The French basketball player, 19, is one of the most talked-about N.B.A. prospects since LeBron James. He is the most hyped prospect in the N.B.A. since LeBron.
The N.B.A. The N.B.A. 1 pick, which will almost certainly be used to select the French basketball star Victor Wembanyama.Credit...James Hill for The New York Times
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By Tania Ganguli
Tania Ganguli travelled to Paris and Las Vegas for this article.
May 15, 2023
Boris Diaw, who was in Paris for a few days at the end of September, decided to check out a game of basketball. He was watching a young player that he'd heard of for years.
The Metropolitans 92 played their first home match of the season, led by star teenager Victor Wembanyama. N.B.A. played at the Marcel-Cerdan Sports Palace near Paris in Levallois. Scouts sat courtside, and fans trickled in. A bee-costumed person, the Mets mascot trotted about giving high-fives.
Diaw was born in Paris, and played in the N.B.A. for 14 years, including four seasons with Tony Parker in San Antonio, who is considered by many as the best N.B.A. player. The best player to ever come out of France. Diaw was astonished to witness the excitement surrounding Wembanyama, a French footballer, on the day of the September game. This was before the scouts, celebrities, and scouts watched him dominate in Las Vegas, before the demand for his presence became so great that the team moved the match to a bigger arena.
The excitement is high. The pressure is also intense.
Diaw said, 'It's hard for him.' I hope he'll be able to focus on his career, playing and practicing as well as having fun.
Wembanyama is hailed by many as the N.B.A. Wembanyama has been hailed as the most certain N.B.A. The June draft will be the first opportunity for him to make a name. The pressure to be the first N.B.A. player selected is immense. Even high school stars, college superstars and international stars can be crushed by the draft. Teams competing for the top selection in Tuesday's lottery must also take this into consideration.
Wembanyama thrives when under pressure. His history and how he handled the last eight months as the hype around his name grew suggest this. He is at his best when the stakes are highest.
Wembanyama, a young man from Zimbabwe, said, 'It is just something inside me that has always been there', during a series of exhibition games in Las Vegas that were meant to be his American introduction. It could be a basketball game or a simple card game. I have been twice as good under pressure.
A lucky N.B.A. One lucky N.B.A. The Detroit Pistons were the worst regular season team this year. This gave them the best chance to win the top lottery pick on Tuesday. Each had a 14 per cent chance.
Wembanyama tweeted in French, on May 6, 'Ten Days Before Knowing My Future Team'. It's a really crazy thing.
Wembanyama is one step closer to a N.B.A. career. He has been dreaming of this career since he turned 14 - which was, in fairness, only five years ago. He could change anything.
Wembanyama could be the James of Cleveland or Patrick Ewing of the Knicks for the team that wins the No. Wembanyama, for the team that lands the No. He could take the franchise into a new era of success, and increase its value by hundreds millions of dollars. This is why Tilman Fertitta, the Rockets' owner, ended a February local television interview with a gratuitous phrase: "Pray for Victor."
"Expected to be a savior"
In most team sports, a single player cannot reroute an unruly franchise. Basketball is a different sport. Finals.
James was named to the All-Star Team 19 times. He has also won the Most Valuable Player Award for the League four times. James has been named the M.V.P. Finals of the N.B.A. He has won at least one title with each of his three teams, including the Cavaliers' first ever championship.
Nike ran an advertisement a few years back that looked back at James's career. The ad began when an 18-year old James was asked during a press conference what pressure he felt.
James said, 'There is no pressure.' There's no stress at all, James said. Since I was 10, I have been under pressure.
Later, he added: "It's not yet kicking in what I'm doing."
It can be difficult to carry the hopes of a franchise, especially if it fails.
When the Portland Trail Blazers were the first to be selected in 2007, the league's consensus was that center Greg Oden, and forward Kevin Durant were the two best players.
Jim Taylor, a former Trail Blazers communications executive, said, "They had billboards all over the city." "Honk twice for Durant, once for Oden."
Portland selected Oden No. Seattle SuperSonics selected Durant as the second pick overall. Taylor was on the plane with Oden and believes that Oden had no idea what awaited his arrival -- a news conference, followed by an enthusiastic rally of fans.
Many Trail Blazers fans and the team thought Oden would be the beginning of a dynasty. He was joining Brandon Roy, who had won the N.B.A. rookie of the year award in 2007. LaMarcus, the rookie of the season, was also on the first all-rookie team. Bill Walton, the Hall of Famer, led Portland to their last championship in 1977.
