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Faith and Sports

For retired WNBA guard Candice Wiggins, life is full of miracles

‘People don’t understand there’s miracles that happen every day’

A look at the intersection of sports, faith and religion.

When Candice Wiggins scored 41 points in an NCAA tournament game during her senior year at Stanford University, she called it a miracle.

“It was like divine intervention,” Wiggins said. “People don’t understand there’s miracles that happen every day.”

The game on March 31, 2008, was a regional final pitting No. 2 seed Stanford against the No. 1-seeded University of Maryland. The winner would go to the Final Four. But before the game, Wiggins was struggling to stay confident.

“My WNBA status was going to be determined by the way I performed, and I was going to be remembered by the way this game went, which I thought was kind of unfair,” recalled Wiggins, 31.

Before the game, she’d read an article that compared her to her late father, MLB player Alan Wiggins, who died of AIDS when she was just 4 years old.

“I thought, Wow. It doesn’t even matter what I’m doing. All people care about is my father. They’re going to judge me by my father. No one’s going to ever judge me by me.”

She sought help from her grandmother, who in 1984 had prayed for Alan Wiggins when he was with the San Jose Padres and they were facing the Chicago Cubs in the postseason.

“The words she offered me were so comforting,” Wiggins said. “He was kind of in a similar moment where he was freaking out at the height of his moment. My grandmother, she prayed over him in the stadium. That was what she was doing during the Maryland game.”

Wiggins also offered up her own prayer: “Help. Be with me. If nothing else, God, I know you’re with me.”

She went 10-of-22 from the field, including 5-of-11 on 3-pointers. And she was 16-for-19 from the free throw line. She called the game an out-of-body moment.

“In a lot of ways, my whole four years at Stanford was a miracle,” she said. “It was like every day there was something intervening, and just with this great power. I attribute it to my belief.”

Her reliance on God started after her father’s death.

“There was always the biggest gaping hole with my father’s story,” Wiggins said. “He went on to just do all these amazing things, and as a baseball player he led the Padres to a World Series and was almost MVP of Major League Baseball [in 1984]. But when I started learning about his life, he struggled with his belief. He was just not sure that he knew if he had the faith. His lack of faith and his lack of belief was something that really swallowed him.”

Alan Wiggins struggled with drug abuse for many years. Wiggins was born in Baltimore when Alan Wiggins was playing for the Baltimore Orioles. He soon moved the family to Southern California. His funeral was held at Calvary CME Church in Pasadena, where her grandmother has been a member for 62 years. Wiggins still attends that church but also spends time at two others: The Promise Church in Escondido and The Rock Church in San Diego with Pastor Miles McPherson.

“I think that a lot of times your spiritual journey is seen as a private thing, and I think for a long time for me it’s been like that,” Wiggins said. “I think once I got to that public place, especially being a professional athlete, I realized a lot of my story is tied to my dad’s story in a lot of ways and ways that I wasn’t even aware of. My faith came natural for me. I think he found a lot of distress or he didn’t find solutions and answers. I actually found the answers that I was looking for.”

Wiggins earned a full ride to Stanford after leading her high school basketball team to two state titles. A guard, she was selected in the first round of the 2008 WNBA draft by the Minnesota Lynx, winning the Sixth Woman of the Year award as a rookie. She played in Minnesota for five seasons, including a championship in 2011, and then spent a year apiece playing for the Tulsa Shock, Los Angeles Sparks and New York Liberty. She also spent time overseas in Spain and Greece. During her WNBA career, she averaged 8.6 points and 2.4 rebounds per game. When she retired in 2016, she created controversy when she called the WNBA “toxic” and said she was treated poorly because she was outspoken about being heterosexual.

“When I got to New York, my faith was very intense,” Wiggins said. “I’d have index cards of Scriptures. My confidence was something I struggled with. It’s like once you realize the power comes from the word inside the Bible, that’s when you really open up a whole world of tools that you just can’t find anywhere else.”

Attending chapel became her rock in the WNBA.

“We’d always meet and you have a little lesson, and then you’d say a prayer,” Wiggins said. “Sometimes it’s led by players, and it was my sanctuary. It was the one place that I would always go to no matter what was going on.”

During her time with the Lynx, teammate Maya Moore introduced her to gospel music.

“That year was the year we won our championship, and so I really felt like God was answering a lot of prayers for me,” Wiggins said. “Maya was like a sent package from God. When Maya was 12 years old, she was listening to Christian gospel artists Mary Mary. When I was 12 years old I had the entire Slim Shady LP memorized.

“There’s so many miracles that we pass by. We can see it and we just ignore them, and for me, I think I just believed in miracles.”

Kelley Evans is a general editor at The Undefeated. She is a food passionista, helicopter mom and an unapologetic southerner who spends every night with the cast of The Young and the Restless by way of her couch.