In the middle of a recent interview, not long after earning his first All-Star selection, Andrew Wiggins was interrupted by a Warriors staffer boarding the team bus after practice.
“Who’s made you great this year?” the person teased.
“This guy never used to want to do media. Now he’s an All-Star and wants to do media,” quipped another.
Wiggins cracked a smile, one that has come with increasing frequency this season, and laughed. “It comes with it, bro. What do you want me to do?”
The playful back-and-forth illustrated Wiggins’ growing comfort level in Golden State but also the miles of ground tread — 42 wins, the first All-Star campaign of his eight-year career, the first months of his second daughter’s life — since the tense way the season started, with questions about his vaccination status.
Wiggins, a quiet Canadian from the suburbs of Toronto, still has to be persuaded to do interviews, even as he has settled in with the Warriors, a situation he calls the best of his career. He’s been an integral piece on the Warriors’ path to the second-best record in the NBA and been embraced by fans so much so that their votes — 3.4 million — were the driving force behind his All-Star nod from him.
It was only five months ago that Wiggins faced a future as a possible pariah, over reservations he still has over a vaccine proven to be safe and effective, in one of the country’s most vaccinated cities. If Wiggins didn’t get vaccinated, a San Francisco ordinance would have prevented him from playing inside Chase Center, potentially derailing the Warriors’ season.
“I still wish I hadn’t gotten it,” Wiggins told the Bay Area News Group last week. “Bigger picture, it all worked out for the best. I’m here on the most exciting team in the league. I’m an All-Star. So I feel like I made the right choice at the end of the day.”
The Warriors’ 42-17 record has come as a surprise, and it certainly would not have happened without Wiggins putting his personal reservations aside and getting the shot. Look no further for a counterfactual than the Brooklyn Nets, whose title aspirations are in serious peril with Kyrie Irving still holding out over a similar mandate in New York.
When Wiggins arrived at Chase Center for media day at the end of September to welcome the start of the season, he had been paying attention to Irving’s saga and weighing his own options. The room of reporters peppered Wiggins with questions about his vaccination status, the defining storyline of the day, and Wiggins did n’t provide many answers.
It wasn’t until a week later, after Wiggins had relented, that he explained that his reluctance came from a family history of negative reactions to medication and a general distrust of modern medicine. By then, he had been thrust into the center of one of the country’s most polarizing topics.
Wiggins is a private person — he met his best friends in elementary school and his longtime girlfriend in high school, and he lists ‘Call of Duty’ and napping as his two favorite off-the-court activities — so he begrudged the attention as much as the policy that put him in the position.
“I think for Andrew it was difficult to become embroiled in all that,” coach Steve Kerr said. “Everybody who knows him loves him, loves his demeanor of him, loves his approach to life, the way he treats people. He’s just a fantastic human being. I think you throw all that in the mix, and people move on.”
Wiggins’ breakout season is often sourced to the huge performance he had early this season against his former team — while missing only five shots in a Nov. 10 win over Minnesota — but it can just as easily be traced back to the support he received from his teammates throughout the vaccine saga.
Steph Curry was among a long list of Warriors who took public stances in support of Wiggins, knowing full well the repercussions his decision could have on their season.
That support, Wiggins said, acted as a trust-building exercise with his teammates, none of whom he had shared the court with for more than 68 games — many much fewer — since being acquired in February 2020. With Golden State, Wiggins has found a situation unlike any other in his career, where he’s relied upon but not scapegoated, expectations are high but not unruly and, most importantly to Wiggins, they are winning.
“You know people have your back and you have their back,” Wiggins said. “That goes a long way on the court and off the court.”
In Minnesota, Wiggins had a reputation as an inefficient, ball-dominant scorer on offense and a defender with all the size and skill but lacking consistent effort. He was the first overall pick who never lived up to his potential.
With Golden State, Wiggins has transformed into an efficient wing scorer while matching up every night against the opponent’s top offensive threat. This season will mark only the second playoff appearance of his career.
“I think with the transition from our Finals runs to where we are now, he fit a specific role at the 3 spot,” Curry said. “He can be an amazing defender. He can give us different looks on offense that we necessarily didn’t have. And just allowing him to take pressure off himself in terms of fitting into how we play and what we do.”
Surrounded by such playmakers as Curry and Draymond Green — and, now, Klay Thompson — the Warriors have taken the ball out of Wiggins’ hands, allowing him to hone in on his spot-up shooting while still finding opportunities to attack the basket.
Wiggins has set career highs in true shooting percentage each season since joining Golden State, a figure that never topped 50% in 5 1/2 seasons in Minnesota. This season, Wiggins has posted a career-best 56.2% effective field goal percentage while also shooting better than 40% from 3-point distance for the first time in his career, fueled by career highs in his frequency and success with catch-and- triple shoot.
“It’s just a matter of him buying into that process, staying consistent, and he’s gotten better at every single opportunity since he’s been here,” Curry said. “He obviously has a new accomplishment to show for it. … I know we’re all crazy excited for him.”
In fact, when the All-Star starters were announced, the players’ group chat exploded in congratulatory messages for Wiggins. It wasn’t until half an hour later that Green remembered to congratulate Curry, too.
As the text messages were rolling in, Wiggins was sitting up in bed, woken up from a nap by his girlfriend and their daughter telling him the news.
“I thought I was dreaming,” he said. “I was just shocked. I didn’t really know what to think or what to do.”
At the start of the season, when Wiggins was weighing his options, he said he envisioned a number of scenarios.
Ultimately, he said, the decision to get the shot came down to a single thought:
Sunday night marks one step toward what he was talking about.
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George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism