For Andrew Wiggins, fatherhood is the heart and soul of his NBA journey

The black stage erected to elevate the Warriors’ return to the glory of the championship was filled with leaders, coaches and players, and more children. In front and in the middle were Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green – where they belonged as the cornerstones of this dynasty. Andrew Wiggins, the championship novice, stood behind them with the reserves and beginners, only too happy to enjoy the stage while his friends got the shine.

Then ABC’s Lisa Salters, who did interviews on stage, called Wiggins’ name, and the stage broke out again. His smile, what Curry considers a rainbow indicating good times for the Warriors, shone. It had been seven years of questions about his heart, criticism of the lack of fire in his stomach. Still, he was here, with Larry O’Brien in his arms, the twinkle in his eye reflected in the gold trophy and a laugh wider than Canadian bacon. The scene was now his.

Perhaps Wiggins’ most resounding performance during the first eight years of his career was keeping his profile low. In the shadows. He is formerly No. 1 overall and forever associated with LeBron James. He was the face of an entire franchise, and he averages nearly 20 points per game. struggle in his career. Yet he exists in relative anonymity. In an era of saturation on social media and branding of athletes, Wiggins has managed to build a persona like a mysterious man. He has made it so effective enough to be branded as one without personality. Apathetic became his mark. Passionate was the standard trait assigned to him.

But bright lights have a way of revealing what was hidden. In basketball, there is nothing that shines brighter than the spotlight of the finals. There is nowhere to hide. Not only would he be exposed if he floated, as he was known to do in Minnesota, but he could not remain in ambiguity. Figuratively and literally, being on the NBA Finals stage brought more of Wiggins to the fore. Shadows become scarce when playing alongside legends and topping the NBA mountain. Figuratively, the ballet on this megaplatform revealed elements of his play that were once lacking – consistent defensive expertise, a killer instinct, a hunger to win. Literally, on that scene, Wiggins’ heart was revealed.

Her name is Amyah. She turns 4 in October.

“The two of them,” Draymond Green said of Wiggins and Amyah, smiling as he lifted a pair of crossed fingers, “that’s how they are.”

Suddenly, it made sense how Wiggins endured the criticism that followed the five-year, $ 147.7 million maximum contract extension with Minnesota in 2017. It was clear how he could handle a reputation for indifference and being branded as a disappointment: the perspective of fatherhood .

You do not have to talk to Wiggins for long to know that he does not like the way he was perceived in Minnesota. The maximum deal came with expectations he never met with the Timberwolves. But it is clear that he believes that the player the world witnessed in this post-season is the player he has always been, just his role and his teammates are different.

Wiggins never spent much time trying to disprove conclusions about him. You will not find him on social media defending his own honor or fighting for himself. He does not care about the opinions of those outside a very narrow inner circle. If a fan, a writer, even a coach or a teammate who is not in his circle of trust shoots him, he will not back down. It helped when Wiggins in October 2018 got a new context for success and failure, for greatness and mediocrity. He prioritized the verdict over Amyah’s diamond eyes staring back at him. That perspective was overridden when his girlfriend, Mychal Johnson, gave birth to the couple’s second child, Alayah, in April 2021.

While Salters interviewed the Warriors’ two-way star, Amyah came right in front of Dad. Jordan Poole lifted her from the parquet up onto the stage. The twinkle in Wiggins’ eye told it all.

“That’s what I do it for, you know? Family,” Wiggins said. “So I’m glad she got the chance to experience it. When she’s older, I can be like, ‘You were here.’ There are pictures and everything. So I’m excited. This is a dream come true. “

Andrew Wiggins

Andrew Wiggins celebrates with Amyah after the Warriors won the NBA title on Thursday with a win in Boston. “That’s what I do it for, you know? Family,” Wiggins said. (Marcus Thompson II)

The clock approached 02.00 in Boston. The players’ journey, which began in the champagne showers in the locker room and wound its way through a media maze on the pitch, ended in an interim photo studio in TD Garden’s belly. It was here that the masters and their family members took pictures with the trophy.

Leaning in a chair, with one leg crossed over the other, sat another proud father. Mitchell Wiggins.

Just over 36 years before Wiggins had his career achievement, with 26 points and 13 rebounds in game 5 against the Celtics, his father had a big game 5 to himself. Elder Wiggins scored 16 points and seven rebounds from the bench for Houston in the 1986 NBA Finals, helping the Rockets avert elimination at The Summit. But Andrew was not there. He was nine years old from being born.

That was what made this season reach its peak, so special for Wiggins’ pops. His eldest sons were babies when his career ended. He played abroad in Europe and his best year came in the Greek league when his kids first picked up basketball. He knows what it is like to wish your children saw you live at your best age.

