Coming Off Historic NBA Debut, Wade Baldwin Expecting 30 Family and Friends at Knicks Home-Opener
NEW YORK — Wade Baldwin IV and his old high school teammate Karl-Anthony Towns placed a friendly wager on Wednesday’s season-opener between the Memphis Grizzlies and Minnesota Timberwolves.
Loser had to buy dinner.
After Baldwin filled up the stat sheet, scoring seven points with five rebounds, six assists, three steals and three blocks in the Grizzlies’ 102-98 victory in Memphis, dinner was on Towns, the reigning NBA rookie of the year who had 21 points and four rebounds in the loss.
So they rented out a back room at the Westin Hotel and the dinner tab was about $500 for a group that included Baldwin’s parents, Karl Towns Sr., St. Joe’s-Metuchen coach Dave Turco and a few others.
“We took it easy on them on the table, they got off lightly,” Baldwin’s fatherjoked. “If we would’ve lost, Big Karl would’ve stuck it to me. Just between those two, it would’ve been $500.”
The dinner must’ve tasted especially sweet for Baldwin, who made NBA history by becoming the first player since 1983-84 with a 5×3 game in an NBA debut.
“I found out I broke an NBA record the first game that I played, so [I want] continued growth off of that the next 81-plus games,” Baldwin, the former St. Joe’s Metuchen and Vanderbilt University star, told me Saturday at shootaround at Madison Square Garden.
He will try to follow that up with another strong performance Saturday night against the Knicks in their home-opener against Memphis at the Garden. The Knicks are coming off a 117-88 pasting at the hands of LeBron James and the Cavaliers on Tuesday.
“I have like 30-some-odd people coming,” Baldwin said. “It’s exciting to play here in New York for the first time in a gym I’ve never played in. It’s super-historical, so it should be an exciting night.”
The 6-foot-4 rookie is listed as questionable (knee tendinitis) but told me he’s ready to go.
“It’s all perfectly fine, no issues at all,” he said.
“I hope he can go because we need him,” Memphis coach David Fizdale told me.
Baldwin was the 17th pick in the NBA Draft, one of three Jersey Boys taken in the first along with DeAndre’ Bembry and Malachi Richardson. The 6-5 Bembry out of St. Joe’s was taken at No. 21 by the Atlanta Hawks. The 6-6 Richardson from Syracuse was taken immediately after at No. 22 by the Charlotte Hornets (who conveyed the pick to the Sacramento Kings).
Baldwin was able to stay within the state of Tennessee after getting drafted; he only had to move about two hours from Nashville to Memphis.
“We were hoping to get him in the draft,” Fizdale said of Baldwin, who averaged 14.1 points, 5.2 assists and 4.0 rebounds last season as a sophomore at Vanderbilt. “We kept looking at the other teams, saying who really needs a point guard and you play that game. And you got different options if they come to you but he was No. 1 on our list. And so we identified him on film and through our scouting department that this is a guy that could really impact our team right away.”
Dating to his days winning the New Jersey Tournament of Champions at St. Joe’s alongside Towns, Baldwin has never lacked for confidence, and that’s exactly what Fizdale likes in him.
“He’s a competitor, that’s the best way I can describe him, he’s a tough kid,” the coach said. “He competes on very play. He wants to be great and I just love that about him. That fits me as a coach. I’d rather have a guy like that that I have to slow down than I guy I always have to encourage to pick it up. Like I told him, I’ll limit your aggressive mistakes, but not your casual ones. And so he’s figuring that out with me and he’s been doing a great job.”
Baldwin’s father said the Grizzlies were the No. 1 choice for his son because they have a slew of veterans who can teach him the ropes like Chandler Parsons, Baldwin’s best friend on the team, Mike Conley, Vince Carter and Zach Randolph, who calls Baldwin “Little Westbrook.”
“Little Wade, man, he’s got such energy and he works hard,” Randolph told me. “I’m proud of him. I tell him, ‘You just gotta keep working, man.’ This league is about working and getting better. He could be real good. He’s got big hands, he’s athletic, he could be real good.”
“When I met them the first time, the first thing they all said at separate times was, ‘Mr. Baldwin, your son’s a beast and he’s going to be in this league a long time,'” Baldwin’s father said. “You ain’t got to worry about it, he’s going to be in this league a long time.”
For now, Baldwin is looking to continue to improve off his historic opener and win some more dinner bets going forward.
“I couldn’t be happier where I’m at,” he said. “I was picked by the perfect team for me and so far it’s going real well.”
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Adam Zagoria is a New York Times contributor and Basketball Insider who covers basketball at all levels. He is the author of two books and is an award-winning journalist whose articles have appeared in ESPN The Magazine, SLAM, Sheridan Hoops, Sports Illustrated, Basketball Times and in newspapers nationwide.
A veteran Ultimate Frisbee player, he has competed in numerous National and World Championships and, perhaps more importantly, his teams won the Westchester Summer League (WSL) championships in 2011 and 2013.
He lives in Manhattan with his wife and children.