Zion's Injury A Blow To Pelicans Fans Eager To See Star Take Court
Pelicans F Zion Williamson is slated to miss 6-8 weeks after undergoing surgery for a torn meniscus, a "crushing blow to start the season for a franchise that had been on Cloud 9 for the past five months," according to Rod Walker of NOLA.com. The top pick in last June's NBA Draft is expected to make his regular-season debut "closer to Christmas, meaning fans who gobbled up season tickets in record numbers will have to wait to see who many of them were wanting to see" (NOLA.com, 10/21). Walker noted when Williamson returns, it will "mark the beginning of the career for the NBA's most highly anticipated rookie since LeBron James." The Pelicans "don't plan to put all the weight of the franchise" on Williamson's shoulders. However, as much as coach Alvin Gentry and Exec VP/Basketball Operations David Griffin may "try to tone down the expectations, they are still there." Since drafting Williamson No. 1 overall, Pelicans "ticket sales have been at an all-time high." Recently, approximately 10,000 fans "showed up just to watch the team practice." Most first-year players "don't have to balance basketball, business ventures and promotional appearances like Williamson" (NOLA.com, 10/21).
MAN OF THE PEOPLE: In N.Y., Jere Longman notes many fans say that former Pelican Anthony Davis "seemed to be in New Orleans but not of New Orleans." The local embrace is "more hopeful for Williamson." The team’s fans are "likely to grow even fonder of Williamson in his absence, especially if New Orleans struggles in the early going." Cleverly, Williamson has "associated himself with the sport that people care most about here -- football -- appearing at games involving the Saints, Tulane and Louisiana State." And he has "developed a kind of bromance" with Drew Brees. Pelicans coach Alvin Gentry said, "The only thing that would come close for me to what we’re experiencing with Zion would be David Robinson getting out of the Navy and coming to San Antonio." Gentry was an assistant with the Spurs during the NBA HOFer's rookie '89-90 season (N.Y. TIMES, 10/22).
ADJUST YOUR DVR: THE ATHLETIC's Joe Vardon wrote the "disappointment" from Pelicans fans over Williamson missing the start of the season "pales in comparison to what schedulers at TNT and ESPN are feeling." The nets have "worked with the NBA for 10 months to build an entire slate for the whole league based on showing Williamson play twice on national TV during opening week." The Pelicans will open the season tonight against the Raptors on TNT, before hosting the Mavericks Friday on ESPN. NBA Senior VP/Broadcasting Thomas Carelli: "We were taking the opportunity to put New Orleans there to get Zion's first game, and the Pelicans and their whole new team, on in Toronto." Vardon wrote the games will "go on, and the networks will show them," but the "main attraction won't be out there" (THEATHLETIC.com, 10/21).
MORE TO PELS THAN JUST ZION: In New Orleans, Scott Kushner wrote since Griffin was hired in April, he has "set about giving the franchise a face-lift." Kushner: "There's a new slogan. A renovated facility. A litany of new front-office hires." Just about "everything" to do with the team is "different these days" (NOLA.com, 10/21).