Anthony Edwards: The bad guy, in more ways than one.

Anthony Edwards is doing something nobody has ever done.

Sure, Magic Johnson led his Lakers team to an NBA championship in his rookie season, but that team was stacked as is, we are slowly learning, Anthony Edwards’ talents.

Nor am I referring to constant comparisons to Michael Jordan, at times the resemblance uncanny, so much so that the internet has floated around rumors that Edwards is Michael’s son.

I’m not referring to the fact that, at only 22, Edwards already holds the Minnesota Timberwolves record for most points in a post-season game.

I’m not referring to any of the statistical accolades he’s already amassed at his young age, with every pundit on every network already dubbing him the next face of the league.

I’m talking about another sort of performance.

Professional athletics has changed over the years but one thing that has remained the same is the importance of image.  The stakes are just higher now.

Since marketing began, athletes have endorsed products, or starred in roles, that their agents felt furthered their brand.

Dr. J starred in The Fish that Saved Pittsburgh.  Michael Jordan starred in Space Jam.  LeBron James starred in its rather lackluster remake.

Anthony Edwards has a cameo in a movie too.  And in it, he plays… the bad guy.

Years ago, before LeBron James had ever won a title, I hinted that he might be too nice of a guy.  In the National Basketball Association, nice guys finish last.  From Russell to Magic to Bird to Isiah to Jordan to Hakeem back to Jordan to Kobe and beyond, one must be cutthroat to win a championship, never mind multiples.

Taking no for an answer is not an option.  For forty-eight minutes, game after game, the competition is fierce with only the strongest-willed team standing at the end.  At least early on, Edwards appears to carry that gene.

You can hear it in his soundbites saying things like “I want to destroy everything in front of me.”  In other words, he’s willing to embrace the villainous role that NBA superstardom requires.

Enter his role as Kermit Wilts in Netflix’s 2022 film Hustle, starring Adam Sandler as an old-school, talent scout for the Philadelphia 76ers.  To save the struggling franchise (the most realistic part of the movie), Sandler finds a young Latin player named Bo Cruz, played by Juancho Hernangomez.  Anthony Edwards plays the kid’s arch-rival.  It was Sandler’s idea to cast him in the role.

Not only is Edwards clearly the antagonist in this role, a high-flying roadblock to Bo Cruz’ super stardom and Sandler’s redemption, Edwards character says and does some heinous things, including blowing kisses to his young daughter in the crowd and insinuating that he would do a better job of raising the kid by bedding his mother.  Maybe it’s the role Edwards was born to play, the headstrong killer destroying his opponent’s psyche, as he already appears destined to do in real life.  The story goes that he even improvised some of his lines.  Edwards’ performance as Kermit is as riveting as his real-time NBA play.

Edwards leans into the bad guy persona.  It was a role that could have easily cast Edwards in a different light and similarly, in my humble opinion, a role that no previous future face of the league would have ever considered taking.  Not Jordan, not LeBron and not the good Doctor.

Can you imagine someone suggesting to Michael Jordan “Hey, how about we cast you as the bad guy in this film?”  He would have been laughed out of Jordan’s luxurious mansion and dumped somewhere in a marsh.

Image is too important with too much on the line.  Athletes have portrayed bad guys in movies before but I’m not sure too many up-and-coming, potential faces of the league with so much at stake have done so at an early age.  Yet Edwards embraced the role.  It showed us something about the kid, that he wasn’t afraid to try something new, that his image would be defined by himself and nobody else.

We don’t like rooting for bad guys in sports.  Those championship Detroit Pistons teams of the late 1980s are still disliked by anyone outside of Michigan.  We are quick to label teams “good” and “bad” based merely on perception but so far, Edwards is climbing up the charts despite this villainous role that could have easily swayed public opinion.

Edwards will continue to make his mark on the league.  His athleticism and determination are already drawing lofty comparisons.  Here’s to him doing so on his own terms.  For that, he is already incomparable.

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