In Philippe Petit’s 2002 book, To Reach The Clouds, the author writes of tightrope walkers feigning difficulty during their act in order to make what’s ordinary to them seem more dramatic to spectators. After the hours and hours and more hours of practice and training that go unseen by audiences, their actual performance is somewhat mundane. Without a speck of mid-air theatre, the marvel of their daring act would lessen.
I was reminded of this on Sunday afternoon in Hamilton, Ontario, where 17-year-old Andrew Wiggins, the most highly rated NCAA basketball recruit of the year, played in an exhibition game with his Huntington Prep school from West Virginia against a selection of regional all-stars. It was all too easy for the 6-foot-8 phenomenon from Vaughan, Ontario, whose physical gifts have combined with preparation to form an unmatched talent.
There are analogies to be made of a man playing among boys, or perhaps a boy playing among toddlers, but that type of performance was expected. The lack of other, better things to do on the Sunday afternoon of a long weekend in Hamilton wasn’t the reason an assembled crowd at McMaster University’s athletic complex spilled into the aisles and watched a game of high school basketball from windows in the main foyer. We were all there to see Wiggins and find evidence to support what had previously been legend.
He didn’t fail in this regard, scoring 25 points on 10-for-14 shooting in 30 minutes of court time. He was the best of a collection of very good, young basketball players. However, the most memorable part of the afternoon wasn’t his statistical line or even an assortment of audience-approving dunks, it was how effortlessly he seemed to meet the crowd’s steep expectations.
You and I, and others who range from slightly below average to slightly above average never did anything in high school as easily as Wiggins seems to do everything. He coasted to dominance on Sunday, rarely exerting himself beyond an outwardly natural movement. This, as he ran faster, dribbled more quickly and jumped higher than anyone else on the floor, landing threes in transition and in a set offense. Perhaps the only thing that seemed easier while watching him play was scouting basketball talent.
Of course, this is all about Wiggins right now, and a good portion of what makes the current version of Wiggins interesting is his future. Less than four months ago, the small-forward reclassified himself to the senior recruiting class of 2013, speeding up his progression to the NBA. Instead of spending two seasons in high school and at least one in the NCAA, he’ll finish out this year, commit to a school – Florida State, Kentucky and North Carolina are among the most likely – and then become the favorite to be the number one selection in the 2014 NBA draft. If all goes to plan, of course.
We’re seeing the making of a talented tightrope walker, negotiating the present with an eye on the future. Feigning difficulty isn’t necessary to make this progression dramatic, though. If all there was to this story was what Wiggins is able to do on the court, it would be a rather dull narrative indeed. Dominance always is. The drama is found in what’s to become of the protagonist. Will he fall off the pedestal we’ve built for him, or make it across with the same type of ease he’s exhibited so far?
After starting the fourth quarter on the bench, Wiggins spent his first unengaged moment of the day exaggerating a deep and lasting yawn. It seemed humorous that the spectacle that stirred such interest in us should be so bored with his own stage. I suppose the only thing with less drama than dominance is the ordinary. With Wiggins, both are always on display.