It’s weird for us normal people living our normal lives to remember that many of our heroes used to be like us. While LeBron James is the most famous basketball player in the world and currently on the big screen alongside every Warner Brothers film and TV character ever created in Space Jam: A New Legacy, it’s increasingly hard to remember his humble beginnings as just “a kid from Akron.” Before becoming arguably the most famous actor of our generation, Leonardo DiCaprio grew up poor on drug-infested streets in Hollywood. Hell, even Justin Bieber had his struggles before hitting it big on YouTube. But somehow they found a way to utilize their talents to become global superstars.
It’s hard to remember Alex Rodriguez as anything but A-Rod, an instantly recognizable celebrity around the world. He may now be part of the Minnesota Timberwolves ownership group and dated Madonna and Jennifer Lopez, but he wasn’t always bathed in luxury. He spent his childhood between the Washington Heights neighborhood in New York City, the Dominican Republic, and eventually Miami. His father abandoned his family when he was a child, and Rodriguez’s mother was forced to raise him by herself.
Rodriguez eventually found his calling with baseball, and the rest is history. He was the No. 1 pick in 1993, made his first All-Star team at the age of 20, signed a record 10-year, $252 million contract with the Texas Rangers in 2001, signed another 10-year, $275 million contract with the Yankees in 2007, won three MVPs and a World Series title, kissed himself in a mirror, and was suspended for all of 2014 for taking PEDs. He did all of that while becoming one of the most recognizable athletes on the planet, for better or worse. Now he’s starting a new venture as the next owner of the Minnesota Timberwolves alongside partner Marc Lore.
Since he retired from baseball in 2016, A-Rod has successfully transitioned into business, but the most important asset he brings to the table is his experience as a superstar. The Wolves have two young superstars awaiting guidance in Karl-Anthony Towns and Anthony Edwards. Towns, 25, is already six seasons into his NBA career and already has a strong sense of identity in the league. But Edwards is still a wide-eyed 19-year-old whose first foray into the league came during a global pandemic, and he was drafted a month before his NBA debut.
Edwards comes from similarly humble beginnings as Rodriguez. He grew up in Georgia, tragically losing his mother and grandmother to cancer eight months apart when he was in middle school. Ant’s main focus was on football until high school, but he became a top recruit and eventually the No. 1 pick in the 2020 NBA Draft.
The runner-up for Rookie of the Year took to the NBA like a duck to water. He immediately endeared himself to local and national fans.
- He told Marney Gellner before the season that he was the best at every sport.
- Brought Popeye’s to a Zoom press conference.
- Fell in love with an Irish reporter’s accent.
- Crashed Malik Beasley’s press conference after leading a comeback.
- Threw down the dunk of the year on poor Yuta Watanabe.
The kid from Georgia already has superstar charisma, but his new owner can help him take his career to the stratosphere. Social media wasn’t around when A-Rod was making a name for himself, but it is the biggest way to become an overnight sensation in 2021. The interesting thing is that 45-year-old A-Rod has a lot to teach 19-year-old Edwards about it. A-Rod has 3.9 million followers on Instagram. Ant has 683,000. Where Edwards uses Instagram to show himself rapping or just driving around in his car, A-Rod uses it strategically to promote his business and drive engagement. The boss can take his 25-plus years of self-marketing and immediately apply it to Edwards, who is already one of the most likable players in the league.
It’s tough to break out in a mid-sized market. Kevin Garnett became a huge superstar playing for the Timberwolves 20 years ago, but few have broken through since then. Kevin Love didn’t get his due until he teamed up with LeBron in Cleveland, Andrew Wiggins was too reticent to be a star, and Towns has yet to make a huge impact on the culture even though he’s dating one of the world’s most famous influencers, Jordyn Woods.
A-Rod became a star playing alongside Ken Griffey Jr. in Seattle before signing with the Rangers, two of baseball’s least storied franchises. He knows how to leverage his talents and star power on the field (or court, in Ant’s case) to transcend his small-market beginnings on his way to becoming one of the icons of his sport. A-Rod competed in three Home Run Derbies in his career. The advice from A-Rod to Edwards is simple in this regard: participate in the dunk contest. Ant would become an overnight sensation if he brought the dunk contest back to prominence the way Vince Carter did in 2000.
The best way for A-Rod to mentor Ant is to adopt a “do as I say, not as I do” relationship. Nobody knows the pitfalls of superstardom better than Rodriguez, who is one of the most reviled players in sports history. He admits he made mistakes in his past (perhaps taking banned substances and lying about it for years) and could shepherd Ant past any pitfalls he may face in his career.
Rodriguez found himself in a PR disaster countless times over the last 20 years. Somehow he has climbed out every time. When rumors about his potential steroid use began circulating in the early 2000s, what did he do? Negotiate the two biggest contracts in sports history and became a Yankee. When everyone hated him for not being clutch in the playoffs, what did he do? He won the damn World Series. When he was finally outed as a cheater and suspended for a year, A-Rod did the unthinkable and shut the hell up to reflect on how he got there, eventually becoming a somewhat redeemed media personality after his playing days were over. Most recently, when J-Lo dumped his ass, A-Rod went and won the breakup by buying the Timberwolves.
He’s more liked than ever before after being a pariah for much of the last 20 years. In the world of celebrity, self-preservation is the key to survival. As much as we all love Ant now, he will have his ups and downs in the league, whether it be failing to win, turning on his fans with burner Twitter accounts, or (God forbid) taking his talents to another team.
A-Rod may not know what he’s getting into by becoming an owner of one of the sorriest and most mismanaged franchises in all of sports, but he knows he’s getting a potential superstar pupil in Edwards. Love him or hate him, A-Rod might actually be the best mentor to take Ant from one of us to the face of the NBA, as long as someone preemptively smashes all of the mirrors at the Target Center.