On Wednesday night (Thursday morning IST), LeBron James was closing down on Kobe Bryant’s career scoring tally during a hard-fought win over the New York Knicks. On the same night, New Orleans Pelicans’ much-heralded rookie Zion Williamson was kitting up in red at the Smoothie King Center. While LeBron James ended up victorious at the Madison Square Garden, Zion Williamson shut down his fat-shaming haters with a stunning 22-point display against the San Antonio Spurs.
No. 1 overall draft pick @Zionwilliamson goes for 22 PTS (4-4 3PM), including 17 straight 4th quarter points, in his NBA debut for the @PelicansNBA! #NBARooks x #WontBowDown pic.twitter.com/WrcChMAWSe— NBA (@NBA) January 23, 2020
In Q4 of the game against the Spurs, Zion Williamson made six consecutive shots. Four of those were three-pointers that found their mark as Pelicans fans sprung out of their seats in awe. With just over eight minutes left in the game, the Pelicans rookie exemplified his blitzkrieg of a debut with a 27-foot three-pointer that cut Spurs’ lead to 99-94. A tidal wave of hype washed over the former Duke freshman as the Smoothie King Center anointed him as the successor to Anthony Davis.
A throwback to LeBron James’ debut yields a similar story. As an 18-year-old, LeBron James was arguably the teenager who drew the most attention in the build-up to his NBA debut. The 15-time NBA All-Star was the Cleveland Cavaliers’ first overall draft pick in 2003 after being touted as a future superstar by the media. Those claims were vindicated when LeBron James made his debut against the Sacramento Kings. The day LeBron James officially went from No. 1 overall pick to NBA player, he registered 25 points, six rebounds, nine assists, four steals and two turnovers in 42 minutes, eventually ending the season with, unsurprisingly, Rookie of the Year honours. A blockbuster of a debut, sure, but what was even more impressive was the way he handled the expectations of the whole of Cleveland on his to-be NBA champion shoulders.
LeBron James then went on to Miami Heat on the back of the infamous ‘Decision’ saga, before a return to Cleveland. The Lakers then came calling following Kobe Bryant’s retirement. LeBron James has played alongside the best of the NBA, while he has also faced off against the best in the NBA. In a career that has spanned over 16 seasons in the NBA, the 15-time NBA All-Star is on course for a run at the NBA Championship with former Pelicans star Anthony Davis in tow.
Both, Zion Williamson and LeBron James had impressive debuts, taking the NBA by storm despite ending on the losing side. Such was Zion Williamson’s dominance in just 18 minutes of action at the Smoothie King Center that LaMarcus Aldridge’s game-high 32-point display went largely under the radar. An argument can be made that this was the most impressive debut the NBA has seen since LeBron James’ blockbuster display in 2003. Could he go on to have a career that mirrors LeBron James’ meteoric trajectory? Only time will tell. On the back of this display, he has certainly introduced himself to New Orleans.
Zion Williamson has hit twice as many threes in a three-minute span (4) than Ben Simmons has this entire season (2). pic.twitter.com/ukGRvWP0U4— StatMuse (@statmuse) January 23, 2020
The city of New Orleans has seen a number of sports stars rise to prominence in the “Big Easy”. The likes of Drew Brees, Chris Paul, Anthony Davis and, more recently, Joe Burrow come to mind. Of these, only Drew Brees remains in the Crescent City at the moment. Like LeBron James, Drew Brees is approaching the twilight of his career. With the Cincinnati Bengals holding the No. 1 pick in the NFL Draft, LSU star Joe Burrow is also likely to move out of New Orleans. That leaves Zion Williamson as New Orleans’ biggest draw. The Pelicans have seen startlingly low attendance in the NBA over the years. The question is, can Zion Williamson fill the seats at the Smoothie King Center and turn New Orleans into a basketball town, much like a certain No. 1 overall pick in the 2003 Draft did for Cleveland?