LOS ANGELES — The New Orleans Pelicans have themselves a low-maintenance stud who would rather talk about his teammates than his own individual performances.
Rookie sensation Zion Williamson has turned down almost every one-on-one interview request this season. He’s simply not comfortable talking about himself, and when questions are asked of the jaw-dropping rim-rattlers he throws down nightly, he often deflects and mentions how his teammates or coaching staff set him up for success.
At 19 years old, he has the basketball world impatiently waiting and craving for a visual of his next spectacular play and he knows it. Yet still, he’s a young man of few words. On and off the court, he allows his actions to speak louder than words and one of his latest gestures demonstrated just that.
The Pelicans were one game away from embarking on the break for All-Star Weekend. Winners of three straight contests and capturing six of its last eight games, the team was in the midst of playing some of its best ball of the season.
Players were eagerly making the final arrangements of where they would spend their extended break. All that separated them from much-needed time off was a visit from the Oklahoma City Thunder. And with Mardi Gras around the corner, Williamson delivered an unexpected surprise.
Right before a film session on Feb. 12, the young forward arrived at Ochsner Sports Performance Center — the team’s practice facility — and gifted each of his teammates Mardi Gras-colored Beats By Dre Earphones with their last names and jerseys numbers inscribed inside the holding case.
Players were speechless, and amazed. These are typically gestures exhibited by established veteran players — such as LeBron James — with the purpose of building a closer bond and symbolizing how much they are valued.
“They’re dope,” Jahlil Okafor told Yahoo Sports of the earphones while he was actually using them. “He definitely blessed us. And with the Mardi Gras colors, he was creative. We didn’t know this was coming at all. Zion is definitely a real one.”
Williamson is on a standard rookie contract as the No. 1 pick in the 2019 NBA draft and he has a shoe endorsement deal with Nike’s Jordan Brand that is worth reportedly around $75 million over seven years.
“It was an unexpected surprise for sure. But s--t, for him, it shouldn’t be because he’s making motherf-----g $150 million probably right now,” Brandon Ingram told Yahoo Sports in jest. “But seriously, that was really cool what he did. I think with all the young guys that we have on this team, we’re pretty close and things like that only brings us closer.”
Williamson said his gift was a form of camaraderie building and way of showing his appreciation.
“I just thought it would be a nice gift for everyone and I’m glad they all liked it,” Williamson told Yahoo Sports. “That’s what matters to me, is that my teammates are enjoying them. I see them wearing it and it’s cool. I just wanted to do something special for them.”
The Pelicans locker room is one of the closest-knit groups in the league. Upon arriving to Los Angeles prior to taking on the Lakers, most of the team ventured out together for a day on the town. Big cities such as New York and Los Angeles, players tend to separate and go their own individual paths.
The chemistry being constructed in that locker room is clearing working.
On Tuesday night, the Pelicans gave the Lakers all they could handle. It took a season-high 40-point performance by James to claim the 118-109 victory at Staples Center. Williamson, in his first career game in L.A., showed out with 29 points and six rebounds in 33 minutes.
After the game, there were no lowered heads in the visiting locker room. They believe they have a playoff push in them and they’re going to continue onward with a lighthearted approach.
At shootaround the morning of the game, JJ Redick sat in a courtside seat observing Williamson shooting corner threes and decided to have a little fun with him
The rookie has some explosive leaping ability, but he doesn’t leave the ground much when shooting.
Redick asked Williamson to show him how he shoots a jump shot. Williamson responded: “What do you mean?” Redick said, “You’re shooting a set shot. I want you to show me your jump shot.”
The rookie replied: “Well, I guess my set-shot is my jump shot,” and then similar to how he he turns down interviews, he quickly turned around and took another set-shot 3-pointer as Redick just broke out in laughter.
This team is having too much fun together.
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