Zion Williamson has been one of the biggest names in basketball since he was 16 years old and became a viral sensation for mesmerizing highlight videos of his high school games.
Now two years into his NBA career, Williamson has proven that he’s far more than a dunk and highlight machine, as he has already established himself as one of the league’s most efficient and dominant interior scorers. Williamson’s presence has injected some needed life into the post-Anthony Davis Pelicans and they hope a new coach in Willie Green can elevate New Orleans into a playoff squad in Zion’s third season.
Off the court, Williamson has also looked to have an impact in his new home of New Orleans and back in South Carolina, as he has made sure not to forget his humble beginnings as he rises to superstardom. Zion has worked with partners to build courts in both places as well as paying lost wages to arena workers after the NBA shut down due to COVID-19 in 2020. For Williamson, it’s part of fulfilling a promise to friends back home that he’d never forget where he came from and how he got to the NBA, as he told us in a recent Zoom call on behalf of Mountain Dew as they get set to launch a new partnership with NBA 2K22.
To start, I want to talk some about what you do in the community and some of the things that you’ve been involved in recently. I know with Dew a couple of years ago you did some new courts in Spartanburg, and then you just did another one in New Orleans. It’s early in your career, and you’re kind of finding your way in the NBA, but why was it important to you to make sure that you’re having an impact right away, both at home in South Carolina and in New Orleans in your new community?
I felt like it was important because anybody that knows my story, they know that I worked out at McLeod Park in Florence (SC), an outdoor court. When I partnered with Mountain Dew they looked at my story, and they got to learn about me. And so they came up with this great idea to not only give back to my community back in Spartanburg, SC but also to my new home in Louisiana. When I saw what they did with the courts, I was just, I was blown away. Now I really appreciate Mountain Dew for doing that because I get a lot of pictures from friends back home, hooping on it, and I’m just grateful they did that.
Who were the people that influenced you in your life that make you want to make sure you’re giving back and make sure that you’re being more than just, somebody that kids can look up to on the basketball court but also with what you do off of it?
I think it’s just the people you meet along the way, that I met along the way of elementary, middle school, high school, college, anybody that I’ve had in my life. You know when I’m talking to them, when I’m talking to my friends, we’re always talking about like, if we ever make it big, we’re not going to forget where we came from. We’re not going to forget the people that was there with us. When we were, you know just grinding and trying to have a chance at our dream.
When did you realize that you kind of have this influence? Obviously you blew up on social media in high school, but when did you realize you had this influence on the younger generation and recognize kind of the responsibility that comes with that?
I would say my junior year, when I started blowing up on social media, and the world got worried about me. I was in my junior year of high school.
How have you learned to navigate that and work within that and use that for some positive good? Because obviously like you’ve done with the courts and other things, you’ve been able to leverage that platform you have to give back?
It was something that I learned when I was just a kid. You know, those moments when you’re with your friends whether it’s at AAU tournaments or just at school, dreaming about possibilities, that we can have in this life. You know I think I learned about it then, when I was just a kid. Whether I was making it to the NBA or not, I just wanted to give back to my community in some kind of way.
You’ve got the 2K/Dew partnership coming up. What can fans look forward to in the game that’s going to be coming with that?
Fans can look forward to Mountain Dew’s Three-Point Contest within the game. I know for my character I’m in that contest a lot. Probably let them win four or five consecutive years in MyCareer or something, you know, just to show the world what I can do in the game. But yeah, I think that’s something the fans can look forward to.
How do you play with your character in the game? Like do you try to play it true to how you play in the actual league or are you more willing to step out and l shoot a little more in the game that’s maybe a little different than how people have seen you in your first couple years on the court?
I’m one of those guys that when I play 2K I try to play like real life. Like when it comes to my teammates, whether I use another team, how they played when they played against me or when I see them play, or how I played and how my teammates played. But I try to keep it like that so when I do stuff on the court, it’s still realistic. I’m not making up false realities, I’m just trying to keep it real. And my friends, they’ll say something from time to time like, it’s a video game. Just have fun.
I know LeBron has said in the past that he uses 2K to scout guys, have you ever done that? Use the game to kind of get a feel for guys, especially when you were coming into the league and getting ready to play some of these guys for the first time, did you ever use that as a scouting tool?
Yeah, I saw that interview actually. I took a deeper look into it, and it’s actually funny because 2K, they’re really advanced with how they scout. So, sometimes 2K has some people on the money with how they actually play. It’s like, wow! It is a little bit of a scouting report.
Lastly, New Orleans is one of my favorite cities to visit. It’s particularly because it is one of the best food cities in the country. I gotta ask, you been there for a couple years now. What are your favorite spots around the city that you’ve discovered?
[Long, contemplative pause] I gotta go with Drago’s. I think that was just one of the first places I went to. I gotta go with Drago’s. I think their seafood pasta is amazing, so we’ll go Drago’s.