From the time his first viral YouTube highlight reel dropped when he was 13, Andrew Wiggins has been on a collision course with NBA glory. Six legendary years later the first part of his promise was fulfilled when he became the No. 1 pick in the 2014 draft. Now all the 19-year-old Timberwolves rookie with the million-dollar smile has to do is actually become a superstar; that is, when he’s not busy growing up.
Andrew’s spot in the NBA Draft
The grade in which Wiggins first dunked.
Approximate number of followers @22wiggins has on Instagram.
Years since Andrew Wiggins graduated high school.
Total views on his top two YouTube highlight videos.
Years since Flip Saunders drafted Kevin Garnett, and years since Andrew Wiggins was born.
Combined age of Andrew Wiggins, Anthony Bennett, and Zach LaVine.
Amount of No. 1 picks ever to come from Canada and amount of Canadian No. 1 picks on the Timberwolves roster.
There’s a precious, fleeting moment in professional sports. The space between when a heralded player is drafted and when he finally makes his debut. It’s a precarious twilight in which his youthful promise hangs in limbo between the abyss of bust-land and the specter of superstardom. And there, existing in it, is a boy still becoming a man. For Andrew Wiggins that moment of suspended animation between boy and man, boom and bust, is now.
I wish I could’ve led with a cool anecdote about hanging out with Andrew Wiggins. We’d be playing video games maybe, or shooting hoops, and all the beauty and nuance of the kid would bleed into your subconscious via the details: his mild-manneredness, his awareness, his smile. I’d be smack-dab in the middle of the psyche of a kid about to begin a great and a scary adventure. Of course, it couldn’t possibly happen. For one thing, Andrew’s 19 and I’m 35. For another, he plays in the NBA and I, well, I play men’s league hockey. No, a more representative scene of a kid on the verge of realizing superstardom and a guy documenting him is this:
It’s Friday night and I’m at Target Center for Andrew Wiggins’s preseason homeopener versus the Philadelphia 76ers. I’ve been shadowing him for nearly two weeks. I’ve followed him around on media day. I’ve watched practices. I’ve talked to his teammates, his coach, and his dad. I’m slated to watch him shoot an Adidas commercial, and we have plans to hang out over burgers next week. Pretty much best friends, right?
I’m leaving the court where the pregame warm-ups are starting and walking back toward the locker room when I see Andrew, diminutive guard Brady Heslip (who has since been released by the team), and another player walking toward me. As they get closer, I decide it would be strange to not say something, but whatever synapses need to fire for me to say something cool don’t. Instead I deliver a feeble, “Hey, buddy!” It’s met by silence.
I keep on walking, stunned at my lameness, and as they fade away I hear Brady turn to Andrew and exclaim, “HEY, BUDDY!” They laugh, turn the corner to the court, and become professional basketball players.
Two days earlier at practice, still sweating from doing wind sprints, eight-year NBA vet Corey Brewer leans against the blue padding of the court wall and watches Wiggins work on his shot. “It’s different for Andrew. I have two kids, an 8-month-old and a 5-year-old,” he says. “I mean, he’s a kid—he still plays video games. He and my son could probably be best friends.”
Corey’s 28 years old to my 35, and an NBA player, not some guy who occasionally writes about them. So the vast life rift he perceives between himself and Andrew makes mine seem like the Grand Canyon.
Raised in Vaughn, a suburb of Toronto, Wiggins is the fourth of six children. The son of former NBA player Mitchell Wiggins and 1984 Olympic silver-medal-winning sprinter Marita Payne-Wiggins, he’s a self-professed gym rat. His maiden dunk came when he was in seventh grade at a Florida State University basketball camp and it didn’t take long for that fateful leap to turn him into an Internet legend. He was just 13 when his first YouTube video—a compilation of freakish dunks, spin moves, and rejections—went viral with more than 4.7 million views. An equally mesmerizing YouTube video from his senior year shows the same kid—only bigger, faster, and more polished. It cracked 5.3 million views.
Before his junior year, Wiggins left Toronto to enroll at Huntington Prep, in West Virginia. In 2013 he was the top high school recruit in the country, a McDonald’s All American, and Gatorade’s Male Athlete of the Year—all designations he shares with LeBron James, the 29-year-old NBA superstar with whom his rise is most often compared. But unlike James, who had one of his nicknames—Chosen 1—tattooed on his back when he was still in high school, Wiggins is turning pro looking and acting more his age. The closest thing he has to a nickname is Maple Jordan, but he didn’t choose it and likely won’t be tattooing it across his back anytime soon.
