A lot of NBA players scrawl tiny messages on the soles of their game sneakers. Jayson Tatum typically draws a heart and writes, “Deuce,” the nickname of his young son. Kyrie Irving used to write “Whiplash,” a reference to the movie, with some family nods on the opposite side of his shoes.
But Celtics rookie Carsen Edwards’ motivation isn’t as subtle. During his time at Vegas summer league, Edwards continued a college tradition of wrapping his right wrist with athletic tape and writing inspirational messages in black Sharpie.
HELP MAMA OUT
The messages might not have been particularly noteworthy if Edwards hadn’t forced eyeballs on himself in Vegas. In Boston’s five summer games, Edwards averaged a team-best 19.4 points (6.4 points higher than the next closest teammate) over 23.4 minutes per game. That’s the highest scoring output of any Boston player at summer league since 2004.
On Sunday, the Celtics formally announced they’d signed the 21-year-old guard to his rookie pact. Given that Boston pounced on Edwards at No. 33 in last month’s draft, he wasn’t subject to the first-round scale. The Celtics could have offered him a minimum-salary contract that many second-round picks settle for but would have only been able to ink him for two seasons. Instead, Boston used a sliver of available cap space to sign Edwards to a four-year deal that includes three guaranteed seasons. Edwards gets paid a bit more like a late first-round pick (at least later in the contract) and the Celtics protect their investment for a player that could be a steal if he keeps scoring the way he did this summer.
All that attention left Celtics fans zooming in on the messages on his left wrist. The tape was a familiar presence during Purdue’s tournament run that saw Edwards put himself on the radar with a couple of 40+ point efforts, including against eventual champion Virginia.
The messages sometimes change but one seems ever-present. "Help Mama Out" is almost always on the top side and most visible. It’s a nod to Edwards’ mother, Carla Desmuke-Edwards, and all her efforts in helping Edwards along his basketball journey.
While Edwards doesn’t need any motivation to keep proving himself, the wrist memos are there to make sure he doesn’t take his foot off the gas.
"Just reminders,” Edwards said. "At this level, or even the college level, being motivated — I feel like you should be self-motivated at this point. But also just having those reminders, on why you do things, on why you play so hard. And everything like that.
"To have that on my wrists and see it every time I’m on the floor is important.”
Edwards doesn’t need any reminders that little on his basketball journey has come easy. Edwards said that, right before he got to high school, he wasn’t much of a shooter. His father, James, implored him to work on his shot. Yes, the same kid who showed fearless Steph Curry-like range at summer league didn’t have a jump shot until roughly the mid-2000s.
“Honestly, growing up, maybe until 7th or 8th grade, I really struggled with having a jump shot, which, honestly, it just wasn’t my thing. Shooting the ball wasn’t my thing,” said Edwards. "It was all just going to the basket. My dad just kind of explained to me how important it is to be able to score the ball at a high level, especially at my height, if I want to get to the next level. So he focused on getting me a jumper and making myself more difficult to guard. I give it to my dad.”
Edwards made the varsity team at Atascocita High School in Humble, Texas as a freshman but got assigned to junior varsity as a sophomore, something that still baffles him. Frustrated by the demotion, he angrily decided he’d simply focus on football — where he played slot receiver and running back — until his mother convinced him to stick it out on the basketball court.
Edwards landed at Purdue and after a breakout sophomore season, put his name in for draft consideration. He did the pre-draft circuit, which included a visit to Boston, where he says he had a lackluster workout. Eventually he decided to return to Purdue for his junior season and spearheaded the team's run to the Elite 8 before bowing out against Virginia.
Draft projections had Edwards as a late first- or early second-round pick but it was still a bit of a surprise to see him on the board when Boston picked at 33, after moving back in a deal with the Philadelphia 76ers. And there seemed to be an audible cheer from near Boston’s war room right before the Edwards pick came on TV. Co-owner Wyc Grousbeck emerged for a television interview beaming right as the pick played on ESPN's telecast.
Edwards will wear No. 29, a nod to his brother, Jai, who wears the same number as a defensive back at Tarleton State University. Edwards’ friends have given him some grief about the double digits but watching him drop shoulders into defenders to create space makes you wonder if the thick-legged Edwards could have played NFL cornerback if he had chosen that path.
The messages on his wrist remind him that he was supposed to end up in the NBA. And, if summer league is any indication, he’s not content to simply land an NBA gig. He’s eager to carve out his role, especially on a Celtics team that has a need for backup guard minutes with the departure of Terry Rozier.
So what can Celtics fans expect from him this season?
"Best way I can explain it: Just really giving everything I have. That’s all I know really,” said Edwards. "I love this game, I enjoy playing, I enjoy competing. Coming in, I just want to do what’s best to help this team win. I want to make an impact the best way possible but, for most part, doing what the coaches ask me. And just giving everything that I have, day in and day out, and competing.”
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