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Cade Cunningham Diary

Cade Cunningham diary: ‘To win that during my first time on this stage is huge for me’

The Pistons rookie predicted he’d win the Rising Stars game. He returned to Detroit with the MVP trophy and bragging rights.

The Undefeated has previously produced NBA diaries with Golden State Warriors forward Draymond Green, former NBA star and dunk champion Vince Carter, Atlanta Hawks guard Trae Young, Warriors center James Wiseman, Toronto Raptors guard Fred VanVleet, Sacramento Kings guard De’Aaron Fox and Kings guard Josh Jackson. This season features a diary with Cade Cunningham, the No. 1 pick in the 2021 NBA draft by the Detroit Pistons.

Through the course of this diary, the 20-year-old will take the reader through the triumphs, challenges and fun that come with being the top pick on and off the court. Not only is the Arlington, Texas, native a potential NBA star, but he is also the father of a 3-year-old daughter.

Cunningham took part in the Rising Stars Challenge at All-Star Weekend and also joined the rookies in the skills challenge. The Eastern Conference Rookie of the Month for January was named MVP of the Rising Stars Challenge after spurring Team Barry to a win over Team Isiah in the finale. While coached by Basketball Hall of Famer Rick Barry, Cunningham had 13 points, six assists and five rebounds in his first game in the Rising Stars Challenge, then nailed a 3-pointer and had several clutch plays in the championship game.

Cunningham previously told Pistons teammates Saddiq Bey and Isaiah Stewart, who both played for Team Isiah, that his team would win the Rising Stars tournament.

The former Oklahoma State star spoke with The Undefeated for his fifth diary entry during NBA All-Star Weekend in Cleveland.

‘My trophy might go up in my locker and I might put it up in front of Saddiq and everybody’

All this talent, I wanted to stand out for sure. It’s the All-Star Game weekend. Everyone is going to go out there and try to have fun. But everybody deep down still wants to be that guy. I knew that. I wanted to compete. I wanted to win. More importantly, I was happy to come out with a trophy, some hardware.

I think I won MVP because of my all-around game. [Cleveland Cavaliers rookie forward Evan] Mobley was great. Everyone contributed to the win. But to come out with the trophy, that means a lot. It’s my first All-Star Weekend. To win that during my first time on this stage is huge for me.

I am going to text my [Pistons] teammates on the group text a simple, ‘I told you so.’ A couple emojis. Maybe some hush emojis. I don’t know yet. I’m going to hear what they say. All the vets who heard what I was talking about will know what I’m saying. They saw it. I was talking [trash] to Saddiq, Isaiah and the whole team. We were all arguing in front of the whole team. It was all fun and games. We wanted to compete and see what would go on between us. My trophy might go up in my locker and I might put it up in front of Saddiq and everybody. That might be torture to them, so I might put it up in my crib or send it home [to Arlington].

The main thing Rick Barry was telling me was to take control and command of the court. He thought I did a really good job of that. He was telling me about being consistent about that. Having everyone feel my presence is huge when I am on the court. I will continue to do that and work. I met him at a Golden State game a while back, so I knew about him.

Anytime I can showcase what I got, I should take it seriously. I try to really do that. To have the Rising Stars be a place where I can showcase myself and stand out is huge for me.

I want to soak All-Star Weekend all in, learn all that I can and connect with people. It’s a big weekend. A lot of things to do. A lot of people to meet. There are so many legends here. Whoever I run into, I am going to try to learn something from.

I kind of look at this more like a business trip. I come in, show what I got to show, get off my feet and go back to the house … I am just flowing through. I am not really too starstruck anymore. I never have been. I am still in awe of the athletes here. So many big-time athletes. Basketball is all over the place. It’s basketball heaven right now. I am happy.

‘It would mean a lot to be in the NBA All-Star Game one day. It would be confirming a lot to me, just the work I put into this game.’

I have always looked at myself as someone who was going to be one of those guys [NBA stars]. You’re so influenced when you’re young. I went to the [Houston Rockets assistant coach] John Lucas camp when I was in the seventh grade and I remember him saying, ‘Pros don’t take pictures with pros.’ I heard that and it resonated with me. Pros don’t take pictures with pros. Obviously, that is his approach on it. But it made me feel like I am one of those guys, too. So, I just walk around with that. Definitely, I am still starstruck in terms of recognizing what kind of talent people have. Other than that, I am just going through All-Star Weekend having a good time.

It would mean a lot to be in the NBA All-Star Game one day. It would be confirming a lot to me, just the work I put into this game trying to get to the highest level. Being around all that talent is confirming. That is the next step — the next goal.

The Rising Stars Challenge was cool. I like the whole [new] format more than anything, with teams competing against each other for a tournament style. That was fun. They should keep that.

I don’t know where I’m going to go after Cleveland for the rest of the All-Star break. We will see. I am going to lay low. I’m mysterious. No one is going to know where I go yet. I’m going to post up somewhere. I’m not fatigued. I’m never tired, man. Never.

My biggest thing after the All-Star break is taking those last 25 games to make an identity of ourselves going into next season and the future and build off of that. I thought we had a big win in Boston. We got to keep the same fight. Who knows how the rest of the season will look? But if we play the right way, we will have a good end.

Marc J. Spears is the senior NBA writer for Andscape. He used to be able to dunk on you, but he hasn’t been able to in years and his knees still hurt.