The great debut is upon us.
After a series of starts and false starts, Zion Williamson is expected to finally play a real NBA game Wednesday night. The top pick in the 2020 draft is going to start for the New Orleans Pelicans against the San Antonio Spurs.
After missing the first 44 games, the former Duke star will turn an otherwise meaningless NBA game in January into must-watch TV. We’ll watch out of curiosity, out of wonder and out of concern.
No player in recent history has been through more. And no player has been hyped more.
They’re comparing this to some of the biggest opening acts in NBA history, going back to Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (nee Lew Alcindor), Michael Jordan and LeBron James.
The truth is, we have no idea what we’re about to see. Williamson played in 33 games as a Duke freshman, and it seems like fewer than that. His career, from high school highlight reels to the blown shoe against Carolina to his nascent NBA career, has been interrupted by injuries and incredible moments of sheer athleticism.
Since he blew out his used Nike in Cameron Indoor Stadium last February, the news has been a mixture of bad and bizarre. He came back from the shoe incident and went 13-of-13 against Syracuse in a shoe created by a team of Nike whiz kids and possibly manufactured in China, then led Duke to the Elite Eight, where the Blue Devils lost to Michigan State in a shocking end to the most hyped college team in a generation.
Then he signed a $75 million deal with Jordan Brand to wear Nikes for seven years. Soon afterward, he bruised his knee in the only Summer League game in which he played, decided to drop out of the USA Basketball camp then went into a strange silent period interrupted by the news that he needed knee surgery.
Originally out 6-8 weeks after surgery to repair a torn lateral meniscus, the Pelicans decided to extend that to about 13 weeks, during which he not only rehabbed his right knee but also learned a new way to walk and run.
That’s right. The 6-6, 280-pound teenager from Salisbury, North Carolina, has been training with walking specialists to work on his feet, hips and day-to-day load management.
Williamson has become a science project.
And finally, he’s going to be a basketball player again.
If this all feels like a Hollywood production, it’s because it is. Between the league, Nike and ESPN, the career of Williamson has been scripted to be a one-man showtime.
But as we’ve seen all throughout his meteoric rise and repeated falls, Zion Williamson can’t be scripted.
The show is finally going to begin on a big screen near you.
Tune in to see what happens next week.