The Legend of Zion – The New York Times

Zion Williamson’s legend grows with every game these days, with each new thundering dunk and every stunning new feat of elevation. It has been this way for several years now, with Williamson the featured actor in a growing collection of viral clips that show a player with the skills to outrun almost anyone, to catch almost anything, to challenge almost anybody. Even his lowest moments — the sneaker that couldn’t hold him, the injured knee that cost him five games — have somehow morphed into highlights. But Williamson, an 18-year-old Duke freshman, has been making memorable moments for years. A group of New York Times reporters tracked down some of the people who were present for a few of them, to ask them about the memories that stand out the most.


Forgive Tom Konchalski.

The publisher of High School Basketball Illustrated first observed Zion Williamson in person at the Elite 24, an all-star showcase for the nation’s top prep prospects, on Aug. 20, 2016. The court at Pier 2 in Brooklyn Bridge Park was the stage, and Williamson was 10 for 10 from the field, scored 23 points and shared most valuable player honors. Konchalski was impressed.

To Konchalski’s well-trained eye — in five decades he had amassed an inventory of reports that stretched from Michael Jordan to LeBron James — Williamson, who had just turned 16, appeared to be an interior technician, a player at ease turning on his defender to make it to the rim for understated finishes. Because of Williamson’s body type, Konchalski considered him a left-handed Jamal Mashburn, a reference to the beefy Bronx product who played 11 seasons in the N.B.A.

When Konchalski sat down at his typewriter after the Elite 24 to describe Williamson’s effort, he wrote that the “6-foot-5 junior Zion Williamson, the master of quiet domination, provided a bit of fresh air.”

Looking back, Konchalski says now, he got it all wrong.

“I’m wiping off copious amounts of egg from my face,” he said. Williamson, he knows, “is anything but quiet.”


The first time LeBron James showed up to watch Zion Williamson, they wouldn’t let him in the door.

It was July 2017, and James, once a transcendent teenage talent himself, went to see Williamson, the next big thing, at a showcase in Las Vegas. Williamson’s team, South Carolina Supreme, was playing Big Baller Brand, which featured LaMelo Ball, a brother of Lakers guard Lonzo Ball. It was, by summer youth basketball standards, a must-see event.

James, of course, wasn’t the only one interested in that confluence of basketball stardust. The N.B.A. players Damian Lillard, Andrew Wiggins, Jamal Murray and Thon Maker were in the gym by the time James arrived, adding buzz to a crowd of more than 4,000 that threatened to swamp a court configured to hold less than half that many.

Even in warm-ups, the excitement was palpable. The fans oohed and aahed as Williamson tossed balls high in the air and dunked them; many spectators held cellphones, the better to share video clips of a scene that was quickly called the “craziest A.A.U. game ever.”


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