“When LeBron came into the league, he was already a man,” says Amir Farhang, while in town directing Wiggins in an Adidas commercial. “But with Andrew you’re like, ‘I’m just talking to a kid.’ I mean his whole face and body is going to change.”
After high school, Wiggins was off to hoops haven Kansas University, where he played a year of college ball before going pro. He hadn’t even played a game for KU when Sports Illustrated dialed Wiggins-mania up to 11 with an October 2013 cover that read: “The Freshman: From Wilt . . . To Manning . . . To Wiggins. A Torch is Passed at Kansas.”
His lone season as a Jayhawk was statistically pedestrian (17.1 points and 5.9 rebounds per game) compared to KU legend Chamberlain (29.9 points and 18.3 rebounds per game) and fell short of a national championship. Yet, packaged with his YouTube lore it was enough to make him the number one pick in the 2014 NBA draft.
Since then he’s inked a speculated $2-million-a-year endorsement deal with Adidas, a $5.51-million-a-year rookie contract, and, for a moment this summer before the Cleveland Cavaliers traded him and Anthony Bennett to the Wolves for Kevin Love, a place on the same team as LeBron James.
Andrew Wiggins is not your average 19-year-old. Yet, he totally is.
His cat’s name, Lugia, is a Pokémon reference, and if he could be any superhero he’d be Goku from Dragon Ball Z. He used to be a big fettuccini alfredo guy, but now his favorite food is steak, which he insists on ordering well done because he doesn’t “like to see pink.” He loves the video game Call of Duty and plans to bring it on Wolves road trips. His favorite candy is Cherry Blasters, though he’s pretty sure he can’t get it in the States. He prefers Justin Bieber to Justin Timberlake and Elmo to Ernie. His favorite movie is Space Jam. And his favorite basketball player is Vince Carter, the face of the Raptors when Wiggins was growing up in Toronto.
The job of an NBA player includes shooting in-game promos on media day. During one, the director asks Andrew to deliver lines in a fiery way, a simple enough task for almost any high-voltage pro, but you only need to spend about five minutes with Andrew to understand that “fiery” is not his chief attribute.
Director: This is going to feel a little weird so you’re going to have to bear with me. Fans want to hear this from the players and I’ll be honest with you, the last couple years the fans here have been quiet so we need to get some energy in here. So, right here into the camera, “Target Center, it’s the fourth quarter!”
Wiggins: Target Center, it’s the fourth quarter.
Director: It’s time to get loud!
Wiggins: It’s time to get loud.
Director: It’s time to get on your feet!
Wiggins: It’s time to get on your feet.
Director: Are you ready?!
Wiggins: Are you ready?
Director: Now I need you to dig deep, look right at the camera and yell, “LET’S MAKE SOME NOISE!” Hear that weird echo? I need you to go that hard for me. If you go that hard for me, we’ll be done.
Wiggins: Target Center, let’s make some noise.
Director: Just once go, “MAKE SOME NOISE!” Scream it out.
Wiggins: I’m not going to be able to do it.
Director: You can do it. Really quick.
Wiggins [half joking]: I’m going through puberty. My voice is changing. [The whole room laughs.]
Wiggins: I can try it, but ...
Director: No. No. Just give me one more. You’re doing fantastic.
Director: One more, right at the camera.
Wiggins: Target Center, let’s make some NOISE!
Director: Great. Awesome. And we won’t tell anybody about the puberty thing.
Andrew Wiggins is closer in age to my preschool daughter than he is to me. Or as fellow 19-year-old Timberwolves rookie Zach LaVine puts it: “Me and Andrew just graduated high school in 2013, so it’s a pretty quick jump from high school to being in the NBA, a grown man on your own.”
Andrew’s family moved in down the street from the house he bought near Cedar Lake in Minneapolis. His two youngest sisters attend Hopkins High School where they’ll both play basketball. “They came to help make things easier for me,” he says. “And it did.”
