Zion Williamson has been blessed with some pretty broad shoulders. On them, he carries the weight of major expectations. Williamson enters the NBA with as much hype as any rookie in recent memory — since the turn of the century, you can make the case that only LeBron James and perhaps Anthony Davis have generated as much excitement since their entry to the league as the former Duke standout.
Of course, part of the reason Williamson is carrying such heavy expectations is he’s headed to a New Orleans Pelicans squad that needs someone to become the new face of their franchise. That’s because Davis forced his way out of town to join James and the Los Angeles Lakers. But thanks to a haul of youngsters and picks in exchange for Davis, along with some ping pong balls bouncing the right way and an impressive group of veterans, it’s not hard to foresee the Pelicans’ rebuild being completed quickly.
All of it revolves around Williamson, who’s taking everything in stride. This shouldn’t come as a huge surprise to anyone who has looked at his Twitter account lately and seen his pinned tweet, a post from 2016 in which he called his becoming a household name while he was still in high school.
A big personality and a potential colossus on the floor, Williamson is a star before he ever plays a regular season game. Until then, he’s doing things like teaming up with Mountain Dew. As part of the partnership, Mountain Dew and Williamson came up with an idea to paint a mural on a basketball court in his hometown of Spartanburg. The mural draws from Williamson’s love of superheroes and comics.
Dime caught up with Williamson to talk life in the league, shocking the world, and the best thing he’s eaten since getting drafted by a team located in perhaps the best culinary city in America.
What do you have going on with Mountain Dew?
Well, I partnered with Mountain Dew because I love how they dig into the lifestyle within hoops and hoopers, and what I have going on with them is we went to Spartanburg, where the world found out who I was. They made a nice mural with the artist Ceaux Young out of New Orleans, and it’s real special. They did a superhero theme, that refers back to the lifestyle part, personality, because they know that I like superheroes, comics, all that stuff. For them to go into that much detail about what I like and go back to the city where my name was made, it means a lot.
How important is it that this is happening in Spartanburg?
It means a lot. That’s where the world was introduced to Zion, that’s where the really found out who I was, so it means a lot to go through this process.
Your pinned tweet, from 2016, says “I’m going to shock the world #BelieveIt.” You’ve done a whole lot since then, how can you continue to shock the world?
I think by continuing to be myself and just try to have an impact on whatever I do, on and off the court. For the mural, Spartanburg, I hope kids go there, just have fun, hoop, and try to give them motivation to strive — not to be like me, but to be better.
How’s the transition been getting used to life in the NBA on and off the court?
I’ll start with on the court. The transition on the court has been smooth, but also, a learning experience. It’s a learning experience because you’re learning new defensive styles and how you can play defense in the NBA, how you can’t just stand in the defensive paint for three seconds. Sometimes you’re just going to be matched up against somebody who just flat out scores, what’s the best way to stop them from getting to their spots? Adjusting to your teammates quickly, just having a feel for the game.
Off the court, you have a lot more free time since it’s not like college when you have classes. So it’s just a matter of what extra work am I going to put in on the court.
In conversations with Pelicans coaches and teammates, what do they expect out of you during your first year?
They expect me to keep my same edge that I had at Duke with winning, putting the team first, and be myself. I think that’s the most important thing, they just want me to be myself and not put any pressure, just to be myself, play as hard as I can, and just compete.
Obviously a great interior scorer, but you also showed off handles and playmaking and the ability to offensive rebound at Duke. Is there any one area of your game they want to highlight or is it “go out there and be Zion”?
Go out there and be Zion, and I love that.
Because if you give me the freedom to be myself, then it doesn’t put me in a box. I can be all over the court and have an impact on any part of the game.
I wanna ask about Lonzo — we’ve seen flashes this preseason of you two working really well together. What is about your games that complement one another so well?
His ability to see the court in a very unbelievable way. He’s just a flat-out playmaker, he can make plays for his teammates and he’s always looking to put his teammates first. Lonzo will never be about Lonzo, Lonzo will always be about the team and what he needs to do to help us win, and I respect that a lot.
Have you guys put expectations on this year or is the plan to work and build chemistry and see where that takes this group?
The plan is to build chemistry and go out there and compete. I think that’s everybody’s gameplan, go out there compete, and win.
You were part of that really special group of Duke dudes in this draft with R.J. Barrett and Cam Reddish. How will R.J. help the Knicks and how will Cam help the Hawks?
R.J. will help the Knicks because R.J.’s mindset, he’s ready for the adversity of being in New York, he’s ready for whatever’s thrown at him. I know he’s putting in the work, I know that whatever obstacle he has in his way, he’s gonna find a way around it or to go through it. Cam can help Atlanta by being Cam, playing with confidence, going out there and just showing the world exactly who he is.
Big thing in New Orleans is the food — what’s the best thing you’ve eaten since you’ve gotten into the city?
The best thing that I’ve eaten since I’ve got to the city has been a seafood pasta. I haven’t had one until I came here and it’s remarkable. It’s unbelievable how good it is.
What all’s in that?
Honestly, I really cannot tell you. I know it had shrimp, crab in there, gosh, it had a lot of stuff. It was one of those things where I’m looking at the menu, I’m like, “You know what? This sounds good, lemme try it out,” and I got it.