing Kyrie had on his ‘to do’ list while visiting Australia and that was to visit the Zoo. He was particularly interested in meeting some of the native Australian animals, namely the kangaroos and koalas. Nathan and Georgia from the Melbourne Zoo’s Communications Department made sure Kyrie got to spend some up close and personal, one-on-one time with some kangaroos.
Kyrie traveled in a large group as you would expect of someone with his profile, he would rarely let his guard down to outsiders, however the kangaroos seriously separated the men from the boys. Most of his crew including Kyrie, were petrified of the animals - too scared to feed them or pet them. However Drederick stepped up to the plate and when Kyrie saw that neither his dad nor I had lost any fingers or hands whilst feeding the roos he started to get involved (fair to say his hands are probably worth a little more than mine but whatever). His guard was suddenly down, his face lit up and he got right in there with the kangas petting and feeding them all by hand. He started joking about the heftier kangaroo, saying, “No one else feed it, it’s clearly had enough”. He went on to start comparing it to one of his… let’s say fuller boned mates.
You could see that he and his entourage were really enjoying their time at the Melbourne Zoo.
While we were walking around the enclosures I got a chance to talk to Drederick and Kyrie. I asked them about Darryl McDonald (Tigers Asst Coach) and the legacy he has left back in New York City. Dred said “many people know about Mac from his days at Texas A &M or his time in the NBL”. However what many people don’t know is that Mac was a playground legend back in NYC. Drederick went on to say that Mac was one of the greats to play at Rucker Park. This is something even I didn’t know about Mac. I knew he played street ball in NYC but had no idea of the level of appreciation he still receives back home. Just recently I heard that Mac’s son Tater visited the famous Dyckman games and over the speakers sounded “shout out to the son of Dmac in the house tonight.” I’m not sure about you, but I think that’s seriously cool.
After a few hours the boys had had enough and it was time to retreat back to the hotel before an early flight the next day. Kyrie seemed really appreciative to the Melbourne Zoo and everyone who gave him the opportunity to visit.
It was a little surreal for me just kicking about the Zoo with an NBA All Star. However watching how keen he was to hang out with some kangaroos, something we can do while playing a round of golf at some courses around Melbourne and it’s surrounds - really put into perspective that he is still just a regular 21 year old man. He’s extremely talented and skilled at his profession but he’s still just a regular bloke when it all boils down.
I really enjoyed my time at the Zoo and would like to thank Nathan and Georgia again as well as Kyrie and Simon Mitchell for having me along for the ride.