INDEPENDENCE, Ohio – As his talented son, Andrew, was presented with his new wine-and-gold Cavaliers jersey, Mitchell Wiggins finally let go of some painful memories.
This is it, he thought, his second chance, another shot at an NBA career broken in a haze of cocaine abuse.
His son is the No. 1 overall pick, and Mitchell Wiggins is now unburdened by guilt, embarrassment and disappointment. He’s whole again.
“It just gives me closure,” said Mitchell Wiggins, who was suspended for two full seasons with Houston in the 1980s for drugs. “I’m able to let go of maybe some of the things I was feeling when I left the league and I can sleep better now. This is a big moment.”
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The Cavaliers introduced Andrew Wiggins on Friday, one day after the team ended weeks of public debate and internal discussion by selecting the slender small forward from Kansas first in the NBA Draft. Wiggins, who probably would have also been chosen before anyone else a year ago, began his news conference by saying his personal expectations are as high as what the Cavaliers believe he can attain.
The 19-year-old with the 44-inch vertical jump plans to soar.
“I just want to come in, create an impact right off the bat, offensively and defensively, bring the team to the next level and just be a good teammate, be a good part of the organization,” he said. “I want to be on the All-Defensive team, be Rookie of the Year, make the All-Star team, all that type of stuff.”
Those comments made new Cavs coach David Blatt smile.
“We didn’t bring Andrew in here for a year,” Blatt said. “This isn’t a one-and-done. This is a career player.”
Mitchell Wiggins trained his youngest son well. Once Andrew was old enough to dribble, Wiggins began showing him how to play the game – especially on defense.
“I taught him how to guard multiple positions,” he said. “How to guard a scorer, how to guard a driver. He understands defensively what he needs to do and he cherishes defense.”
Wiggins also educated Andrew and his talented brothers, Mitchell and former Wichita State forward Nick, on the pitfalls of life as a pro athlete.
“Everybody knows my history,” Wiggins said.
Caught up in an addiction he had trouble shaking, he threw away so much of what he had, and in the process hurt himself, his family and his Rockets teammates. After playing in the NBA finals in 1986, his career nose-dived and it would take him two years to recover.
“When you play with Hakeem (Olajuwon) and Ralph Sampson, you’ve got to make sacrifices,” Wiggins said. “They’re big men and they demand the ball. I was a good player, a good fit with them and I feel like I let them down when I had my issues. I should have played eight to 10 years with them.”
Wiggins isn’t worried about Andrew getting derailed. He and his wife, Marita, a two-time Olympic silver medal-winning sprinter for Canada, have raised their children to work hard so they get the most of the athletic gifts they’ve been given.
Andrew Wiggins isn’t a slacker.
“He walks his walk and he’s always been a kid who listens and tries to do the right thing,” Mitchell Wiggins said. “I hope he stays true to who he is and stays grounded. He wants to be a Hall of Famer. Hall of Famers work harder than anyone else and make the most sacrifice. I think he’s willing to do that.
“Everybody knows he’s got talent, but you’ve got to put the work ethic with the talent and you’ve got to make some internal sacrifices. I think he’s going to do that.”
A few years ago, Mitchell, now 54, gave up playing hoops with Andrew. The one-on-one matchups were becoming one-sided.
“I used to beat him up,” he said. “I used to be physical. But he started dunking on me and I backed off. When he was 12 years old, he was dunking playing against men. He still can’t guard me. None of the kids can. I’m a dirty old player.”
On this day, though, he was a proud father.
One of his sons made it to the NBA, and Mitchell Wiggins felt like he was back, too.
“For me, he’s a coach’s dream,” he said of Andrew. “I taught him the right way to play.”