Her Father's Daughter

Oct 22 2012 9:20PM

Minnesota's Candice Wiggins is beginning to truly identify with who she is -- the daughter of Alan Wiggins.
Michael Hickey/NBAE/Getty Images

Candice Wiggins turned on her iPod the other day.

She flipped past the hip-hop, past the rock and past the Malcolm X speeches that fill it and settled, finally, on Langston Hughes’ iconic poem, Montage of a Dream Deferred. And, hearing the poem’s famous opening line, her thoughts turned to her team’s journey to repeat as WNBA champions.

What happens to a dream deferred?

“That’s what it would feel like if we didn’t win a championship – a dream deferred,” Wiggins said.

At 25 years old, Wiggins, a Stanford graduate, is a blend of old-soul insight and a constant, gnawing curiosity. She uses metaphors and analogies – culled from literature, poetry, art and, it seems at times, all the other corners of life – to describe a world she is so eager to discover but, admittedly, is far from completely understanding.

The daughter of a tragic father and a mother who held her dreams together, Wiggins takes lessons from the past, as well as themes from literature, to help herself make sense of some of the mysteries in her own life. Ones that are, year by year, unlocking themselves.

“I listen to poetry because I’m just kind of weird, but I love the Harlem Renaissance,” said Wiggins, standing on the Target Center court in her Lynx practice gear, the perfect juxtaposition of athlete and scholar. “Anything Harlem Renaissance to me, it just gives me life.”

Certainly, Hughes was speaking to a different audience, Wiggins said, when he penned Montage of a Dream Deferred – he wasn’t exactly thinking about the Minnesota Lynx – but his stark metaphors still move her.

Does it dry up
like a raisin in the sun?
Or fester like a sore--
And then run?

If Candice Wiggins’ iPod is unconventional, it’s because its owner is, too.

“An overly deep thinker,” Minnesota guard Seimone Augustus said of her teammate of five years. “She’s real in-depth. She’s a little bit of everything. She knows about everything: politics, anatomy and everything. If you ask her something, I’m quite sure Wiggins has some insight on it. That’s just how intelligent she is. She tries to focus in a lot on basketball, but also a lot on life.”

And more and more, Wiggins is allowing that life to be defined by something that happened two decades ago.

When Candice Wiggins was at her father’s funeral, she was only three years old, but she knew then that she stood out from the kids around her.

“I was with a bunch of other kids and during the whole ceremony they were talking and all that stuff and I was actually paying attention and was thinking and looking, like, what is going on?,” Wiggins remembers with remarkable detail, even recalling wearing a polka dot dress that her grandma bought her for the occasion. “I could feel something greater, and all the other kids, they didn’t know. They were kind of joking, laughing and making whatever, and I just remember being like that’s when I knew I was different from kids my age, because I kind of like, got it.”

The story of her father, Alan Wiggins, has been told many times but it never gets any less gripping. He was a California kid that miraculously made it all the way to the Big Leagues and, for a few seasons at least, was a star for his in-state San Diego Padres. A true “rags to riches” story, his daughter said.

At the apex of his professional career, Alan Wiggins served as the leadoff hitter for the Padres team that went to the 1984 World Series.

“Tony Gwynn was the second batter, so my dad would get on base and Tony would bring him home – it was a great tandem,” Wiggins said.

Less than seven years after that trip to the World Series, however, Alan Wiggins was dead. He died of complications from the AIDS virus, a disease introduced into his system by drug use.

Does it stink like rotten meat?
Or crust and sugar over--
like a syrupy sweet?

It wasn’t until this year – specifically when she received her championship ring – that Wiggins says she started to have reflections about her father’s life and, like the words of Hughes’ poem, started relating them to her own.

“My father, he played professional baseball. Leadoff hitter. World Series. He played there and you know what? That didn’t matter,” Wiggins said. “He didn’t take his rings and accomplishments with him. They stayed here on Earth. He’s gone. It’s like, professional sports, it’s just one part of life, it’s not all of life. If you’re terminally ill, who’s cares about who wins the first game of the series?

