“If I can get the NBA Rookie of the Year trophy, obviously I would love to have it” – The Undefeated
Some of the biggest No. 1 draft picks in NBA history include LeBron James, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Oscar Robertson, Shaquille O’Neal, David Robinson, Elgin Baylor, Hakeem Olajuwon and Magic Johnson. There were also many that did not live up to the hype.
What will be the story of Detroit Pistons rookie Cade Cunningham when all is said and done? The No.1 pick in the 2021 NBA Draft doesn’t seem to be afraid of the pressure that comes with his selection.
âBeing the No.1 pick is something I’m very proud of, of course, to be part of a small group like this,â Cunningham recently told The Undefeated from the Pistons’ training center. âI’ve watched basketball my whole life. I looked at all the drafts. Being # 1 was crazy for me. It still is to this day. But the pressure thing, everyone has their own story to write. So I feel that I am the only one with the power to write my story. So, it’s never really the pressure when it comes to that. It’s really more of an opportunity to show more about myself than anything else.
The Undefeated had NBA diaries with Golden State Warriors forward Draymond Green, former NBA star and dunk champion Vince Carter, Atlanta Hawks goalie Trae Young, Warriors center James Wiseman, Pistons goalie Josh Jackson, Toronto Raptors goalie Fred VanVleet in the NBA bubble and Sacramento Kings guard De’Aaron Fox in India. The 2021-22 NBA season will be presented with a one-season diary with Cunningham, the former Oklahoma State star.
Not only is the Arlington, Texas native a potential NBA star, he’s also the father of a 2-year-old daughter. Throughout this diary, the 20-year-old Dallas Cowboys fanatic will guide the reader through the challenges of being a rookie on and off the field. Cunningham is also struggling with a sprained left ankle that could delay his possible NBA debut in the Pistons’ season opener Wednesday against the Chicago Bulls.
The following is Cunningham’s first diary with The Undefeated.
“I’m in the NBA now and want to win”
October 20 is a big day. First game. Opener. I officially join the NBA, play my first game and get my feet wet. I’m excited for it. My people are going to be deep. Everyone comes out for it. I’m trying to prepare for it. My ankle is better. We are getting there.
I want to do my job. I’m in the NBA now and want to win. The only thing that gets real credit in the NBA is the guys who win, the teams that win. So being the # 1 choice, you have to have an impact on winning. Something I really try to brag about is how much I care. This is something I really try to think about all the time and care about the most when it comes to playing: how I can help the Pistons win.
There are a lot of different reasons I was chosen # 1, but I think that’s just who I am as a person. One of the main reasons is that the Pistons believe that I can be good in any room and that I can communicate with people. It’s something you really want. And the first choice is someone who can become a leader for your team and be a franchisor.
I feel that I am collected. I compose myself well and I feel that it is reflected on the court. There aren’t really many situations where I feel like the situation is too big for me. The pressure is too high or I’m not ready for something. I feel like I’m pretty confident in what I can do and who I am.
Then, obviously, how I can hoop. The film could talk about it.
If I can get the NBA Rookie of the Year trophy, obviously I would love to have it. I was the # 1 choice. This award is something mine. I will definitely attack the game. I will definitely do what I do. But whatever, it’s a trophy. So I think what I could build in this dressing room is going to mean a lot more to me and be worth a lot more than all the material I can get. It’s just an individual price.
I’ve always dreamed of being in the NBA. But since I was drafted I can now imagine what it looks like. How it’s gonna be. And now I feel like I’m getting ready just for this moment. And it’s still crazy that I’m here at this point now. I can’t wait to see what it really looks like. And once I’m there, you can’t over-prepare for something you’ve dreamed of all your life. So, I’m just going to be in the moment. I’m still figuring it out. I’m still in awe of everything, but I feel like I’m ready, however.
‘having [my daughter] this is something that kept my head straight ‘
Arlington House. I learned a lot of things in Arlington, that’s where my family and all my friends are. I had to leave Arlington to go to Montverde high school [in Florida], so I think that almost built my love for my city even more, being away from it and missing it so much.
