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The meteoric rise of Minnesota Timberwolves guard Anthony Edwards.

Edwards is already one of the NBA’s most irreplaceable players

Anthony Edwards isn’t rapper Andre 3000, but the new age ATLien is proof the South still has something to say. Because his future is so promising, being protective of Edwards comes naturally.

The Minnesota Timberwolves guard has one of the most charming personalities in a league full of eccentric stars while still being one of its fiercest competitors.

He’s an elite-level trash talker and apex predator, a relentless two-way tour de force, and a budding pitchman (including being the new face of Sprite’s “Obey Your Thirst campaign” alongside track star Sha’Carri Richardson). He’s also the owner of the hottest basketball shoes on the market, the Adidas Ae 1s.

It sounds like hyperbole, but the next several months could change Edwards’ life, career, and the future of the NBA.

Rooting for Edwards is easy. There’s a sadistic delight to him that runs parallel to a game that’s, to quote another Atlanta native, “cooler than a polar bear’s toenails.”

The way Edwards plays is so calm and controlled — yet addictively explosive — that you’re left to wonder what his prime years will hold if he’s this good already.

He’s improved facets of his game every season since being the top pick in 2020. But this year, his fourth, saw Edwards take the proverbial leap.

His free throw percentage increased by nearly 7% to 83.6%. Likewise, his efficiency and playmaking have also improved (his assists led to 1,024 points compared to starting point guard Mike Conley’s 1,049 points), and Edwards firmly took control of a franchise that hasn’t seen this sort of success and excitement since the early 2000s of Wolves forward Kevin Garnett and team president Flip Saunders, who later was named coach.

In Minnesota’s first-round series against the Phoenix Suns, Edwards set playoff career highs nearly across the board. Simply put, Edwards is no longer knocking on the NBA’s door. He pays the mortgage here now.

“I’m probably at 40%” of his prime, Edwards said in April on NBA Today. “I’m not even touching my prime yet

When asked about how long it would take for him to become the NBA’s best player, Edwards didn’t hesitate. “About two or three years,” he said.

There’s a familiar coolness around Edwards that is not predicated on basketball. We’ve all met someone like him at some point in our lives. He’s that co-worker, cousin, college classmate or friend whose supreme confidence is endearing instead of off-putting.

At just 22, Edwards is the conductor of the Timberwolves’ offensive and defensive orchestra — the team finished the season as the third seed in the Western Conference and all that’s standing in front of the franchise’s first conference finals appearance in 20 years is the presumptive MVP and reigning champion.

A few days before the playoffs began, Edwards laughed at the thought of his growing importance in the league. It’s not that he doesn’t care — he does, deeply.

And he’s not struggling with imposter syndrome, either. It’s an amazement that this much weight sits on his shoulders at 22.

Edwards is basketball photosynthesis — everyone else gains life from the light his heroics produce. While the world seems to be in turmoil at the moment — from college campuses to conflicts abroad and in our hometowns — watching Edwards offers fleeting but necessary moments of happiness. Edwards is that happiness. Fairly and unfairly, he has that responsibility.

It’s so easy to feel protective of Edwards because we know it’s impossible to protect everyone from everything. He’s made mistakes since becoming a pro, such as tossing chairs after a tough loss and using anti-gay language on social media, which he later apologized for.

But most 22-year-olds are different from the leaders of organizations. Most don’t have NBA legend Michael Jordan fawning over them or readily admit how much they want to “kill” the competition and then go out and do it like Edwards just did with Phoenix Suns guard Devin Booker.

And most 22-year-olds aren’t in the running for the very short list of who will be the face of a multibillion-dollar international sports league. Though Edwards is on the cusp of superstardom, the line between basketball heaven and cautionary tale hell is razor-thin.

One of the most interesting things about Edwards’ story is how it’s all materialized. He experienced tremendous grief following the deaths of his mother Yvette and grandmother Shirley to cancer in 2015 when he was in eighth grade. Edwards channeled that trauma into joy as a tribute to the two women who raised him to do just that. He’s known unconditional protection and love through his siblings who stepped up to raise him and provided the stability that’s allowed him to grow into the man he is today.

And now, Edwards is on the edge of a worldwide takeover. After dispatching his favorite player, Suns forward Kevin Durant, in the first round of the playoffs, Edwards now faces the most complex challenge of his still-young career, the Denver Nuggets.

A rematch of last year’s playoffs, it is the most anticipated second-round clash with a test of wills at its core that tugs at basketball’s soul. One side is led by the best player on the planet, Nuggets center Nikola Jokić — and the playoffs’ most clutch player, guard Jamal Murray — seeking to assume control of the decade’s first half with another title.

On the other side are Edwards and the Timberwolves, who are close to basketball nirvana but know they must walk through hell first.

Every game from now until the Timberwolves’ season ends could include some of the biggest moments of Edwards’ life. After the playoffs conclude, the 2024 Paris Olympics await, where Edwards will play a significant role — perhaps even starting — in Team USA’s charge for a gold medal. Then there’s the NBA’s looming media rights deal and how players like Edwards figure into the league’s future.

Compared to where he was a decade ago, Edwards’ life has changed dramatically in a short amount of time. And, of course, he’s still getting used to it.

“Seeing how people treat me, seeing how I interact with kids, and seeing their reaction,” Edwards said, gives him goose bumps. “I’d say most people’s reaction when they meet me, honestly. I never would have imagined people crying and being super-happy when they see me.”

“That’s the best feeling ever,” he said, flashing his megawatt, mischievous grin, which could one day join Los Angeles Lakers great Magic Johnson’s smile as the game’s most recognizable.

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