The saga of Zion Williamson's basketball journey is undeniably one of the most unique in NBA annals. Before even donning a professional jersey, the New Orleans Pelicans' forward was already an internet sensation, with his Duke University athletic feats catapulting him into the limelight as one of collegiate sports' brightest stars.
The anticipation surrounding his NBA entry drew parallels to the hype that once surrounded LeBron James in 2003. Fresh from being the number one pick in the 2019 NBA draft, the Pelicans were buzzing with excitement for their 6’6” dynamo.
However, the journey ahead wasn't as straightforward as the ascent. No sooner did Zion step onto the professional hardwood than he found his trajectory disrupted by injuries. After an explosive NBA entrance, a staggering 58 games of his debut season went by without Zion.
And as the world would come to realize, his first coach was privy to what would become one of the most perplexing seasons for the Pelicans.
Pelicans' Dual Challenges: Pandemic & Zion
The 2019-20 season wasn’t just any other season—it was the year the COVID-19 pandemic took the world by storm, leading to the infamous NBA “Bubble Season”.
For the Pelicans, the challenges weren’t merely limited to adjusting to the new normal dictated by a global health crisis. They also had to grapple with Zion's unpredictable rookie year. Chris Finch, who once coached Zion at the Pelicans and now helms the Timberwolves, recently shared his memories from that tumultuous period on JJ Redick and Tom Alter’s "Old Man & The Three" podcast.
He fondly recalled Zion’s dominance in the pre-season, stating, "You remembered what Zion looked like in the pre-season right?" The tone in his voice carried unmistakable optimism. However, injuries would sideline the young prodigy for most of his first season.
"He never makes it to the starting gate," Finch lamented. This enigmatic journey culminated in Zion's long-awaited NBA debut in January 2020 against the San Antonio Spurs. It was a crucial moment—13 games into a losing streak, with just nine minutes left on the clock and the Pelicans down by eight.
Zion, despite being on limited minutes, was ushered into the fray, marking a turning point that the NBA world will remember for years to come.
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