Atlanta’s Anthony ‘Ant Man’ Edwards proves what’s possible

If we invest in young athletes, they might not have to leave their communities to find success.
Minnesota Timberwolves guard Anthony Edwards, right, drives past Denver Nuggets forward Aaron Gordon in the second half of Game 7 of an NBA second-round playoff series on May 19 in Denver. (David Zalubowski/AP)

Credit: AP

Credit: AP

Minnesota Timberwolves guard Anthony Edwards, right, drives past Denver Nuggets forward Aaron Gordon in the second half of Game 7 of an NBA second-round playoff series on May 19 in Denver. (David Zalubowski/AP)

Now that the Minnesota Timberwolves have advanced to the Western Conference finals to meet the Dallas Mavericks in Game 1 at 8:30 p.m. Wednesday, all eyes will be on Atlanta’s own Anthony Edwards. Edwards has shown his passion for the game time and time again through his level of play. And though some might call Edwards arrogant for his remarks that he will win, they are mistaken.

You need confidence to be great. And to have confidence, you have to do tough stuff that’s within your area of talent. It has to be rooted in context, things that you have done before — if not exactly, very similar. There’s pressure involved, and you’ve risen to the occasion. Confidence and conviction are the qualities that have helped Edwards get to where he is: a prominent face in the NBA.

My connection with Edwards dates to his middle-school days when I had the honor of sponsoring him in our Junior Ambassador baseball league. Yes. Baseball.

Credit: handout

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Credit: handout

You see, I am the co-founder with my wife, Kelli Stewart, of L.E.A.D. Center For Youth in Atlanta. The L.E.A.D. Center is a sports-based youth development organization that partners with donors — including Adidas, the Atlanta Braves Foundation, Georgia’s Own and Mercedes-Benz — to use baseball to teach inner-city boys to overcome three curve balls that threaten their success: crime, poverty and racism.

Although my interactions with Edwards were limited, I watched with pride as he showcased his talent and determination on the field. In another life, he could have been an Major League Baseball great, but he had the opportunity to play basketball on an international level, which propelled him to his current success in the National Basketball Association. Today, at just 22 years old, he dominates the NBA court with a ferocity that reflects his unwavering commitment to excellence.

Watching Edwards on television, I am reminded of the determined young athlete I once saw on the baseball field. His journey from our league to NBA stardom mirrors the paths of many Black boys who often must leave their communities to pursue their dreams. For Anthony, this meant leaving his school community at Therrell High School to attend Holy Spirit Preparatory School — an independent Catholic school — a decision that ultimately propelled him toward becoming the celebrated “Ant Man” we know today.

His story resonates deeply with my own journey. Like Edwards, I too had to leave my community to pursue opportunities in predominantly white spaces, hoping to be afforded the benefit of the doubt, along with respect and trust, that my counterparts received effortlessly.

But there is a solution, a way to ensure that athletes like Anthony can thrive in their communities without sacrificing their dreams. My wife, Kelli, chief executive of L.E.A.D. Center For Youth, advocates for legislation that recognizes the value of athletics by adding an amplified “A” for Athletics to S.T.E.A.A.M. (Science, Technology, Engineering, Athletics, Arts, Math). This recognition translates into financial investment in athletics delivered within the methodology of sports-based youth development, allowing athletes to stay rooted in their communities while building them up from within.

When Edwards declared that the Mavericks would win game 7, people scoffed and called it arrogance. But it was simply Edwards declaring what he knew he could do, what he knew he could inspire his teammates to do. It’s what he’s been doing since he signed his first baseball scholarship in eighth grade in our Junior Ambassador league as a baseball player at one of our partner schools, Jean Childs Young Middle School.

Now, as Edwards and the Timberwolves face their new opponents, he will continue to draw from his confidence and inspire others because of it. I predict the battle between Edwards and Kyrie Irving will be a matchup people will be talking about for years. One thing is for sure: Edwards is both confident and skilled. Though this series won’t be a walk in the park, Edwards certainly has the confidence it takes to perform under pressure. I’m honored to have played a small part in helping Edwards build his confidence as a baseball player and as an athlete.

CJ Stewart is the co-founder with his wife, Kelli Stewart, of L.E.A.D. Center For Youth.