‘This is this kid’s lifelong dream’: Zion Williamson’s NBA debut is finally upon us

Yahoo Sports

METAIRIE, La. — The anticipation is building in and around the New Orleans Pelicans for Zion Williamson’s NBA debut Wednesday, a night that’s been some 15 weeks and 44 games in the making.

He calmly shot on the far-end basket following morning shootaround with his teammates, some 50 feet from the weights to the side of the floor — one of the places he made his home while rehabbing from preseason knee surgery.

Now, his home will be on the floor with his teammates and on an NBA stage that’s invested so much in his success. And although downtown New Orleans is full of signage featuring Williamson, signifying the hope he’ll elevate the franchise, everything in-house with the Pelicans is about tamping down those expectations.

Nobody’s saying how long he’ll play, but he shouldn’t be expected to play beyond the 20-minute range against the San Antonio Spurs on Wednesday night.

“I think everybody’s gotta understand, he doesn’t have minutes restrictions, but we’re gonna have all eyes on him as far as the energy bursts and how long he can play consecutively,” Pelicans coach Alvin Gentry told Yahoo Sports. “Obviously, it’ll be short minutes for a while. Short, consecutive minutes.”

Pelicans forward Zion Williamson works out Saturday in New Orleans. (AP Photo/Matthew Hinton)
Pelicans forward Zion Williamson works out Saturday in New Orleans. (AP Photo/Matthew Hinton)

For the Pelicans’ sake, the hope is for short, explosive, rim-rattling minutes.

Gentry knows the noise surrounding Williamson is deafening and he’s trying to keep Williamson’s head level through his own excitement, but he also wants him to embrace the moment. The national television schedule changed when Williamson’s debut was announced, and it promises to be a circus-like atmosphere at Smoothie King Center.

“I want him to be excited, and he is excited,” Gentry told Yahoo Sports. “This is this kid’s lifelong dream since he was 4 years old. Everybody wants to be an NBA guy. And to be an NBA guy and be the first pick, it’s mind-boggling. It really is. The thing I said to him, you’ve done it, you’re there. Enjoy it. Enjoy the moment, enjoy it.”

Whether it’s the moment Williamson’s name is announced in the starting lineup (hint: he won’t be the first or last announced), Gentry doesn’t want the attention to overwhelm Williamson. It’s a different team than the one Williamson was acclimating himself to in the preseason, and it certainly isn’t the squad that had a morale-testing 13-game losing streak earlier this season.

The Pelicans are 11-5 since and firmly in the hunt for the last playoff spot in the West.

“I don’t care if you play well or don’t play well,” Gentry told Yahoo Sports. “In this business right here, you’re gonna have really good games and you’re gonna struggle some. It’s just a fact. Look at Kobe [Bryant], what he averaged his first year [7.6 points per game]. And he shot two airballs in the playoffs [in 1997]. It’s a transition. It’s gonna take some time.”

But getting Night 1 over with is on the checklist and just seeing Williamson on the floor is worth all the hoopla surrounding it, with Gentry pointing out he’d rather have the added interest and additional stress than not.

“I told him to relax and enjoy himself,” Gentry said. “You enjoy this game, don’t let anyone take that away from you. When you go out there tonight, I want you to just relax and play.”

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