Lynx hoopster goes to bat against HIV/AIDS, gang violence

Minnesota Lynx guard Candice Wiggins is expected to speak after Saturday’s game as part of the team’s HIV/AIDS Awareness Night event.

Wiggins has been very prominent in speaking on the effects of the disease. She founded the Candice Wiggins Foundation in 2008 as an effort to reach out to youth about the deadly disease and how to prevent it. Her father Alan Wiggins died of complications from AIDS before she entered kindergarten.

“I’ve been talking about AIDS my whole life,” says his daughter.

However, her mother advised her it was time to reevaluate her foundation’s objectives, notes Wiggins. “Over the off season, I really got inspired on what I really want to do and what it is going to be about,” she points out. “I asked my mom, ‘What [do] you think is important?’ My mom said, ‘Candice, I would love you to think about the idea of survival.’”

That mother-daughter talk eventually led her to make plans for the Alan and Angela Wiggins Foundation, named for her parents.

Candice says she will continue speaking out on HIV and AIDS, but now she’s adding another component: the dangers of gang violence.

“I have many family members affected by it,” she points out. “It’s so close to me people would be shocked. Gang violence is very serious and is very real. When I was home, there were five deaths in one week.”

Alan and Angela Wiggins met when the two were in junior high in Pasadena, California. He grew up in the same neighborhood as Jackie Robinson once did. “That’s why he played baseball,” Candice noted. “The stories are countless on how much he loved baseball.”

Candice’s eyes light up when I tell her that I watched her father play baseball. His San Diego Padres played my hometown Detroit Tigers in the 1984 World Series. Although his team lost four games to one, Alan represented himself well.

Relying solely on my recollection, “He tried his best, huh?” she asks me. “My mom said that he made her want to watch baseball — he was incredible. My dad would get to first [base] and Tony [Glynn, his Padres teammate] would bat him in.”

Although Alan grew up in a tough area, sports eventually became his ticket out.

“[My mother] told me about his journey to the major leagues, to the greatest heights in baseball — the World Series,” remembers Candice. “The stories she would tell about a young Alan Wiggins, the high school Alan Wiggins that she would laugh at when he said, ‘I am going to play in the major leagues.’ He loved the game — he was quick and would steal [bases].

“My mom would talk about my dad so much — I always wanted to be just like he was,” admits Candice, whose athletic passion reminds her mother of Alan. “She said it’s like his spirit jumped into you.”

Now, Candice Wiggins believes she can help convince youngsters that playing baseball is a better and healthier choice. “My mom said let’s focus on getting the guns out of the [hands of] inner city Black children in Los Angeles and putting bats in their hands. She remembers the time when Black kids enjoyed playing [baseball] and [were] very good at it.

“I could sponsor a baseball team for these kids,” she surmises. “I could tell them my dad’s story. I could help get an understanding of how sports can do things, but also how to do for themselves.”

The love of sports is in her DNA, admits Candice, an All-American college basketball player and now in her fourth season in the WNBA. “I know I play basketball, but I also have a special connection to baseball.”

Wiggins hopes to have the Alan and Angela Wiggins Foundation up and running later this year.

“My mother has this vision, and I am going to see it through,” she pledges. “My mother said he [Alan] was in the process of setting up a foundation before he died but never got a chance to. I’m really excited about it.”

Wolves still failing on and off the court
The NBA got an A-plus for racial hiring in the 2011 Racial and Gender Report Card, released last month by The Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport (TIDES).

The league, which locked out its players last week in a labor dispute, has had the best grade among the men’s leagues for two decades, says TIDES Director Richard Lapchick.

However, based on our annual diversity analysis of those key off-court positions that makes a difference in the bottom line department, the Minnesota Timberwolves remains woefully poor. The organization has yet to earn a respectable grade in this regard.

Charles Hallman welcomes reader responses to challman@spokesman-recorder.com.