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Over the weekend, Victor Wembanyama, the NBA’s latest No. 1 draft pick, met with a few San Antonio old-timers by the names of Sean Elliott, David Robinson, Manu Ginobili and Tim Duncan. The remarkable photo below ensued, and lit up '90s-'00s-era NBA fans with waves of warm nostalgia.
What’s most fascinating about that pic isn’t the fact that the smallest member of that quintet, Ginobili, is 6-6 tall, or that Wembanyama dwarfs the 7-1 Admiral, or that Duncan looks like he’s a Phish roadie. No, the most significant aspect of this family tree is the implication.
There are 12 Spurs rings in that photo, led by Duncan’s five, and the assumption is that Wembanyama — who at the moment has zero, obviously — will add several more. How about a little crushing pressure to start that career, Vic?
Over the last few weeks, Wembanyama has kept social media teams busy coming up with ever-more-exotic demonstrations of just how physically enormous he is. Victor Wembanyama can wrap his arms around a jumbo jet! Victor Wembanyama has to crouch down to touch the top of the Eiffel Tower! Victor Wembanyama uses Mount Everest as a pillow! True, all of it.
But as clever as those comparisons are, what really matters is the kind of social media post that can’t be whipped up in Photoshop. Also this weekend, a cringeworthy bit of video surfaced of Wembanyama utterly bricking half a dozen outside shots. Obviously, it was just a cold stretch — Wembanyama has a smooth outside touch, when it’s falling — but the clip was a stark reminder of the fact that all the hype in the world won’t add a single point to Wembanyama’s nightly box score.
Also worth remembering: the fate of the No. 1 and 2 picks of the 2019 draft, just four years ago. Back then, Zion Williamson and Ja Morant were supposed to herald a new era of joyful athleticism in the NBA. It hasn’t worked out that way; as Dan Wetzel noted last week, Williamson can’t stay on the court and Morant can’t stay out of trouble. There are no guarantees in the NBA, no matter how you arrive in the league.
Wembanyama, as the line goes, is the most heralded NBA prospect since LeBron James, and that’s one hell of a load to place on Wembanyama’s still-narrow shoulders. Say what you will about James, the truth is that he’s a guy who came into the league with monumental, even astronomical expectations — and exceeded every single one of them.
Put another way: The last guy who rolled into the NBA with this level of hype has proceeded to pile up four rings, 10 Finals appearances, and more points than anyone in the history of the league ... so far. No pressure, right?
A decade from now, we might be laughing at the idea of Wembanyana as an all-time great … or laughing at the idea that we ever doubted him. Either way, he’s embarking on one of the most compelling careers we’ve seen in many years, Every time he steps on the court, Victor Wembanyama will be must-watch — and not just because he could touch both hoops at once.