- Wembanyama hopes to have an impact similar to former Spurs top picks David Robinson and Tim Duncan. He had dinner with the hoops legends after being drafted.
- LeBron James on Victor Wembanyama: “Everybody’s been a unicorn over the last few years, but he’s more like an alien.”
Victor Wembanyama, welcome to the biggest sleeping giant in the NBA.
His new employer was dynastic at one point, riding on the broad shoulders of a pair of former No. 1 picks, David Robinson and Tim Duncan, as well as backcourt greats Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker, all under the aegis of crochety and at times lovable Coach Gregg Popovich.
The San Antonio Spurs have fallen on some hard times akin to the Depression era, given their history, but help has come from all over the Paris suburbs. Unlike Duncan, who teamed with Robinson to give the league the best version of the Houston Rockets’ Twin Towers of Hakeem Olajuwon and Ralph Sampson, the youngster isn’t a missing piece in a championship puzzle.
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He is the key, but more is needed.
If anything, the 210’s tallest resident just landed in the perfect spot to develop his game and help return this franchise to the NBA’s elite.
This is not a quick fix.
Wembanyama met with the media at the team’s training facility on Friday and immediately gave an indication of how much the game means to him, lamenting that he needed rest after playing in the LNB Pro A – the toughest pro league in France – and will skip the upcoming one. FIBA Cup to prepare for his rookie NBA season.
“Going more than two years without rest is too big a risk,” Wembanyama told reporters. “It’s really big events coming up like the Olympics that I don’t want to miss. So to be available for the national team for the next, I don’t know how many other years, I felt like I had to miss this.”
Is Wembanyama NBA’s Next Great?
Wembanyama, 19, likely has enough energy to play every day between now and the 2024 Paris Summer Games, but the smart move is to stay healthy until the biggest season of his life come the fall.
The first French-born player drafted top overall and the most high-profile foreign player taken by a Texas team at No. 1 since the Rockets nabbed China center Yao Ming in 2002 has brought some much-needed buzz back to a city that t won a playoff series since 2017.
While we’ve seen some unique floor talent enter this league over the past decade—from Milwaukee’s Giannis Antetokounmpo to newly crowned league champion Nikola Jokic in Denver—we’re getting something different in this newest phenomenon, which takes freakish athleticism to another level. Did you see him miss a 3-point shot from the wing and dunk it on a putback seemingly in one motion?
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“Everybody’s been a unicorn over the last couple of years, but he’s more like an alien,” LeBron James told Sports Illustrated before the draft. “No one ever has anyone as tall as him, but as fluid as he is and as graceful as he is on the floor.”
The biggest news to come out of the Alamo City had to do with his height — he’s officially 7-foot-3½, down from reports of 7-5 ever since he hit the international hoops radar a few years ago — and the organization that entered him in Las. Vegas summer league, which begins play Friday with the Spurs taking on the Charlotte Hornets.
He’s already learned that the Spurs are the NBA’s equivalent of the Waltons. They are a family, and players who have been a part of that never seem to go anywhere, outside of maybe Kawhi Leonard.
While the organization’s Hall of Famers are no longer part of the actual playing landscape, Robinson, Duncan and Ginobili continue to live in the Alamo City and understand that the development of this prodigy into a wonderful superstar is a priority. They didn’t need to be told of his importance to the organization.
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It’s just part of being a Spurs legend. Your work isn’t over just because you’re no longer running up and down the field.
Carrying on the legacy: The Spurs Way
To that end, Duncan, Robinson, Ginobili and fellow Spurs legend Sean Elliott took Wembanyama to the dugout on June 23, and a photo of the quartet quickly made the rounds on social media.
“It’s so comforting to see that these people, who are so important to the people of San Antonio and to the franchise, are so kind and generous because they really wanted to share their experiences with me,” Wembanyama said in his introductory press conference. “I feel like they’ve already started taking care of me.”
Absent was four-time champion Tony Parker, who, if things go according to plan, will one day go down as the second greatest French player of all time.
This is the Spurs Way. Wrap young rookies in the team’s cocoon, let them focus solely on the game, and when it’s time to fly, big things are sure to happen. When Duncan arrived in 1997 as a cherub-faced, soft-spoken center from Wake Forest, he immediately found comfort under the wing of Dream Team member Robinson, who was already a top-three center in the league.
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Ginobili and Parker later benefited from having the best two-headed monster manning the court and protecting their backs in their early days.
The Spurs won their final title in 2014, with young star Leonard coming into his own as Finals MVP. What wasn’t always mentioned was that the leaders in the locker room shouldered most of the media responsibilities, even the notoriously media-shy Duncan, while Leonard slowly grew into his role.
They understood that talking to the cameras was not on Leonard’s bucket list, so they did the interviews and let the kid develop.
What we didn’t see coming was a nasty divorce as Leonard entered his absolute prime, leading to a trade to Toronto where he captured another championship before leaving for his hometown Los Angeles Clippers and becoming the poster child for load management .
For Wembanyama and for Spurs, the future starts now
With Wembanyama, the question will eventually be answered. Will he be a spur for life like the admiral, Timmy and Manu, or will his light become so bright that he will inevitably be scooped up by a major media marketing power like the Lakers, who returned to prominence with the signing of Shaquille O’Neal in the late 1990s, or the New York Knicks, who haven’t tasted champagne in 50 years?
San Antonio is unapologetically a smaller market, but it’s a place where he can fit into the massive expectations already on his shoulders. Of course, there are pundits out there who say he’ll be a Knick before his 25th birthday, and while that might play well on Madison Avenue — he’s already the most popular athlete in France and the highest box office attraction since the late wrestling legend Andre the Giant — 1 AT&T Center Parkway will be the best proving ground for a young man who needs to find his way not only on the basketball court, but culturally off it as well.
He is well adjusted and it is clear that he is extremely comfortable in front of the cameras. If the Spurs get it right — and they have on several occasions — they’ll get another Duncan-like career from a soft-spoken giant who will put the game ahead of the fast lane and the Hollywood lifestyle.
And if Wembanyama can deliver like Timmy did, and if the 74-year-old Popovich sticks around for another handful of years, the Spurs will be back in the chips, based on their proven method of success.
It will take a few more.