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MANILA, Philippines – Anthony Edwards dashed down the court, reminiscent of an airplane speeding along a runway. For the next few seconds, an exhilarated crowd at the Mall of Asia Arena held its breath in unison, awaiting a spectacle. Every gaze remained fixed on the scene, and the ensuing dunk was met with thunderous applause.
In this moment, an ordinary person showcased the extraordinary.
Before the 2023 FIBA World Cup, Erik Spoelstra paid Edwards the ultimate compliment by drawing parallels between him and basketball legend Dwyane Wade.
Recently inducted into the Hall of Fame, Wade ascended the NBA ranks with the support of the Filipino-American mentor, particularly during his tenure as a Miami Heat assistant in 2006, and later as the main tactician from 2012 to 2013.
Their relationship endures as robust and steadfast, weathering years of hard-fought battles and challenges. Thus, when Spoelstra bestows such praise, it carries substantial weight.
Spoelstra, having coached icons like Shaquille O’Neal, LeBron James, Chris Bosh, Jimmy Butler, and Bam Adebayo, possesses a seasoned perspective.
When he stated to Rappler that Edwards possesses the power to “captivate” an audience, his words stem from experience with A-list captivators who have graced the grandest stages where the brightest lights shine.
“Ant is still 22 (years old),” remarked Jalen Brunson, star of the New York Knicks and USA basketball’s starting point guard. “He’s poised for a remarkable career.”
Upon emerging from Georgia and declaring for the 2020 NBA Draft, Edwards became synonymous with comparisons to Wade. Both stand at a burly 6-foot-4, known for their explosiveness, instinct, and charismatic star power that defines franchise-changing players capable of making major headlines.
In his impressive first-quarter performance against Jordan on Wednesday, Edwards evoked memories of “The Flash” era in the NBA mid-2000s. He concluded the game with 22 points, 8 rebounds, and 4 assists, shooting at a 50% accuracy rate.
During these stretches, Edwards replicated Wade’s dynamic presence:
Sinking a three-pointer followed by a steal in the backcourt, leading to an easy two.
Soaring for a putback attempt, showcasing sheer athleticism and nearly converting despite leaping over a defender.
Executing an explosive rip-and-go move along the baseline, using a quick first step to reach the rim instantly, finishing despite the contact.
These instances echo Wade’s consistent impact on basketball games for over a decade.
However, there were more sequences:
Coast-to-coast finishes, pull-up jumpers off screens, finding open teammates in transition, and reminding defenders of his scoring prowess. Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, perhaps the most popular player in Manila for the World Cup aside from Austin Reaves, experienced the latter firsthand.
When asked how he adapted his game for FIBA competition, a challenge that often flusters NBA players, Edwards offered insight into his mindset, revealing similarities to past NBA greats.
“I’ll keep it simple: For me, it’s about putting the ball in the basket and getting a stop.”
Wade’s uniqueness emerged from his ability to impact games not only offensively but also defensively, particularly through disrupting passing lanes, protecting the rim, and pressuring opposing ball-handlers.
Although Edwards has not yet achieved Wade’s level of defensive prowess, potential growth is apparent. As he hasn’t experienced the intensity of the NBA playoffs, establishing such a reputation remains a future possibility.
While FIBA competition falls slightly below the NBA’s difficulty level, it ranks among the world’s toughest, comparable even to the Euroleague. Initial signs for Edwards are promising.
USA head coach Steve Kerr noted, “This guy’s right there on the top. The pressure he puts on the ball, his ability to stay in front – these confuse defenses and disrupt their systems. It was a significant aspect of tonight’s game (against Jordan).”
Certain aspects still separate Wade’s career from Edwards’ current stage.
Wade’s decision-making elevated him beyond other stars who relied solely on athleticism. As Wade matured, he developed an “old man game” to remain effective, encompassing a reliable post-game, head fakes for drawing fouls, and manipulating the game’s pace to his advantage and experience.
Part of his strategy included utilizing multiple screens to confound defenders. When opponents dared Wade to take specific shots, he diligently enhanced those aspects to turn them into strengths.
As Brunson pointed out, Edwards is only a year older than the legal drinking age in the United States. He possesses ample time to evolve into an “elite of the elite” performer, much like Wade. Furthermore, the flamboyant prodigy of the Minnesota Timberwolves already boasts a more impressive three-point shot than Wade ever did.
This doesn’t imply that Edwards must become the next Wade, let alone surpass him. However, the very existence of such comparisons early in Edwards’ career bodes well for the ardent admirers of this beautiful game.
Whenever he dribbles at the top of the key and his teammates clear space for his center-stage performance, an aura of anticipation engulfs Edwards, projecting box-office appeal on the horizon.
In the realm of sports, legends are born not only through individual prowess but also by their ability to inspire generations.
Anthony Edwards, with his electrifying style and the echoes of Wade in his game, holds the promise of becoming such an icon. As he soars toward the zenith of his career, each exhilarating dunk, dagger three-pointer, and ferocious defensive play is a thread woven into the tapestry of basketball’s story.
Through Edwards, the past’s brilliance intertwines with the present’s potential, igniting a beacon of hope for the sport’s future. Just as Wade left an indelible mark, Edwards seems poised to carve his own path of brilliance in the annals of the game. – Rappler.com