I have a very close-knit family. Happy to have mom and dad at home. They are still together. Both have that alpha type mindset when it comes to working out and going and getting what you want in life. But at the same time, they care so much about me, my brother and my sister. They weren’t going to release us. They made sure we worked to get what we wanted, so lucky to have this for sure: someone who pushed me and motivated me like this.
I fell in love with basketball and football very early on. My pops were a big time in football. My big brother was really good at basketball and a great basketball player. I love to play games, football every match day was my thing, but training never was. It was hot outside every time. So I like basketball better. I prefer to be in AC and could play all year round. It was just that basketball was the way to go.
Fatherhood has opened up so much to me as a person. Since it happened, it’s a ton of extra responsibility. But I want to be proud that I can support my daughter and make sure I’m there for her. I’m proud to be able to do this for her. So, I think having a little girl, especially having a father figure, is important. So I want to be there for her. I want to be someone she knows to be there for her. It was a lot of fun for me to watch her grow up. She is about to be 3 years old. Looks like she is 10 years old, how mature she is and how she talks. She’s so smart.
She is still with my parents when I left. So I’m on FaceTime with her all the time. She is always there when I get home. I try to check in and get those extra trips as much as possible. But now it’s so crazy to travel and this new life that I’m in now. So, but having it there is something that has kept my head straight.
“Detroitâ¦ I felt I could step in and be comfortable there”
I didn’t stay too long in Detroit. I always try to find which restaurants to go to. But I knew the city before the NBA Draft Lottery. I was listening to music from Detroit. I had watched Detroit shows and movies and stuff like that. So, I knew a little about the configuration of the land. And so I felt the stars aligned once they got the first choice, I felt it was something it wasn’t going to be, just alien to me. I felt I could step in and be comfortable there.
There are a bunch of artists from Detroit: Babyface, Ray, Sada Baby, 42 Dugg, Bezz Believe. There are a bunch of rappers and it’s just new on the scene now. Obviously they have Eminem. The Temptations. I can name a bunch of music from Detroit, honestly. There is a lot of culture, that’s what I like. I could get the whole family on the Motown tour, man. We have to learn what’s going on.
There have been basketball legends that have passed through the Pistons. And to be part of an organization that has seen this kind of guy before, it’s amazing to be a part of it. Now it gives you that different confidence. You could be the next version of that. So I have to go to [2021 Naismith Memorial] Hall of Fame Ceremony. It was crazy. I was invited to it. And being in the room with Ben Wallace and all those guys who’ve done so much for basketball, it’s crazy.
(Cunningham spent about an hour chatting with former Grand Pistons Isiah Thomas, Chauncey Billups, Rip Hamilton, Tayshaun Prince, Rick Mahorn and trainer Larry Brown at a private Pistons event on Temple Weekend fame).
I feel in most venues when it comes to basketball, I feel like I’m trying to make sure I’m one of the main voices because I feel like I know a lot about the basketball. game. I feel like I can easily stay in the basketball conversation, but all of these [former Pistons stars] in the Hall of Fame weekend private room. I feel like this was a time when I was really calm, trying to soak up as much as possible. There were several guys there who went through exactly what I’m about to experience and did it to an extremely high standard. So, to be able to hear as much as I heard from them in this room, I learned a ton. I got better that day. So, I was super grateful, though.
More than anything, Isiah, Rick Mahorn, these guys were talking about nothing sweet all the time. Everything you do is physical. You have to have courage for everything. And that’s something that I’m trying to experience, but to hear how passionate they were and see how the teams that they played with played, it aligned perfectly and you can see it even in outside the field. They wore a boastful air to them. So what stood out to me the most was the way everyone behaved. I feel like I understood how it matched up, how they played and why they won so many games. So, this is something you want to emulate.
To enter this Hall of Fame stage, you had to do something. You must be tall. Someday I want to be able to get on this stage, give my speech and talk about my journey up to this point.