He’s explaining this to me from a booth in Matt’s Bar, flanked by his 22-year-old sister Stephanie and his best friend from Toronto, Luke Callender. As he awaits his first-ever Jucy Lucy, he pauses to show something on his phone to Stephanie then looks back up at me and says, “I mean, at 19, having your house and stuff; I don’t know everything you’ve got to do with a house, but my mom does, my dad does, my older sister does.” When his carbon monoxide detector tripped a couple weeks earlier, he called his mom. She came over, sorted it out, and told him to stay at her house for the night “just to be safe.” Half serious he adds, “We don’t want to wake up dead.”
The waitresses at Matt’s warn Lucy rookies to wait a couple minutes to eat since the center is molten cheese. Yet, right after our burgers arrive, while Andrew talks about adjusting to the NBA grind, Luke goes in for a bite. Andrew stops, knocks his friend’s hand down, and says, “Whoa! She said wait a couple of minutes.”
We get to talking about Andrew’s proclivity for well-done steaks and eventually everyone’s eating their burgers but him. Ashley Earle, his client relations manager from BDA Sports Management and also a friend, holds up her half-eaten burger as if to say, “Aren’t you going to eat, Andrew?” To which he says, “I’m nervous, though.” She replies flatly, “It’s not hot.”
He likes soda and drinks a couple at lunch, switching from Coke to Sprite just because. His purest conversations don’t start by answering my questions. They’re born of idle chatter and no matter how mundane, they invariably paint a picture of a thoughtful, detailed kid. For instance when Luke mentions that it felt like it took him a half-hour to get to the Target Center from Cedar Lake with Andrew’s family for a preseason game.
“Half-hour? Please,” Andrew says, incredulous that his family could so badly botch a drive that he’s calculated takes him only eight minutes. “Did my dad go the back way? He says the back way’s shorter but it’s really not.” Andrew’s only been in town for a couple weeks, but he’s clearly paid close attention to the little things, like the quickest way to get to work, which for him means understanding the traffic flow of 394. “In the morning I see a bunch of cars lined up on the right and I’m like, ‘Oh, dang, I just have to get to the left lane, the furthest lane.’”
Then something occurs to him. He pauses and looks to me for advice: “When there’s snow, the back ways might be quicker?” Before I can answer he doubles back, “Or, wait, they don’t do the back ways, do they?”
I explain that, yes, they do in fact plow the side streets, but they’re not faster than highways in the winter. Then something occurs to me: Does he have to get a U.S. driver’s license? He says his Canadian license is permissible until it expires. I mention that he’ll probably have to take the test again once it does.
“The written test?!” Andrew sits back, genuinely aghast that there may be exams in his future. “I don’t remember all those signs and stuff.”
“So you’d rather do the driving test again?” I offer.
“Than the written test?” Andrew chuckles. “Yeah. I know I can drive. There’s a lot of stuff you have to remember. Like when you park on a hill you have to curve it which way again? In Canada, you have to study for that because you might fail.”
Then, just like that, his mind shifts back to solving the more immediate problem of getting to work during Minnesota winters. “I’ll get a big car,” he says. “I’ll be good.”
Andrew Wiggins is a different guy when he feels he’s in the public eye. It’s not that he’s shy; it’s just that as his stars have soared higher, so has his self-awareness. “It’s something that you get better at every time you do it,” he says, as the smile that’s been on his face most of the time at Matt’s recedes. “You learn all the little tricks and tweaks with the media. And the responses you’re supposed to give. . . . You have to learn that whatever you say is going to be out there for the world to see.”
He attributes his caution in part to the microscope the KU basketball team was under in the small town of Lawrence, but also to his naturally reserved nature. “I’ve always been more of a low-key person,” he says. “More quiet. Reserved.” Then, leaning in as if to impart a big secret, “I know what’s going on, but I keep it to myself.”
Lengthy silences are not uncommon when Andrew is interviewed, even if the question is simple. He’s not trying to be evasive, he’s just trying to say the exact thing he means exactly how he means it. The result is consistency. Like, once he finally declares that his favorite musician, besides fellow Canadian (and purported buddy) Drake, is Tupac, he sticks with that answer because he’s certain it’s true.
“[Andrew’s got] a really calm temperament,” says Zach LaVine, who shares a handler and management company with Andrew, and has known him since pre-draft workouts. “Even though he’s the number one pick, he doesn’t like all the attention. Like, for me, I’m flashy. I like wearing flashy-colored shoes. Different pads. And with Andrew I say, ‘Man, you wear regular shoes, low-cut socks, no type of pads.’ But he goes into games and he’s just a baller.”
