Why Warriors' humane handling of Wiggins' absence is right move

Why Warriors' humane handling of Wiggins' absence is right move originally appeared on NBC Sports Bay Area

Andrew Wiggins is on leave from the Warriors. Again. Personal reasons. Again. Family matter. Again. For the second consecutive season.

Wiggins has been away for a full week, missing four games. And, once again, there is no return date. Not even a timeline.

The absence has many of the good folks populating Golden State’s fan base growing anxious, with some even reaching for keyboards to grumble: “He’s getting paid a lot of money! He should be playing! Can’t believe the Warriors are letting him get away with this!”

Meanwhile, Wiggins’ employers are, as they did last season, expressing compassion and patience while respecting Wiggins’ privacy.

“This is a personal issue that he's dealing with,” coach Steve Kerr told reporters last week before the Warriors tipped off against the Knicks at Madison Square Garden. “We expect him back but, it'll remain private.”

As it should. As it must. We don’t claim to know the reasons behind Wiggins’ excused absence, and we’re not about to put him under surveillance in hopes of discovering the truth. We’ll leave that to the international army of online sleuths and speculators.

Or to Wiggins himself, should decide to open the doors and windows into his private life.

Some things are more precious than any game in any sport. More important than winning any championship – yes, including Lord Frederick Arthur Stanley’s sacred Cup – or being inducted into any Hall of Fame. Life and living fall into that category.

Count Wiggins among those who regard family as an essential component of his life and happiness. That much he made clear last April when he returned from a two-month leave of absence.

“When you’re in a certain situation and your family needs you and it requires your attention and your love, that’s my first priority,” Wiggins said. “In my career, everything, family is always first for me. It will always be that way. I felt like I was in a safe space to be able to come back. I feel like we got everything settled — not fully settled, but in a safe place where I could come back.”

This is something we all should understand.

The Warriors are doing the right thing. The moral compass of this franchise exists largely through the words and deeds of Stephen Curry and Kerr, who share an exemplary sense of perspective that spans the human spectrum.

If others within their circle stray toward the avenue of intolerance, Curry and Kerr are pretty good at helping them see the light.

When Dejan “Deki” Milojević, perhaps the team’s most popular assistant coach, died in January at 46, everyone in the Warriors’ orbit felt the jolt. The game was put in its proper place.

So, as much as the Warriors would like to have Wiggins with them, they know he is where he should be. His family needs him more than they do.

Yes, the Warriors are entering the final quarter of the regular season. Yes, they’re hoping to rally and rise in the Western Conference standings. Yes, they would benefit from having their starting small forward, a very good two-way player, putting in 30 or so minutes every game.

But compassion is among the virtues that explain why the Warriors have become one of the most attractive professional franchises in American sports. In a world where so many billion-dollar corporations are comfortable swatting employees like flies, they make the effort to treat their most valuable public people with a sense of humanity.

Nobody knows that better than Wiggins. After his stock rose with impressive work in the 2022 NBA Finals – only Stephen Curry, by most measures, was better – Wiggins took all of two days to say not only that he wanted a contract extension but also the reasons why.

“I would love to stay here,” he said on June 18, 2022. “This is top-notch. The way they treat their players, the way they treat your family. We're all one big family. A lot of places might say that, but here their actions show it. I would love to stay here.”

Four months later, he signed a team-friendly extension: four years at $109 million.

Wiggins has on several occasions this season said that he still enjoys being a part of the franchise, and that basketball is only part of the equation. There are perks to being a Warrior, and he values them.

One of those perks is that he feels valued. Though Wiggins is absent, he remains a part of the team. Kerr has been in contact. So have a few others, including Dr. Rick Celebrini, the team’s highly regarded vice president of health and performance.

It is natural for fans, certainly card-carrying citizens of Dub Nation, to be curious about Wiggins’ absence. Mysteries are intriguing. And this is the second time around.

If the Warriors can accept it, so should the rest of us. Wish him the best, send warmest regards to the man and his family and wait for his return.

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