After a historic start to his career, New Orleans Pelicans star Zion Williamson has been in a dark place. While the word ‘historic’ may sound hyperbolic, that is exactly what his first full season was.
At age 20, Williamson averaged 27 PPG on 61% from the field during the 2020-21 season. With these averages, Zion became the first player in NBA history to average at least 27 PPG on at least 60% from the field. Doing it at that age made it even more incredible.
Just as he was starting to meet the nearly unprecedented hype, injuries robbed Williamson of the entire 2021-22 season. This is when frustration understandably set in for Zion, the Pelicans, and of course the fanbase. In a recent interview with GQ, Zion opened up about this development, which had him in a dark place.
What has been said?
“It’s been a lot. I can sit here and explain it, but nobody will really be able to feel it the way I did,” Williamson said. “My foot was broken and I couldn’t magically heal it. It hurt, because I love the game of basketball. But because of it I was experiencing hate and pain from people I don’t know every day, and it started to wear on me.”
While the frustration from all parties was understandable, the false narratives that began circulating became especially difficult for the young phenom to navigate. With reports speculating that he no longer wanted to play in New Orleans, Zion Williamson was labeled as a disinterested teammate who may seek a departure from the team who drafted him first overall.
Through an analogy, Zion suggested that while these reports were running rampant, nobody actually asked him for clarification. Already struggling with his injury, the star forward had to sit idle while his reputation was being damaged. Now progressing in his injury rehab, Williamson has an opportunity to reverse the narrative next season.
While much of his interview with GQ was reflective, Zion closed by saying, “No matter what the world is saying, I have to remember that I am who I am and stay true to that. That’s what Naruto did, and that’s what I’m going to do.” Citing his favorite anime franchise, which was the centerpiece of his feature with GQ, Zion suggested that his story is not yet written. While the narrative on him may indicate one thing, he is ready to stay true to himself, which will ultimately reveal the truth.
If Zion feels as if he has been misrepresented, what does history actually say about who he is? To begin, all reports from his college teammates and coaches were positive. That said, there was the recent instance of JJ Redick describing Zion is a “detached teammate” following CJ McCollum’s admission that he and Zion had no contact after McCollum was traded to the Pelicans.
That said, it was reported shortly after Reddick’s comments that Zion did eventually connect with McCollum, and the two sides were excited to work together. McCollum has since spoken highly of Williamson, defending him from the “bad rap” he gets, while complimenting his work ethic. While it was initially puzzling that Zion had yet to contact his new teammate, it was a good sign that he quickly made it right, perhaps indicating a pivotal moment of growth for the young star.
With his recent comments in the GQ interview, it seems as if Zion Williamson truly cares about letting his true self rise above the current narratives. When combined with a strong return to the court, and a solid group of teammates, Zion and the Pelicans have an opportunity to build something special next year.