The city of New Orleans is a truly unique place.
As Mark Twain once said: “America has only three great cities: New York, San Francisco, and New Orleans. Everywhere else is Cleveland.”
But when those around the country think of New Orleans — specifically the Pelicans — they rarely exhibit an understanding of just how much the city values their athletes. Sure, the Saints victory over the Atlanta Falcons on September 25th, 2006, as well as airport greetings in the seasons that followed, served as a wake-up call for NFL fans, but as far as NBA casual fans are concerned, the city simply doesn’t care about basketball.
Nothing could be further from the truth! New Orleans possesses one of the most tuned-in fan bases around so they will certainly be more than eager to meet their newest star in Zion Williamson.
Here are ESPN and ABC’s top 10 highest-rated local markets for the 2018-19 regular season, according to the NBA:— Alex Kennedy (@AlexKennedyNBA) April 12, 2019
2. Oklahoma City
3. New Orleans
6. San Francisco
10. Los Angeles
A LOT of surprises!
According to reports, Zion had little to no interest in suiting up for New Orleans. Noted columnist Brian Windhorst even intimated that he might consider returning to college for a full year rather than join the squad in the Big Easy!
But this erroneous report has long since been disproven, as Zion and his camp immediately refuted it, reporting his excitement and even identified New Orleans as a ‘targeted’ landing spot prior to the draft lottery results.
Now, we all know what to expect from Zion on the court, but what about off of it? The Pelicans’ franchise has been devoid of an explosive personality off the court since losing DeMarcus Cousins and Rajon Rondo.
Jrue Holiday has been the quiet captain, leading by his immeasurable energy and resilience, but when it came time for anyone not named Alvin Gentry to step to the microphone and answer the hard questions, more often than not our local media was left without answers.
Zion, on the other hand, never seems to shy away from the chance to engage with both the media and his fans.
While recent reports misquoted Zion as indicating he had been spurned by both Anthony Davis and John Wall as a young man, the truth is that Zion wants to take the time to sign each and every autograph to make the kind of difference for youngsters that he once sought for himself.
“It would hurt me "IF" Anthony Davis or John Wall turned me down, so I try to sign everybody’s" - Zion Williamson on signing autograph for Fans back in High School. pic.twitter.com/dYwT0ggiDU— Home Team Hoops (@HomeTeamHoops) May 21, 2019
It appears Zion’s personality is as infectious as his playing style. But will his game and demeanor translate well at the next level when the pressure is elevated? To answer that, we brought in Adam Rowe from The Devil’s Den to answer this as well as a few others questions.
Why will Pelicans fans love Zion off the court? Is his personality big enough to take over their locker room immediately, or will he sit back and assimilate information from veterans?
Williamson is just as impressive off the court as he is on it. The rural South Carolina native opted to stay at Spartanburg Country Day School in high school instead of playing for numerous prep schools when he had the opportunity to leave.
While watching any interview with Williamson in the locker room after Duke games, you would have seen him speaking to reporters with an unknown walk-on named Mike Buckmire by his side. Williamson didn’t like that he was getting all the attention while Buckmire was forced to sit there silently, so he made reporters pass their questions through the demure Buckmire to include him in the hoopla.
This is just one example that explains the humility of Williamson off the court. Another: he refused to do any more YouTube dunks through the program’s DukeBluePlanet social media arm because he didn’t feel like his teammates were getting enough attention.
Trust me, fans and teammates will be drawn to him despite all the media attention.
How would you expect his game to translate in the NBA? What is his ceiling and what comparisons do you hear most often?
This is obviously the biggest question. I once doubted Williamson’s ability to move up to the college level and dominate because he played against subpar competition in high school, often sitting out of events due to nagging injuries. But I was so wrong and have since decided to never doubt him again. He’ll make it work.
Talk about his relationship with Mike Krzyzewski. What was their relationship like and how quick was Zion at processing information from his head coach?
Yeah, Zion said numerous times that being coached by Krzyzewski was very substantive on his development. One of the things that Coach K is known for is allowing his players to be themselves, and it’s clear that the freedom Williamson was allowed gave him the opportunity to flourish.
But Krzyzewski said as well that Williamson was so willing to be taught that it made his job that much easier. Coach K points to Williamson as being “all about winning” and says he’s a “beautiful young man to coach.”
Zion seems like the type who always wants to just play. If the decision were up to him, think we’d see him at summer league?
It’s incredibly difficult to keep him off the court, but I doubt he’ll play the entire summer. I’m sure he’ll see action at some point, though, to help him adjust to the increased physicality of the league.
What kind of rookie season would you expect?
It really depends on the other pieces around him. I’m fascinated to see what happens with the Anthony Davis saga. Will he get traded, and if so, who all will the Pelicans end up with when the dust settles? Regardless of the outcome, I expect he’ll be in a better position than most #1 draft picks entering the league.