“I’m locked in, baby.”
In front of numerous eyewitnesses, Zion Williamson officially signed on the dotted line of his rookie extension contract yesterday, committing fully to the New Orleans Pelicans for another half decade.
Following the upcoming 2022-23 season, Williamson could earn up to $231 million over a five-year span. While the sum could ultimately wind up a lower amount, the years are written in stone.
There’s no player option in Zion’s contract extension.
Williamson bound himself to the Pelicans for the maximum period allowed under the current Collective Bargaining Agreement.
Chris Paul did not obligate himself similarly when it came time to re-up in New Orleans, signing a four-year rookie extension that included a player option in the final season.
Neither did Anthony Davis, whose representation secured a player option in their client’s fifth season.
Williamson, however, isn’t the first renowned Pelican to break the mold. Two years ago, Brandon Ingram signed a five-year max that also didn’t include a player option.
While Ingram signed his extension as a restricted free agent with Bird Rights — explaining why the designated rookie rule doesn’t apply to him, the more important takeaway here is that the two biggest cornerstones of the David Griffin era have voluntarily planted the biggest flags in franchise history.
Even previous long-time fan favorites never gave up all leverage. Jrue Holiday had a player option included in his five-year max that was signed back in 2017 and David West did the same, signing a five-year deal with a player option for the fifth season right before the 2006-07 season began.
As if to further cement his tie to New Orleans, Williamson, who incidentally also enjoyed his 22nd birthday yesterday, signed the paperwork in a very public manner in front of a number of the city’s younger citizens.
The Dryades YMCA, the home of Williamson’s summer basketball camp under the guidance of Lee Anderson, Zion’s stepfather, was the backdrop for the momentous event.
After scrimmaging against kids ranging from 7 to 14 years of age, Williamson put pen to paper. He then revealed in genuine fashion that he broke his foot exactly one year ago and described the roller coaster of emotions that followed.
“On my birthday last year, I found out I broke my foot,” Williamson said. “I was out the whole year. It was a tough year. And then for the Pelicans to come give me this birthday gift, I’m not going to let them down. I’m not going to let the city down. I’m not going to let my family down. And most importantly, I’m not going to let myself down.
“The last few months were a roller coaster of emotions. I felt it the most for my family because at the beginning of the season, I told the world, ‘If you ever want to know if I want to be here, just ask me.’ Instead of asking me, the world just ran with narratives.
“So when my family was going out in public, they’re getting harassed by people on why we don’t like New Orleans, or why I don’t want to be here, when that’s not the case at all. I wasn’t able to play because my foot was broken. So that sucked.”
While Williamson’s happiness about yesterday’s procession and his future in the city was evident throughout with smiles so wide that would make Magic Johnson blush, filling in important blanks about the past 365 days displayed a side of Zion we rarely see. He pulled back the curtains for a moment. The superstar was vulnerable.
Players don’t go to such lengths if they don’t care. Especially those individuals who prefer to stay in the shadows and lead very private lives. But it was of the utmost importance for Williamson to set the record straight.
So amid thanking his family, Mrs Benson, David Griffin and everyone who has helped him over the course of the last year to talking about his hunger to win a championship, Williamson very much sounded like a guy who wants to accomplish big things in New Orleans, a city that he fancies more profoundly than nearly anyone living outside of it wants to give him credit for.
The narrative is undoubtedly changing. Zion Williamson has matched Brandon Ingram’s level of commitment to the Pelicans. The amount of buy-in couldn’t be any greater. The future couldn’t look any brighter.
It’s a good time to be a New Orleans fan.