Golden State Warriors’ Andrew Wiggins ‘forever grateful’ for team support during absence — Andscape
SACRAMENTO, Calif. – If Golden State Warriors forward Andrew Wiggins had his choice, he would prefer to play basketball without any fanfare. Yet, for as much is given a multimillion-dollar NBA player, much is also required, including the loss of anonymity and privacy.
“You want to keep part of your life private, but it’s hard, because you’ve been in the light,” Wiggins told Andscape after the Warriors lost 126-123 in Game 1 of their first-round playoff series against the Sacramento Kings on Saturday night. “And there’s nothing you could do about it. That’s just how it goes, I guess. You make it to a certain level, then everything is not going to be private.”
Wiggins returned to action for the first time since playing in a regular-season game against the Washington Wizards on Feb. 13. The Toronto native missed two months to deal with a personal matter involving an ill family member.
The 2022 NBA All-Star had 17 points on 7-of-16 shooting from the field and four blocks in 28 minutes off the bench against Sacramento. Wiggins, however, also missed a wide-open, potentially game-winning 3-point shot in the closing seconds and missed seven of his eight 3-point attempts. It’s uncertain if the 6-foot-7, 197-pounder will return to the starting lineup for Game 2 Monday night.
Warriors coach Steve Kerr said the team felt “whole” with Wiggins back. Wiggins said he was physically and mentally ready to play in Game 1.
“Mentally I’m good. I’m in a great place,” Wiggins said. “I’ve never been one to mentally not be all the way there or be off track. I try to stay pretty level-headed. What I missed the most was just competing, being out there with the team, playing in an environment like this. The fans are into it. The game is close. It’s playoff basketball.”
Said Warriors guard Stephen Curry: “He’s a big part of everything we do. When you go into a season, you want to be as fully healthy as possible because that’s the way all the pieces are meant to fit. We haven’t had it for a very long time and we tried to hold down the fort. Now we have that look back.”
Wiggins said while he was away from the team he watched Warriors games as much as he could, had shooting workouts and lifted weights. He returned to practice in San Francisco on April 4 after a 51-day absence. Wiggins didn’t play in the two remaining regular-season games after his return, instead using the time to prepare for the postseason.
Wiggins appreciated the patience from the Warriors organization, and the support from his teammates while he was away.
“In this organization, I feel like I’ve been blessed, just being here and all that time they gave me off to be with my family,” Wiggins said. “They didn’t have to do that, and they did it. And they didn’t rush me back. It was my decision to come back, so I just feel like that just says a lot about this organization. From my heart, I can say everyone here cares. This whole organization cares. There still can be a lot of good people out there.
“I’ll never forget that. A lot of teams aren’t doing that, so I’m forever grateful.”
After Game 1, the other four usual members of the Warriors’ starting five — Curry, guard Klay Thompson, forward Draymond Green and center Kevon Looney — talked about how much love they have for Wiggins on and off the court and their respect for his privacy. Looney told Andscape that the Warriors players “never questioned” Wiggins’ absence and he was “superexcited to see him back in good spirits.”
“I’ve known ‘Wiggs’ for a while since high school,” Looney said. “I know what he is about and I know he loves the game. He doesn’t really miss games. He takes that seriously. He takes care of his body. So, for him to step away, that means it’s a serious situation. We know he’s a private person. We want to [support] him because if we were in the same situation, we’d want the same thing to happen.
“He’s a champion. We know what his heart is like. Nobody could ever question should be here or not. We know what he is built of and made of. We’re trying to support him and be there for him. It was huge for our franchise to do the same thing. You don’t see that often. Everything usually leaks. So, for that to stay under locks is big time for our team and our franchise.”
Thompson said the Warriors kept Wiggins’ family situation private “because we respect each other.”
“No one is going to be here snitching about someone’s personal matters. That is pretty low. From man to man, I don’t think there is much lower than that to gossip about someone’s personal life. That’s not cool. Leave that to the tabloids,” Thompson said.
Said Green: “I was very happy to see that stayed in-house so long. Initially, none of us knew. Maybe for a week. And then, me and Steph knew. And just for everyone to keep it in-house like that, I thought that was big, especially for his trust.”
Green is one of the most outspoken players on and off the court, has his own award-winning podcast and moonlights as a basketball analyst for Turner Sports. On the flip side, Wiggins is one of the more private and quiet players in the NBA, has no notable social media presence and steers away from attention.
Wiggins has been in the spotlight since his youth as a high school basketball star who was ranked as the No. 1 player of the Class of 2013. The former University of Kansas star was drafted with the first pick in the 2014 NBA draft by the Cleveland Cavaliers before being traded to the Minnesota Timberwolves. The 2015 NBA Rookie of the Year, he has career averages of 17.1 points and 5.0 rebounds and won his first title with the Warriors last season.
While Wiggins prefers to have a private life, he realized that he lost his anonymity a couple seasons into becoming an NBA player.
“You got to watch what you say, watch what you do, watch who you talk to,” Wiggins said. “You just got to be really smart. There are just people, phones and cameras always watching. So, you always got to stay on your toes and do the right thing. Whatever I do, certain things I just know is going to be out there.”
For the Warriors to beat the Kings and repeat as champions, they will need a loud game from Wiggins. With the rust gone, Wiggins expects himself and the Warriors to be better.
“It was my first game back,” Wiggins said. “It’s only up from here.”