“Or, in 100 years, who’s going to care about any of this?”

Reflecting on her father’s triumphs and struggles has helped Wiggins start to put her own life and achievements in perspective. Although she still glows when she remembers last year’s championship, Wiggins says it’s things like “integrity, being a good person and being a good teammate” that really matters.

And, of course, family.

But identifying with her father wasn’t always easy. She said it was tough growing up because everyone knew her father and the circumstances surrounding his death, and this came at a time when AIDS carried a mysterious stigma – “like a leper,” she said.

“For me, I tried to suppress my memories of him because everything was so negative,” Wiggins said. “I thought he was a monster for a lot of my life and now I’m starting to see that he wasn’t this monster.”

Wiggins tells a chilling story about a time when her mom brought her to her dad’s apartment in Los Angeles just a few months before his death.

“I remember it was this run-down, rackety apartment,” Wiggins recalled, in what is one of her earliest memories of her dad. “My mom at the time was separated from him, I mean, everyone was separated from him. He was isolated, he was alone. And my mom went there – she had to get something or talk to him about something – so she brought me with her. I was just a little three-year-old but I still kind of remember it. I remember she opened the door and it’s this rundown apartment, and I’m like, he was really wealthy, but it was like his life was just really cheap.

“And then I remember kind of like trying to get around my mom’s legs and then seeing my dad on this table – and she wouldn’t let me go in – but he just looked just already dead, his soul. He was just in there with this drug paraphernalia on this, and I remember this still, a pink, 80’s looking coffee table.”

Wiggins says that that moment, and whenever she thinks about her father’s downfall, motivates her to stay on the right path. Her family still mentions the striking resemblance between father and daughter, a similarity that’s a source of symmetry for Wiggins.

“My mom has told me a bunch of horror stories about my dad and I think me looking like him, acting like him, thinking like him, I just gave my mom so much drive to make me be like him, but be a better version of him,” Wiggins said. “She always would tell me this, even as early as five before I was even good at basketball, she’d say ‘you’re going to be great at basketball, you’re going to lift your father’s name, you’re going to bring him back from the dead.’”

“My life begins where his life ends,” Wiggins said. “I just did not want the world to remember my dad like that and I knew that it was really dependent on me because that’s how he is going to live forever.”

Maybe it just sags
like a heavy load.

On the court, Candice Wiggins is not your typical WNBA player, either.

Gliding on the court with her long, skinny legs – legs that appear to stretch further because she slightly hikes up her shorts and because she’s one of the few players that wears no knee pads – the 5-foot-11 guard sometimes appears as if she could be blown over by a stiff breeze – even though Wiggins refuses to be knocked down by the burden of her own dreams and her father’s legacy.

And for now, those dreams include a repeat WNBA title for the Minnesota Lynx, where she’s long helped to bring an intellectual edge to the Lynx. Augustus says she tries to pick up insights from Wiggins from time to time – recalling something Wiggins said last year about pursuing happiness each and every day – and Wiggins even inspired her coach to divulge something that not many coaches are apt to admit.

“Candice is a lot smarter than I am,” Minnesota coach Cheryl Reeve said. “She’s got that Stanford education, that Stanford intelligence. She quotes songs, poetry, books, everything, I can’t touch any of it.”

Inspiration’s one thing. But if the Lynx are to repeat as WNBA champions, Reeve will still need Wiggins to play her customary, energizing role off the bench if the Lynx wish to reach their stated dream of repeating as champs. And Wiggins is ready.

“After you’ve tasted a championship, that hunger never subsides,” Wiggins said.

Or does it explode?

But, if last year’s any indication, that hunger alone will not satisfy Wiggins’ appetite for other aspects of life.

“It was such a great feeling, it’s like my most accomplished thing,” Wiggins said of winning a WNBA title last season. “But it’s also like, there’s more to life than winning games.”

As this season nears the end, Wiggins is aware, more than ever, that she is Alan Wiggins’ daughter. And that alone may give this dream for another title, deferred or not, a whole new meaning.





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