Both known for their athleticism and leaping ability, Zach and Andrew already dubbed themselves the “Bounce Brothers” and like most great duos they’re dynamic. “I’m outgoing. I talk a lot. I try to be flashy,” says LaVine, who is as excitable as Andrew is even-keeled. “He’s funny, though. If you get to know him, he’s funny.”
Andrew, who has a stylist but won’t officially cop to it, is purposeful in everything he does, including his wardrobe, which skews understated. When he does make a fashion statement—like the now-infamous black-and-white floral tuxedo jacket and chunky black wayfarers he wore on draft night—it’s for a reason.
His former KU coach Bill Self spoofed Andrew’s draft suit during the Jayhawks’s season-opening midnight practice. And on the Timberwolves’ media day, the production director goads Andrew, saying: “Steve Martin did a joke about [your draft suit] because it looked like the Three Amigos suits.” Without flinching Andrew rejects the notion, “It looked better than that.”
At Matt’s, he makes one of the seemingly infinite adjustments to the askew Mitchell & Ness Timberwolves hat he’s wearing. “It was the biggest day of my life, so I’ve gotta dress to impress,” he explains. “I wanted to be the number one pick, so I wanted to be the number-one-dressed player, too.”
There’s no guarantee that Andrew Wiggins will parlay his ungodly gifts into NBA stardom, but there is some fortuitous history to pair with his promise. He was born in Toronto on February 23, 1995, and four months later the NBA held its first draft on Canadian soil at Toronto’s SkyDome. It was there that Minnesota used the fifth pick to select Kevin Garnett, the first direct-from-high-school selection the league had seen in decades. Charged with developing him was first-year head coach Flip Saunders. Now, after nearly a decade away from the Wolves, Saunders is back on the bench and pinning his hopes to the kid born a KG career ago.
“The dynamics were so different because [KG] was the first in 25 years, so he was a pioneer and came into the league with the pressure of most people thinking that he wouldn’t be able to succeed,” says Saunders as he watches Wiggins and LaVine alternate jump shots. “[Andrew’s] been through it. Similar to KG when he came out, he’s been in the spotlight since he was 13 years old. I mean, he’s been on the cover of Sports Illustrated. He’s done all that.”
And yet, Wiggins has remained youthful, something Saunders is taking care not to ruin. “We don’t want to take that away from him. It’s one thing we did with KG and also with Steph [Marbury]. We want them to be 19. I mean, KG loved watching his cartoons and we didn’t say, ‘You can’t watch your cartoons.’ That’s part of life, and we don’t want to deprive them of what other 19-year-olds might like to do.”
It’s a sunny fall afternoon, so after Matt’s, even though Andrew reminds me that we’re already an excruciating “18 minutes from my house,” we head even further from it, to Minnehaha Falls for ice cream. On the way from the parking lot I’m chatting with Ashley and Stephanie when we realize Andrew’s stopped to take a selfie. “I only take ’em sometimes when I’m outside and the light looks perfect,” he says as he clicks his phone only to be disappointed in his work. “I usually say no to selfies.” With a laugh, he backpedals. “Actually, if it’s [with] a girl, that’s OK.”
We head into Sea Salt, and the employees recognize Andrew immediately. One asks for a photo and Andrew’s happy to oblige but not until after he’s ordered his large vanilla ice cream. At the falls, Luke, Stephanie, and Ashley set themsevles up for a photo as Andrew finishes his ice cream. “Andrew, will you take it of us?” Ashley asks, and hands him her phone. “Just make sure you get the waterfall in the back, OK?”
“OK.” Andrew composes the shot. “Oh, guys, this is going to be so nice!” He takes it, then acts concerned. “Oh, your eyes are closed.”
“My eyes are closed?” Ashley grabs the phone, pauses, then laughs, “He’s a jerk!” She shows the phone to Stephanie and Luke, who start laughing, too. Andrew took a selfie instead of a picture of the group.
“God, you’re so dumb,” Stephanie says, laughing.
Grinning, Andrew takes the picture he was supposed to take the first time and hands the phone back to Ashley.
“Thank you, Andrew,” she says. “It’s beautiful.”
20 Questions and Pocky Sticks: Episode 2
Hear Wiggins answer a few more random, rapid-fire questions with Mpls.St.Paul Magazine editor Stephanie March.
See the video >>