This column originally appeared in the July 7, 2014 issue of Sportsnet magazine.
His father, Mitchell Wiggins, is six-foot-six, was picked in the first round of the NBA draft in 1983 and played six seasons in the league and for nearly 20 years professionally. His mother, Marita Payne-Wiggins, might have been the better athlete. She won multiple NCAA sprinting championships and two silver medals at the 1984 Olympics for Canada. With bloodlines like that, how can you miss?
That’s the subtext to every story about Andrew Wiggins, the 19-year-old from Thornhill whose path to the NBA has been paved in gold since a YouTube clip went viral under the heading: “Best 13-Year-Old In The Nation.”
But this story isn’t about Andrew. It’s about Nick Wiggins, four years older and in his draft year—proof that bloodlines only take you so far. Suffice it to say the brothers’ paths to this point, the precipice of pro basketball, have been markedly different. “It’s been a grind,” says Nick, 23, who came off the bench the past two years for a Wichita State team that made it to the Final Four in 2013 and went 35-0 this season before losing in the third round of the NCAA tournament. “I’ve been in a lot of tough situations, but I’ve never been the type to give up.”
There are three Wiggins brothers, all outrageously gifted by any typical standard. But the standards of the NBA—home to the best 450 players in the world—are more outrageous still. Only the youngest, who stands six-foot-eight in socks and combines his mother’s track-star explosiveness (hence the 44-inch vertical leap) with his father’s grace and basketball savvy, has emerged as the athlete for whom NBA franchises tanked away their seasons.
In comparison, Nick, a six-foot-five shooting guard with only average hops and quickness, has a fight on his hands to reach his NBA goals. But the fight made him rather than broke him. “I got the tough end of the stick, but I love who I’ve become and my route has built me into the man I am. But I wouldn’t mind being able to jump a little higher and be six-nine, you know what I’m saying?” he says, laughing. “That would definitely help.”
After passing through two high schools, two countries and two junior colleges and scrapping for every minute of playing time at Wichita State, even his silky jumper and famous name are no guarantee that his path to the NBA won’t pass through the D-League or Europe. He didn’t think it would be this way when he left Vaughan Secondary to finish high school in the U.S. “I figured I’d go to a high-major school, play Div. I for a couple of years and then play in the NBA,” he says. “But everything happens for a reason.”
For example: Taking the long way around means Nick is the first of his five brothers and sisters to get a college degree, something Andrew will need an iron will to finish as he leaves Kansas after just one year on a fast track to becoming rich and famous. It also means that Nick and his younger brother are going through the whirlwind together. For the past three months, they’ve shared an apartment in Santa Barbara, Calif., and trained together, working on their bodies in the morning and their games in the afternoon while wolfing back chef-prepared fuel and bashing each other in video games during their free time.
Nick provides his moon-shot baby brother with a ready example that not everything in the basketball world comes easily, and with someone who sees him not as the world does, but as he really is. “He’s a star, but he’s just my baby bro to me,” says Nick. “People are trying to get into his life for all kinds of reasons. I try to help him out and keep him around the right people. He needs me.”
It’s been a long road filled with twists and turns his younger brother never had to take, but maybe Nick Wiggins’s path brought him to the right place at the right time, basketball destiny of a different kind.