Sports

Zion Williamson Is Basically on the Knicks Now

PORTLAND, OREGON - MARCH 18: Zion Williamson #1 of the New Orleans Pelicans is announced before the game against the Portland Trail Blazers at Moda Center on March 18, 2021 in Portland, Oregon. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Steph Chambers/Getty Images)
Zion Williamson flexing, which is something only New Yorkers know about. Steph Chambers/Getty Images

The Knicks are back, baby! New York’s come-from-behind 122–112 overtime victory against the New Orleans Pelicans on Sunday marked six wins in a row for the rejuvenated franchise. It’s their longest winning streak since 2014, but given that there are only 72 regular season games this year, it feels more like a 6.83(repeating)–game win streak. That’s called analytics, and it proves the team is electric.

Unlike nearly every Knicks squad from this century, the 2020–21 iteration is not borne from desperate trades or wild swings at unrealistic free agents. Actual playoff basketball will be played in midtown Manhattan this year, and it’s all because the front office chose to invest in the team’s present rather than mortgage its future on superstar pipe dreams. Reason and pragmatism reign at Madison Square Garden, and nothing can … hold on a second, Zion Williamson has something to say about the city of New York.

Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement

A generational talent teasing this long-suffering fan base with the prospect of one day leading them to glory? Forget everything I said before. The Knicks really are back, baby!

Advertisement

Zion’s comments are straight out of the LeBron James playbook, right down to calling New York “the Mecca of basketball.” James led the Knicks on this dance for a full decade, and it’s only fitting that the most scintillating NBA prospect since LeBron has cut in to take the lead. He may be just 20 years old, but Zion has chummed up the media waters like a seasoned vet.

Advertisement
Advertisement

It’s important to note that Williamson is under contract with the New Orleans Pelicans until 2023, so there isn’t actually much to read into in this story. Just kidding! His comments need to be scrutinized with the vigor devoted to the Dead Sea Scrolls. A line-by-line analysis is in order, and it must be done every day until he signs with the Knicks or the sun explodes—whichever comes first.

“I’m glad you asked that, actually.”

What question, specifically, is he so happy about answering? Going by context clues, it likely was something about whether he enjoys playing in New York. But, for the sake of unhinged speculation, let’s presume the reporter asked Zion a totally unrelated question about, say, the debt ceiling. It’s one thing for Zion to talk about New York after playing at Madison Square Garden, but for him to bring it up during a conversation about parliamentary procedure? The Knicks really must be on his mind!

Advertisement
Advertisement

“I mean, New York is the Mecca of basketball.”

Critics may argue that this is an unearned and outdated honorific for the city, but they forget that both Charlie Villanueva and Smush Parker hail from the Big Apple. Zion knows his history and respects the greats. If I can make it there …

“I love playing here. I played here in college.”

Zion is referring to Duke’s 69–58 win over Texas Tech in 2018. After that game, he told reporters, “If they draft me, I would love to play for the Knicks.” It’s as if he has always harbored a single-minded desire to join the team, something that is easier to believe if you ignore the rest of his quote from that evening: “I don’t really care where I go. Just the experience of being in the NBA, whoever wants me and whoever sees the most in me, that’s where I want to be.”

Advertisement
Advertisement

This guy is obsessed with the Knicks!

“This is my first time playing here in the pros.”

Notice how he did not say that it would be his last time playing in Madison Square Garden. By avoiding that ominous proclamation, he keeps Knicks fans’ hopes very much alive.

Advertisement

“This atmosphere, whether they’re cheering for you or whether they’re booing for you, it’s amazing.”

The announced attendance at Madison Square Garden for Sunday’s game was 1,981. Someone should tell him that the Knicks easily seat at least twice that number of fans during nonpandemic times.

“Honestly, I think, outside of New Orleans, obviously, this might be my favorite place to play.”

Like Mecca, the Smoothie King Center is imbued with awe-inspiring history—that’s why it’s called the Smoothie King Center. He knows that this is the same structure where Jeff Withey scored 17 points in a loss to the Phoenix Suns. Of course it’s Zion’s favorite place to play. He wouldn’t just say that to placate the team that drafted him and its fans. That would be a lie, and postgame interviews are no place for fibbing. Unless …

“I can’t even lie to you. I can’t lie to you.”

Is he lying? To find out, reporters should ask him whether he wants to play in New York after every single game this season and beyond. This story is just getting started.

Listen to an episode of Slate’s sports podcast Hang Up and Listen below, or subscribe to the show on Apple Podcasts, Overcast, Spotify, Stitcher, or wherever you get your podcasts.

Advertisement