“It matters,” said Wiggins’ father, who was drafted No. 23 in the 1983 draft from Florida State and played six NBA seasons. “His youngest is at home in San Francisco. She’s 1. I told him it’s very important to have her in the parade. Because you know, once you infuse it into their blood, and they see it in their eyes, the atmosphere and everything, it becomes a part of them. ”

Dad also knows something about recycling. While his son bounced back from a bust mark, Mitchell Wiggins had to rebuild his career after a two-year suspension for drug abuse. The NBA’s drug problems in the ’70s and early’ 80s led to a new agreement between the players’ union and the league in 1983. Michael Ray Richardson, then a star of the New Jersey Nets, was the first player to be ruled out under drug policy. When Rockets teammates Mitchell Wiggins and Lewis Lloyd, both 27 at the time – at the same age as Andrew Wiggins now – tested positive for cocaine in 1987, the late David Stern ruled out both players. They were not allowed to apply for reinstatement until 1989.

Not only did Mitchell have to get clean and get his life back, he also had to rebuild his reputation. He returned to Houston for the 1989 season, starting 52 games and averaging career highs in points (15.5) and minutes (28.1). The Rockets managed the playoffs as the No. 8 seed. He did not play much when the Lakers swept Houston. But he set a precedent for the growth and digging deeper that has defined Wiggins’ tenure with the Warriors. His father’s story is also a window into why Wiggins’ self-esteem did not erode with his favor.

In Wiggins’ household, living a good, clean life means more. His teammates adore him because they came to see his character up close instead of the caricature previously presented. He never reaches out for attention, never has a stomach ache over getting more shots. He’s been a prodigy since he went to middle school, and yet he wants more than anything else just to be one of the guys.

“I can speak for myself personally,” Poole said. “We are similar in many ways, just doing our own thing. We’re kind of closed off. We know how to like talking to people and communicating when needed. But he’s just selfless. He wants to see others. succeed and he is really a good person. Has good morals. Lives life the right way. “

The greatest sign of the person Wiggins keeps hidden behind the velvet rope, an indicator of why he has found such a favor in Golden State, is most evident in his undeniable ties to his daughters.

No matter how bad it went in Minnesota – and there were five general managers and four head coaches in his 5 1/2 seasons – Wiggins would play the game, say his piece and then walk out of the locker room to find Amyah waiting for him. That was all he needed to get a smile on his face as he rocked her in his arms and strolled over to his car. He was often seen wearing Amyah after the fights this season. After Game 4, she went viral in his arms, and her immaculate one-tooth-missing laugh glowed brighter than the gold chains on her neck, which dangled over a t-shirt with her father’s thump over Luka Dončić.

When the final was over, Wiggins could be found with her on the hip during interviews, and he knocked his championship cap off his head.

“Everyone realized early on the talent he had, the athletic talent,” his father said. “But the greatest thing that he and his mother are proud of is the man and the son he became. He is a father who loves his children just as I love my children. When I see him with his girls, his eyes up. As a father, it is when I am most proud. “

For Amyah, he has never been a disappointment. To Alayah, he has always come through. And he is not done producing.

“I keep swinging for the boy,” he said, smiling again. “I’ll get one eventually. You feel me?”

The trip is especially sweet as they are here for it. Wiggins said the value of their presence is understood as someone who did not get to see his father’s NBA career up close. His success, he said, is their success.

It was never clear again when Poole lifted Amyah on that stage. Also this, whether she remembers it or not, is her journey.

While he has been an elite player most of his basketball life, with high expectations strapped to his shoulders, Wiggins never cried after the pedestal he was put on in Minnesota, in Kansas, or as a coveted prospect called “the Maple Jordan” who coming out of Canada. The attention that comes with the pedestal is not his vibe. He likes the background. He likes the simplicity of the hanger and the home.

But the scene he can get used to, for sure. The stage is bigger. There is room for more people to share the bright light with him. More room for his daughter to run around too. These are two of the eyes he likes the most.

When Amyah’s white shoes landed on stage, in her blue No. 22 jersey before she went to her father, she walked into Draymond Green’s son, DJ, embracing. His big sister, Olive, wrapped the two little ones in a bear hug.

Wiggins smiled and clapped as he hovered over their cuddles. What we have come to learn about him is that this part of the journey means as much as the title and the reputation-changing achievement. At this moment, he was not the X-factor that helped deliver a championship. He was not the young LeBron James did not want, or the overwhelming midfielder that the Timberwolves got tired of.

He was just a father. And there was no hiding it.

Andrew Wiggins

Andrew Wiggins with Amyah before a match in 2020, while Wiggins was with the Timberwolves. “When I see him with his girls, his eyes light up,” says his father, Mitchell. (Bruce Kluckhohn / USA Today)

(Top photo of Andrew Wiggins with daughter Amyah: Kelley L Cox / USA Today)

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