By Jason Lloyd
INDEPENDENCE -- Mitchell Wiggins has struggled for more than 20 years with the way his NBA career ended. He played six seasons in the league, primarily as a backup, and appeared in an NBA Finals before drugs soiled his promising future.
He was suspended for 2.5 years after testing positive for cocaine use and later returned, but enjoyed most of his success overseas. He feels like he let down his former Houston Rockets teammates, and although he won't directly admit it, he sounds bitter over the way it all ended.
Mitchell Wiggins was back in an NBA facility Friday sitting in the front row of chairs while his son, Andrew, shined in lime green socks and spoke about his passion for defense, the explosion in Canadian basketball and his dreams of winning Rookie of the Year next season with the Cavaliers.
His father once had NBA dreams, too, many of them left unfulfilled. For the first time in a long time, he can accept that.
"This just gives me closure," Mitchell said after Andrew held up his No. 21 Cavs jersey as the No. 1 pick in Thursday's draft. "I'm able to let go of some of the things I wasn't happy with when my NBA career ended. I'm tremendously proud of Andrew."
Andrew is listed at 6-foot-8 and a wispy 200 pounds. He's sleek, stylish and has less fat than a T-bone. The only part of his life more outlandish than his draft-night suit is his 44-inch vertical leap.
Blessed with incredible genes (in addition to his father, his mother is a two-time Olympic silver medalist in track), Wiggins could dunk as a 12-year-old, caught Michael Jordan's eye at 15 and was once hailed by LeBron James as the game's next great talent.
"This is a player that was really coveted," Cavs General Manager David Griffin said. "And we coveted."
Wiggins tried most sports while growing up in Canada, but never gravitated toward the national pastime of hockey. He ran track like his mother, Marita Payne-Wiggins, who won two silver medals racing for Canada at the 1984 Summer Olympics. Andrew credits her for his speed and leaping ability, and perhaps most importantly, his metabolism.
"I can really eat whatever right now and stay thin," he joked.
But he didn't have the drive to stick with track. He was a terrific runner like his mother, but he quit his freshman season after he lost in the 100 meters for the first time.
"He wants to win," Mitchell said.
That will be welcomed in a Cavs locker room that hasn't done much winning the past four years, but they've certainly gathered top talent, specifically top Canadian talent. The additions of Wiggins and Dwight Powell, acquired by a trade during the second round of Thursday's draft, gives the Cavs four Canadians on their roster.
Wiggins is clearly the most high profile. He already has a relationship with Tristan Thompson from their AAU days and with Anthony Bennett from the national team.
Wiggins will make his Cavs debut on July 11 in a summer league game in Las Vegas. His father surely will be watching.
Mitchell Wiggins scored more than 3,800 points during his own NBA career.
He averaged 6.8 points as a reserve guard for a Rockets team, led by Ralph Sampson and Hakeem Olajuwon, that advanced to the finals in 1986. Wiggins had a key offensive rebound in Game 5 of the Western Conference finals, when the Rockets eliminated the Los Angeles Lakers, then had a big basket in the Rockets' Game 3 victory over the Boston Celtics in the finals.
The Rockets eventually lost the series in six games, and Wiggins returned the following season as a starter. But former Commissioner David Stern received a tip about cocaine use and both Mitchell and teammate Lewis Lloyd were banned for 2.5 years after failing a drug test.
"When you play with Hakeem and Ralph Sampson, you've got to make sacrifices because they're big men who demand the ball," Mitchell Wiggins said. "I was a good player, a good fit with them. I just felt like I let them down when I had my issues. I should've played 8-10 years with them."
Instead he was reinstated for the 1989-90 season and averaged a career-best 15.5 points as a starter with the Rockets.
It didn't matter. Perhaps because of the drug suspension, Mitchell was released after the season, played one more year with the Philadelphia 76ers and was out of the league by the age of 32.
He bounced around the CBA and overseas for another decade before finally retiring from basketball in 2003.
"My NBA career, I thought I was a good player getting better," said Mitchell Wiggins, who believes his older son, Nick, will also play in the NBA. Nick Wiggins will be going to the summer league in a few weeks with the Sacramento Kings.
"I'm ready to let it go," Mitchell Wiggins said. "Maybe some of the things I was feeling when I left the league ... I can sleep better now."