Since we are all beaver trappers and igloo dwellers, the United States is keen to make the Andrew Wiggins and Anthony Bennett story about the weather.
“They’re from Canada and that’s, you know, a climate that’s similar to Minnesota,” ESPN’s Chris Broussard said this week on the topic of trading the two Cleveland prospects. “Maybe that plays in, and those guys would be comfortable.”
You know who enjoys the romance of winter? People who’ve never lived through one. By that logic, Minnesota should be full of adventurous Jamaicans.
Professional athletes, on the other hand, care about two things – winning and money, and not in that order. If they are winning and monied, they’d happily live in fire-retardant suits on surface of the sun.
As greasy foreigners, there is also the suspicion that we lack desire.
“Andrew Wiggins is from Canada,” another of ESPN’s crack demographers, Jason Whitlock, pointed out, after flipping Wiggins over and scanning his UN-issued bar code.
“Canadian athletes, I think, among NBA players and NBA people, perhaps don’t want it as much as even some of the Europeans, and certainly the American players.”
I am here to guarantee you – GUARANTEE – that we want it as much as Europeans. Okay, maybe not as much as Belgians. They want it a whole lot. It’s almost frightening how much they want it. But certainly more than Germans and the Portuguese. Also, Poles and unambitious Bulgarians. They don’t want it … wait, what were we talking about again?
It is fun, watching the U.S. react to Canadians as though we were some new species of tree frog they’d stumbled across on an ecohike through the rain forest. That’s what happens when you start horning in on their patch.
America has three cultural inheritances it feels possessive about – jazz, basketball and the inscrutable politics of division. Canada should’ve known to stick with arena rock, hockey and our tedious need to switch out one ruling party with another that’s exactly the same, but wearing differently coloured ties. We are – let’s face it – a less attractive-looking version of Sweden.
But if America wants to make The Wiggins Question about Canada, let’s do that.
Wiggins will be traded. That’s too obvious not to happen, and the rewards are too rich. According to multiple media sources (i.e. anyone within shouting distance of one of LeBron James’s vassals), Cleveland has been offered the expiring contract of Minnesota’s Kevin Love in return for Wiggins, Bennett and a pair of first-round picks.
It won’t happen any time soon, because even Cleveland can’t get the plastic shield off the self-destruct button that quickly. The Cavaliers will drag this out through the first half of the season, hoping to carve off some of the purchase price – meaning the picks. Ostensibly, this will be about seeing what they’ve got.
Wiggins will be as advertised – maniacally athletic and unpolished. There is no way he’s anywhere near as valuable as Love, an all-offence, floor-spacing, metronomic-jumpshot-taking big who may be the third best player in the NBA. Not right now, at least, and not for a while. James is about to turn 30 years old and he’s the size of a Toyota Matrix. He needs to win right now, before he breaks.
Wiggins will be dealt because he is young, he plays the same position as James and, since he’s never been there, he can’t be trusted in the playoffs. Treat that news as if it’s already happened.
Nonetheless, when it happens – probably in February – Canada will feel low. It’s in our nature to take these sorts of things as national slights.
Don’t. That will be the true beginning of Canada’s basketball renaissance.
As I sat down to write this, an editor wandered by to tell me two things – that the entire thesis of this piece is wrong (so, the usual) and that I’m not to use the term “golden generation.”
Canada’s golden generation of players has a solid target – Tokyo 2020. Every one of its core – Wiggins, Bennett, Kelly Olynyk, Tyler Ennis, Nic Stauskas, Tristan Thompson – will be edging into their mid-to-late 20s at that Summer Olympics.
In basketball terms, that’s quite soon. Too soon, really.
By 2024, the window will be half-closed. They’ll all be edging into their 30s, having clocked huge NBA mileage. There’s no indication that this cohort is being followed by one anywhere near as talented.
As a country, we have a genuine shot at this.
So it behooves us that our best players dominate their professional teams. Try to imagine the last world-beating team, in any sport, on which it could be said that their best player was third-best on his/her pro team.
That’s what Wiggins has signed up for in Cleveland, no matter how well he turns out. Right now, it’s James’s team. As he fades, it will become Kyrie Irving’s team. Wiggins is a complementary player in that mix. There will be no pressure to dominate. In fact, he’ll be expected to limit himself in order to accommodate two older, better-paid stars. Playing in Cleveland – even if he wins titles there – will stunt Wiggins’s growth.
Let’s also put aside this idea of James mentoring Wiggins. By the measure of his trade, James is a generous sort, but he’s a minute-eating monster who occupies precisely the same floor space as Wiggins. They cannot co-exist for long stretches.
Every favour James does Wiggins will come at the expense of his own touches. Nobody’s that generous.
In Minnesota, Wiggins will do three things – lose, freeze and grow. As soon as he gets there, he is the biggest deal in town. The weight of an entire franchise will fall on him. He will be allowed to fail on the court, a freedom he will not get in Cleveland. In six years, he’ll be a fully formed star, as opposed to a player easing into the role.
Regardless of the development of everyone else in the program, that is the surest route to international success for Canada.
Maybe not so good for Wiggins. Unless he really does become a Jordan-level player, he’ll never win anything in the United States.
As they keep reminding us, we’re different. And so, we couldn’t care less.