Taylor stated that 'that's a ton of pressure. There's no way around it'. I can't even imagine that at the age of 19, having only played one year of college ball, Taylor would be expected to save the franchise, or become the face of the N.B.A.
Oden was sidelined for three seasons by a knee injury. In 2014, he played his final N.B.A. game. He played his last N.B.A.
The No. 1 pick has been more successful than not. Wembanyama is expected to do better than just individual awards.
Wembanyama feels destined for greatness.
Born for this
Wembanyama hoped that when he was 14 he would make it into the N.B.A. But he also wanted to be the first draft pick, and lead his team to a championship.
"I am the best," said Bouna Ndiaye, Wembanyama's agent. All want to be best. Victor has this attitude every day. He tries to be different. That's very unlike the French culture. I don't think that it fits with where he wants to go.
Wembanyama has a wingspan of eight feet and he is seven-foot-three. This would make him a fantastic center. He also has the shooting ability and agility of a guard. It's impossible to find anyone else who is like him. His ceiling has been inflated almost beyond all reason.
He has lived a life that exceeds his lofty expectations and those of others.
Ndiaye stated that he believes Victor was born to handle pressure. He's naturally born to be in this situation.
He played with the Nanterre junior team in the Paris suburbs from the age of 10 to 17 years old.
Frederic Donnadieu is the president of Nanterre’s club. He remembers watching him play in a 2018 postseason tournament when Wembanyama had just turned 14. He wanted to know how Wembanyama would perform under pressure. He said that at the time, it was taboo to talk about the N.B.A. It was considered a 'taboo'.
Donnadieu, in French, said that there was a lot pressure on young kids. She noted that the gym that day was packed with French professional clubs and fans. Some kids break down. That's why we won zero games in that particular year. Victor and the other players had a great mental strength, and were genuinely impressive.
Donnadieu observed Wembanyama's mental strength repeatedly, and even more when he began playing professionally with Nanterre aged 16. Donnadieu stated that at 17, Wembanyama won the award for best blocker in the league and the best young player.
Wembanyama has shown a preference for high-pressure moments throughout the season with Metropolitans.
Wembanyama played against the N.B.A. in an exhibition game in Las Vegas in October. The two games were televised nationally in the United States. The G League Ignite Team, which includes guard Scoot Henderson who is expected be the second selection in the draft.
Scouts from all N.B.A. Wembanyama was a star in the first match, scoring 37 with seven 3-pointers, and five blocked shots. Wembanyama claimed that he barely noticed any N.B.A. players because the Ignite had won. He was too upset by the loss to pay attention to players on courtside.
The question was about how he could shoot so many threes.
He said that 'three is more than two', and this time, you have to do whatever you need to do.
The teams met again two days later. Wembanyama scored 36 points with 11 rebounds, 4 blocks and 11 rebounds. Metropolitans 92 defeated Metropolitans 106, 112-106.
He has his own agenda
The Metropolitans 92 had two goals for this season. The Metropolitans 92 want to win matches, but also develop Wembanyama to be a player that can be a dominant presence for many years.
Vincent Collet, the coach of the Metropolitans and the French National Team, stated in September that he thought it was important to do something with the human to help him grow. The process will not be complete when we begin the N.B.A season next year, no matter what we do in this season. He'll be a rookie. He is a talented rookie, but he's still a novice. He has a lot to learn.
The team officials wanted to help Wembanyama build up his body so that he would be able to handle the physicality of an N.B.A. The team officials hoped to help Wembanyama strengthen his body so he could handle the physicality and length of an N.B.A. season without risking injury.
Ndiaye's agent Wembanyama meets with Metropolitans 92 to discuss his progress every few weeks.
Ndiaye stated last week that 'every game we see something different'. He added: 'He has become much stronger. He said: 'He is now much stronger.
Wembanyama thinks about his future as well as his present. He asks his managers to not overload his schedule so that he can concentrate on the games of his team. He tells people that he believes the Mets can win the championship, even though they are second in the league. If they win, the championship round will end just a couple of days before the N.B.A. draft.
Wembanyama has gained more fame in the months that have passed since his debut season. What hasn't altered is his approach to staying grounded. You can see him holding a book, whether he is boarding the team bus or meeting with people after a match.
He enjoys things that help him reset his goals so they don't overwhelm him.
Ndiaye laughed and said, 'Victor lives his life.' After 9 pm, you can't reach him. He is drawing, reading, and listening to classical music.
Next on the agenda: achieving his wildest dream.
Leontine Gallois contributed reporting.