Wade Baldwin IV is still just 21 years young. There will be many more trials and tribulations that determine who he will be for the rest of his life, whether it pertains to basketball or in the “real” world. However, his life in the former has had an enormous impact on the latter.
It’s only been a mere handful of months since the Memphis Grizzlies unceremoniously cut ties with their first round pick of 2016. Rumors swirling in and outside the locker room prompted a decision that didn’t sit well with one person above all others: the guy that got cut. Money is the last thing Baldwin addressed in our talk, but he makes a powerful point of self-awareness.
“Looking back, (Memphis) signed me for four years,” reflects the former Vanderbilt star. “I missed out on between six and eight million dollars because of my attitude. When you put that in the grand scheme of things, that’s a lot for something that’s so easily fixable.”
This is a 21-year old being put through the ringer, learning life lessons at an age where most people are just trying to make it to class on time without running out of ramen.
Things work differently with athletes. If you’re good enough, you become a professional earlier than pretty much every other field. Because he was good enough, that became the case for Baldwin.
Growing up a fan of Dwyane Wade (for obvious nominal reasons), the New Jersey native played college ball for the Commodores and stayed put in Tennessee after being drafted 17th overall by the Grizzlies.
For reasons not over the head of Baldwin himself, it didn’t work out with his first pro team.
After he was released, he signed a two-way contract with the Portland Trail Blazers. The Blazers don’t have a G League team, so following his recovery from thumb surgery, they assigned Baldwin to the Dallas Mavericks affiliated Texas Legends.
So how would a guy, barely a year removed from being one of the most prized prospects in the entire league, expected to be fulfilling an NBA role right now, respond to the assignment? Like I said, this is a new Wade Baldwin we’re talking about.
“I think it’s probably the best thing that’s happened to me in my life,” he said profoundly. “After such a negative thing went down, here I just tried to turn that negative all the way into a positive. Personally, I think I’ve done it very well. Moreso off the court than on the court, which was my biggest goal coming here. Building chemistry, relationships, being well-liked by all my teammates and the organization from top to bottom. That was a very big success for me.”
Talent has never been and is still no issue with the versatile, defensive-minded guard. But improving what’s between the ears came from spending time outside the lines.
“I’ve never really faced any large adversity in my life and with Memphis, it was a life-changing moment for me. The way I acted, I came off a bit brash, a bit cocky, a bit arrogant. I never felt like I was uncoachable or had a bad attitude toward the game of basketball. I think that was just my competitive spirits and people taking it the wrong way.
“But here (with the Legends), I mean it’s just been the complete opposite. How my approach has been, treating everybody kindly, respectfully and getting to know everybody. That’s something I didn’t do at Memphis. I didn’t know all my teammates, I didn’t build a relationship with them off the court. That was a big problem when it came down to decision making and whether they wanted me on the team or not.”
Baldwin didn’t just come to the Legends to improve his game and prove his place in the NBA hierarchy, he came to be a better person. To recognize this at such a young age and be faced with hardship this early on, and to respond, is not to be overlooked.
“That was my main goal, to come to Texas and be the most well-liked guy here. Be a good teammate, have the coaches fall in love with me, have everybody from the ball boys to the front office people all smile when I’m around and getting to know the real Wade and not just the Wade you see on the basketball court. Just following that trend for my career will have positive actions for me moving forward.”
Baldwin has become one of the guys on a Legends team that won seven straight and overcame the rival Rio Grande Valley Vipers for first place in the Southwest Division during his short tenure. While there’s plenty of praise to be placed on his own shoulders, he recognizes all of those teammates he set out to get to know.
“I obviously couldn’t have done it without the amazing roster that was put with me. Brandon Ashley is an NBA talent. Jameel Warney is an NBA talent. Donald Sloan, Justin Dentmon, Jalen Jones, Kyle Collinsworth and the rest of the guys. We had pros on pros on pros all on one team. It makes it kind of easy to win games. They were professional beyond professional and it just made it easy.”
Baldwin has friends in the Dallas area and playing in Frisco has provided him a chance to get in touch with a city he’s always admired from afar. That is, when the team was actually at home. When they were, he squeezed in some time to catch up with old friends as well as occasionally hang out with fellow two-way player Johnathan Motley at his Dallas home.
He has played in the G League before, suiting up for the Grizzlies affiliate last season in Iowa. Times were tough there, so he’s savored the opportunity this year with Texas to not only enjoy the spoils of winning but show he can be a leader on a winning team.
“It’s special. I definitely wanted to make a big turnaround. Last year, for the Iowa Energy, I think we were the worst team in the G League. (note: with just 12 wins, he’s right.) Out of the total games I played, I think I won six the entire season. To come and flip that completely opposite and only lose three in games with me playing here in Texas, it was a big thing to show that I’m a winner.”
Off the court, Baldwin has received valuable guidance from head coach Bob MacKinnon. However, another member of the Legends coaching staff, an assistant coach you may have heard of, has been an additional mentor for the young player.
“A big help has been visiting with Eric Snow and his wife and family. I go over there every Sunday and spend the whole day with them. They just talk to me about becoming a better human, a better man and that translates into becoming a better player. They have taught me little things to do to bring smiles out of people. I tried to apply that while I was here and am going to apply that everywhere I go from now on.”
Whatever he’s done with the Legends has worked. Remarkably. Whatever man Wade Baldwin was before he arrived in Frisco, the one you may have read about or heard some TV heads talking about, is not the one that suited up for and was a part of this Legends community for roughly two months.
And now, he’s going back to Portland to be the NBA player –and person– he knows he was always meant to be.