Victor Wembanyama will follow in the footsteps of David Robinson and Tim Duncan and the San Antonio Spurs are poised to welcome the French phenomenon.
It certainly seems like an ideal pairing.
The Spurs hit the lottery jackpot on Tuesday, securing first place and the right to draft one of the most lauded contestants in NBA history.
Not since LeBron James made the St. Vincent-St. has made. Two decades ago, a player from Mary High School in his hometown of Akron, Ohio, came to the NBA with so much fanfare. At 2.7m tall and able to shoot like a winger and pass like a point guard, 19-year-old Wembanyama is expected to make an instant impression.
And he had a message for San Antonio.
“I’m trying to win a ring as soon as possible,” Wembanyama told ESPN after the lottery results. “So be ready.”
It’s the third time Spurs have won the lottery, and on both previous occasions they’ve made decisions that have paid off for decades. They picked Robinson in 1987, Duncan in 1997, and these Hall of Famer greats were instrumental in turning the Spurs into a team that won five NBA titles under coach Gregg Popovich.
“Our future was already bright,” said Peter J. Holt, managing partner of Spurs. “Now it goes through the moon.”
General Manager Brian Wright called it “an incredible day” for the franchise and fans.
Charlotte is second, Portland moved up to third and Houston dropped to fourth.
“Human nature makes you greedy and when there were only two teams left I wanted the No. 1 right?” said Hornets GM Mitch Kupchak. “There was a little ‘shit’ for a second, but overall it’s an incredible stroke of luck to go from four…to two.”
But becoming number 1 in a year like this?
“People talk about generational talent and only think about ability on the pitch, but it’s about more than that,” Wright said. “Peter spoke about his ability to be a great teammate, his ability to think about the game and unique challenges. You see him doing things you didn’t even think anyone could do – his approach, his professionalism. I think when you use the word “generational talent” it’s about more than just putting the ball in the basket. And he is unique in many ways.”
The Spurs are 22-60 this season, the second-worst tally in the NBA. Popovich and Spurs have had incredible successes with international players in the past – most notably Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker, owner of the French team Wembanyama played for last season.
“He’s an incredible young man,” NBA commissioner Adam Silver told ESPN during the draft lottery broadcast. “He’s 19 years old and I didn’t take out a ruler or a meter stick or whatever they use in France, but he seemed like 7-4 to me. … He clearly seems to be a generational talent.”
Wembanyama ended his regular season early Tuesday at Boulogne-Levallois in France’s top professional league. His 22-point hit was enough to secure the league’s scoring title. It was just after 2am on Wednesday in Paris when the lottery results were announced and Wembanyama was gathered with family and friends for a celebration.
“You can’t really describe it,” Wembanyama said in his interview with ESPN, adding, “It’s a really special moment.”
He finally knows where his NBA journey will begin. His agents did not respond to multiple requests for comment from The Associated Press.
“I think the team that has the first pick won’t do anything wrong,” said Vincent Collet, Wembanayama’s coach in France and also coach of the France national team – for whom Wembanyama is expected to play at the World Cup this summer and next summer at the 2024 Olympic Games in Paris.
Detroit had the worst record in the NBA and was one of the top three teams with the best odds of winning. The Pistons ended up dropping to fifth place, the worst of their possible finishes.
The rest of the lottery order: Orlando finishes sixth, Indiana seventh, Washington eighth, Utah ninth, Dallas tenth, Orlando (from Chicago as part of a previous swap) eleventh, Oklahoma City twelfth, Toronto 12th and New Orleans 12th.
Wright said he woke up at 5 a.m. and wished he could have gone back to sleep. He was so scared that he didn’t eat all day. But he performed part of a secret handshake he and his nine-year-old son had in hopes it would bring good luck.
Wembanyama is completing his third professional season in France and has been the unanimous first choice for months. Due to his game schedule in France, he did not enter the lottery. But many of the other top contenders — G League Ignite’s Scoot Henderson, Alabama’s Brandon Miller, twin brothers Amen and Ausar Thompson of the Overtime Elite program — were in the room to catch the lottery results announcement and get a better idea where they might go to start their NBA career.
AP Basketball Writer Tim Reynolds and Charlotte AP Sportswriter Steve Reed contributed to this report.
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