Whether it’s an hour of his time, an autograph, an appearance, a photo, a bold prediction, or an answer to a wacky, off-beat question, everyone seems to be asking something of Canadian basketball star Andrew Wiggins this week in Toronto.
The second-year Minnesota Timberwolves standout has been called everything from Maple Jordan to the face of Canadian basketball. Although the 20-year-old Toronto native is not playing in Sunday’s NBA all-star game, that hasn’t stopped the hometown kid from being one of its biggest attractions. He appeared in Friday night’s rising stars challenge and has been shuttled all around town to build not only the NBA’s brand, but the sport’s profile in the city.
“Yeah, I’m getting tugged here and there,” said the shy wunderkind, seated at a player podium circled by reporters several rows deep during a media session for the rising stars players. “But it’s good to be back home.”
Coming off a 21-point performance in Minneapolis on Wednesday night in a comeback win over the Toronto Raptors, Wiggins jetted off for a whirlwind Thursday in Toronto.
His daytime called for photos and interviews at an all-star media circuit. Then he threw on a sharp navy checked suit and hit the town. First stop: walking the red carpet at an early evening party for his Canadian sponsor BioSteel, where he met Blue Jays pitcher Marcus Stroman for the first time and towered over him in photos that instantly went viral.
He was soon whisked off to a private Canada Basketball soirée at a King Street restaurant, where people including Steve Nash, Kelly Olynyk and members of the Canadian women’s Olympic squad were hanging out with their families and supporters.
He was then scheduled to headline a late-evening party at Toronto nightclub Nest – the posters advertising this event had Wiggins posing sharply in a white suit jacket and cravat.
At his basketball practice Friday morning, the World Team hadn’t even finished stretching, and Wiggins was already being pulled away for a live NBA TV interview.
“He deserves all the attention he gets,” said his T-Wolves teammate Karl-Anthony Towns, in town to play for the U.S. rising stars team. “He’s put this country on the map.”
Saturday morning, Wiggins is scheduled to be back in Maple Leaf Square, signing autographs at SportChek.
Thought you might get to see Wiggins take on fellow T-Wolves teammate and reigning champ Zach LaVine in Saturday’s all-star slam dunk contest? You won’t. He recently explained it away by saying “I lost one in high school, so I’m not doing one again.” He’s more excited to talk up LaVine’s talents, telling a Sirius XM NBA radio show that his teammate’s dunks on Saturday “will leave you stunned.”
The first overall choice in the 2014 draft averaged 17 points a game last season and ran away with the NBA rookie-of-the-year award. This season, he’s averaging close to 20.8 points a game – good for 16th in the league. Some say the quiet player has started to come out of his shell, too.
“The Andrew I see today is a marked departure from the Andrew I knew at 15,” said Rowan Barrett, assistant general manager of Canada’s senior men’s team. “He’s still the same calm and level, nothing pulls him from his centre no matter what’s going on around him. He’s learning that his presence and his words can really impact the lives of others. You see him making more efforts to engage the media. We’re protective of him. We want people to always remember he’s 20 and a lot has been asked of him. I hope Canadians give him time to grow.”
While the city embraces Wiggins and calls him its own, it rarely gets to see him in the flesh. The ACC crowd had the rare chance Friday to see him team with Latvian sensation Kristaps Porzingis of the New York Knicks.
Decked in flashy gold and black shoes, Wiggins had 29 points, and five assists in a 157-154 loss to the U.S. squad Friday, including many big dunks in a game predictably heavy on fancy slams and very light on defence. LaVine (30 points) was named MVP.
Rather than always being asked to talk about Toronto, he’s happy to see the city getting the stage to speak for itself.
“They can see for themselves,” Wiggins said of his fellow NBA players. “It’s my favourite city in the world.”Report Typo/Error