There are a few business matters left to tend to around the NBA in the coming days. A championship parade awaits on Thursday in Denver, some end-of-season meetings for players are on tap in Miami, and Memphis is expecting word soon on what penalty Ja Morant’s latest troubles will bring.
Then in a few days, all eyes will turn to New York.
Victor Wembanyama is finally coming, and that’s where his journey will begin.
In a little more than a week, Wembanyama — officially listed at 7-foot-3, a once-in-a-generation talent who will enter the league with fanfare the likes of which hasn’t been seen since the arrival of LeBron James in 2003 — will be a member of the San Antonio Spurs. The plan is that he’ll fly to New York next week, be there when the Spurs selected him with the No. 1 pick, then head to San Antonio to start the next chapter.
“It’s going to be a dream come true for him,” said Paolo Banchero, last season’s No. 1 draft pick by Orlando.
There will be 57 other players — two picks were forfeited — chosen in the draft on June 22. Those 57 players, combined, won’t generate anywhere near the level of attention that Wembanyama will get.
That’s no knock on those players. It just speaks to the phenomenon that Wembanyama already is.
“In terms of living up to the hype these days, the coverage is exponential, more than what it was even for those players who historically were coming in with enormous hype,” NBA Commissioner Adam Silver said. “And so, even if it’s below some level of expectation, it’ll still be enormous. I was with him when we were in Paris in January, and frankly, when you’re 7-4, everywhere he goes there will be enormous attention, enormous focus on him. And he’s used to that.”
The NBA season ended Monday night when the Nuggets wrapped up their first championship by eliminating the Heat in five games. Wembanyama’s season, however, is still going. His Boulogne-Levallois team trails Monaco 2-0 in the best-of-five French league championship series, and that matchup is now shifting home to Paris for Game 3 and Game 4 if necessary.
And in another example of how big a deal everything Wembanyama does is, he won’t be playing in his team’s home arena. Boulogne-Levallois actually moved its home games in the French finals to Roland Garros — site of the French Open that was just completed this past weekend. A crowd of about 14,000 is expected to watch in the same stadium where Novak Djokovic reigned supreme on Sunday, and if Wembanyama’s team loses, it’ll be a chance for those fans to bid him au revoir before he departs for the NBA.
Former NBA player and executive Kiki VanDeWeghe said coming to the NBA will present some challenges for Wembanyama.
“Yes, there will be pressure. There’s no doubt about it,” VanDeWeghe said. “But professional basketball is about, more than anything, you’re a paid competitor. You’re paid to compete and you compete in front of a lot of people. It really, many, many times, boils down to how you handle it. Do I think there’s going to be pressure? Tons of it. Do I think he’s up for it? By everything I can see, it sure seems like it.”
The first look at Wembanyama in a Spurs uniform could come July 3 in Sacramento, when San Antonio will be one of six teams participating in the California Classic — a smaller summer league before the full-scale, 30-team NBA Summer League begins July 7 in Las Vegas.
Tickets are flying for the Sacramento event, just in case Wembanyama plays there. Some courtside seats are on resale sites for more than $500 apiece; for summer league, that’s basically unheard of.
Silver said Wembanyama will be aided by the fact that he’s already been playing professionally in France, so he’ll have at least some idea of what to expect in the NBA — and, obviously, the Spurs have an elite track record with big men who land in their lap through the lottery, with Hall of Famers David Robinson and Tim Duncan the examples there.
He also suggested that Wembanyama might pick up a thing or two from seeing this year’s NBA Finals.
“The older I get, the more I learn,” Silver said. “And I think the Nuggets and Heat are two fantastic examples of that at the end of the day, it’s about doing the work.”
VanDeWeghe also offered this reminder: Even for as talented as Wembanyama is, joining the best league in the world comes with a learning curve.
“He seems like a great kid and somebody who really has his heart in the right place,” VanDeWeghe said. “His mind seems to be in the right place. But it’s not an easy road. These guys are good. I mean, everybody’s good. You step into an arena where everybody’s got tremendous skills and tremendous physicality and tough mentally. Otherwise, they wouldn’t be there. And so, it’s a lot more competitive, but I really do think he will do great.”