LAS VEGAS (AP) — Victor Wembanyama freely admitted he was often confused in his first NBA Summer League game, going so far as to say there were times he didn’t know what he was doing.
He is in good company.
Wembanyama shared the stage for a conversation Saturday at NBA Con with a pair of champions, Hall of Famers Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Isiah Thomas. And they may have given the San Antonio Spurs rookie some comfort by revealing that when they broke into the league, they also had moments when they were lost.
Gregg Popovich apparently has no plans to leave the San Antonio Spurs anytime soon. The NBA’s winningest coach has signed a five-year contract to remain coach and president of the team, the Spurs announced Saturday.
Chet Holmgren has taken another positive step on his surgically repaired right foot. Holmgren had 16 points and 10 rebounds Saturday, helping the Oklahoma City Thunder beat the Dallas Mavericks 91-80 in their NBA Summer League opener.
The final numbers for Victor Wembanyama in his summer league debut: nine points on 2-for-13 shooting, eight rebounds, five blocked shots, three assists.
“It takes a while. You have things to learn,” Abdul-Jabbar told him onstage during the 30-minute conversation that Thomas moderated, one of the featured attractions at the inaugural NBA Con. “But he’s a intelligent young man. He gets it done.”
Hundreds of people were crammed into a small room to hear the conversation; many more who couldn’t get in held out their phones near the doors, desperate for just a look.
“It really means something to me that such great people were there for my game yesterday,” said Wembanyama, seated to the left of Abdul-Jabbar and Thomas. “It just means a lot and shows who the people who really care are and who the people who are interested in the new generation are. You said it’s an honor for you to be with us, but it’s truly an honor to be with you two guys.”
Wembanyama had nine points on 2-for-13 shooting, eight rebounds, five blocked shots and three assists in his Summer League debut Friday night while helping San Antonio beat the Charlotte Hornets. He hit a few 3s in the air, got dunked once, and sometimes he knew he made a mistake.
Don’t worry, Thomas and Abdul-Jabbar told him. They were rookies once too.
“As of today, I am just a rookie,” Wembanyama said. “I don’t have one NBA game in me. I just have everything to learn. The truth was, well, I didn’t know what I was doing. And for the next few games, I probably won’t know what I’m doing either. But it will come as time goes by and hopefully we will be ready for the season.
“I’m still a kid. I’m just ready to learn.”
Abdul-Jabbar told him a story about one of his first games as a rookie, playing against the Chicago Bulls. The Bulls had a big man named Tom Boerwinkle; Abdul-Jabbar said he went home in a wheelchair that night with a sprained ankle after playing the Bulls.
Wembanyama is going into a little more friendly league, Abdul-Jabbar said.
“You should be thankful for that,” Abdul-Jabbar told him. “They had guys in the league named Bad News. That should give you an idea of what it was all about. I’m happy for you that you’re coming into a league that appreciates you and they’ll do anything , what they can to make sure you don’t get ripped off by someone out on the field just because they want a job.”
Wembanyama has been greeted by large, appreciative crowds every step of the way in the early days of his NBA journey. The Summer League has sold out its first three days in Las Vegas, and Wembanyama drew a packed house for his debut.
He is grateful, he said.
“I see a lot of Spurs jerseys. I even see a French team jersey,” he said as Abdul-Jabbar and Thomas looked at the crowd and nodded. “Yesterday during the game, every time I got the ball, I heard people start cheering. It’s really all this love, all this attention. … I think that’s the best thing the fans can do for me as a rookie, as a new player in the NBA, just that love. I hope I can give it back over the years and I think the best way for me to give it back to the fans is to get some rings.”
That’s when Thomas — a two-time NBA champion — asked the six-time NBA champion in Abdul-Jabbar to explain to Wembanyama what it takes to get those rings.
“The difficulty is learning how you can best contribute to a winning effort,” Abdul-Jabbar told him. “That’s what you have to learn how to do with your skills. You’re going to find out what it’s basically in the preseason. You’re going to find out a lot about that.”
And before the conversation ended, Abdul-Jabbar gave the rookie another piece of advice.
“Be careful. Save your money,” Abdul-Jabbar told him. “And in 20 years you’ll say, ‘Hey, I’m glad I listened to Kareem.'”
AP NBA: https://apnews.com/hub/nba and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports