When she woke up on her birthday Thursday, Nicole Wigginton-Downey had no idea about the surprise her youngest of five sons had in store for her.
Earlier that morning, unbeknownst to his family back in Nova Scotia, Dartmouth’s Lindell Wigginton underwent a physical exam in preparation for signing a two-way contract with the defending NBA champions, the Milwaukee Bucks.
Wigginton’s signing came just ahead of a home game later that night against the Golden State Warriors.
“He knew kind of the night before, but he was trying not to tell us exactly what was going on because he was trying to wait until he actually signed to let us know,” said Wigginton-Downey, in an interview with The Examiner. “And he was trying to wait until past 12 o’clock for my birthday.”
By the time he called his mother, the news had already leaked. She was in tears when she answered the phone.
“He knew [that I knew] when he called because I was crying and he’s going: ‘Mom! Mom! Mom!’ And I’m like … trying to catch my breath,” she said.
“It was my birthday. Best gift ever."
Wigginton played a year of high school basketball at Prince Andrew High School in Dartmouth before moving to Virginia to attend a prep school, Oak Hill Academy, in Virginia. From there, he played college basketball for two seasons for Iowa State before declaring himself eligible for the 2019 NBA Draft.
Wigginton ended up going undrafted but was quickly signed by then NBA champions, the Toronto Raptors. After playing in the 2019 NBA Summer League, his mother said Wigginton’s agent decided not to keep him with the Raptors “because they were already guard-heavy.”
From there, Wigginton signed with the Minnesota Timberwolves to play for their G-League affiliate team, the Iowa Wolves. Since then, he’s played two stints with the Wolves, as well as stints in the Israeli Premier League and the Canadian Elite Basketball League.
In a trade this past October, Wigginton ended up back in the NBA G-League, this time playing for the Milwaukee Bucks’ affiliate team, the Wisconsin Herd. Wigginton played 17 games with the Herd this season before signing with the Bucks on Thursday.
Wigginton watched from the bench as the Bucks dominated the Warriors into a 77-38 lead at halftime.
Though the Warriors climbed back early in the second half, it wasn’t enough, and the Bucks still led by double digits heading into the fourth quarter.
“I watched the whole game, paying attention but not paying attention because I had my grandkids on Zoom watching it, and they were asking me all kinds of questions,” his mother said. “And then … it really clicked in. He’s on the floor.”
With just over four and a half minutes left in the game, and the Bucks back up by nearly 30 points, Wigginton checked into the first NBA regular-season game of his career.
Announcer Marv Albert acknowledged Wigginton when he entered the game and educated the live television audience about some of his background.
“They literally signed him before the tip-off,” Albert said.
Seconds later, Wigginton got a steal on a defensive play and quickly passed the ball back up the court.
“And look at that, comes in and makes a hustle play immediately,” said NBA Hall of Famer and announcer, Reggie Miller. “This is a lifelong dream for some of these men to actually play in an NBA game. And I applaud them.”
“I can’t imagine signing that day and playing on TNT. That is incredible,” said NBA Hall of Famer and announcer, Grant Hill.
As time wound down, Wigginton got a blocking foul when Warriors forward Jonathan Kuminga did a hard drive and connected with Wigginton, knocking him onto his back.
On the next play, Wigginton led the point as he crossed half-court with just a minute and 12 seconds left in the game.
Three seconds later, still standing on the mid-court Buck’s logo, Wigginton took off on a quick drive of his own, passing four Warriors players as he penetrated the paint, and scored the first two points of his NBA career.
“Welcome to the league,” said Reggie Miller.
Wigginton got a rebound in the final minute.
In the end, the Bucks beat the Warriors, 118-99.
“I was shocked too because I knew he was gonna suit up, but I’m thinking, 'OK, they’re playing Golden State, he’s not going to play tonight,'” said Wigginton’s mom. “And he obviously didn’t think he was going to play either, but…”
“It was my birthday and he played against my favourite player, Steph Curry,” Wigginton-Downey admits. “I wanted him to get the autograph, but he’s like, ‘Nooo!’”
She said she spoke to him later that night after the game.
“He was quite excited. He felt really good,” she said.
When asked whether she thinks signing to the reigning championship team means more pressure for her son, Wigginton-Downey said, “I’m not sure how he feels about it, I’m sure there’s pressure there, but he works pretty good under pressure so I think he’ll do well.”
Wigginton is the first Nova Scotian of African descent to play in the NBA. He is the second basketball player from Nova Scotia to play in the NBA, following Bedford’s Nate Darling who debuted just 10 months ago with the Charlotte Hornets.
The Bucks’ next game is tonight at 7:30pm AST in a home game against the team that first signed Wigginton the Toronto Raptors.
Matthew Byard, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Halifax Examiner