Zion To Make Much-Anticipated Debut In Nationally Televised Game
Pelicans rookie F Zion Williamson "makes his long-awaited NBA debut" tonight against the Spurs in a nationally televised game on ESPN at 8:30pm CT, marking one of the "most anticipated NBA debuts in almost 20 years," according to a front-page piece by Rod Walker of the New Orleans TIMES-PICAYUNE. The game "wasn't originally scheduled to be played on ESPN, but the network made the switch when Williamson's return date was announced." That is "how big of a deal he is." As of Monday, the Pelicans had "issued 130 single-game media credentials," which is "about 100 more than would be issued for a normal Wednesday night game in the Smoothie King Center against a team from a small market like San Antonio" (NOLA.com, 1/21). In New Orleans, Christian Clark noted ESPN's decision to show Williamson's debut instead of Nuggets-Rockets is the "latest example of what a draw the high-flying 19-year-old is." In August, the Pelicans were "awarded 30 national TV games, the most in franchise history." But those plans "changed slightly" with Williamson sidelined for the first 44 games of the season (NOLA.com, 1/18). In Greensboro, Ed Hardin writes no player "has been hyped more" than Williamson, and he will turn an "otherwise meaningless NBA game in January into must-watch TV." Hardin: "If this all feels like a Hollywood production, it's because it is. Between the league, Nike and ESPN, the career of Williamson has been scripted to be a one-man showtime" (Greensboro NEWS & RECORD, 1/22).
PARTY TIME: In San Antonio, Tom Orsborn writes the Pelicans are getting back a player who is "expected to make the Smoothie King Center every bit as exciting as Bourbon Street." Williamson will kick off his career in a "circus-like atmosphere that likely will continue for the rest of the season." Four of the Pelicans' next seven games "will air nationally on ABC, ESPN or TNT" (SAN ANTONIO EXPRESS-NEWS, 1/22). Pelicans TV play-by-play voice Joel Meyers said of Williamson's debut, "It's going to be a hell of a celebration. The city is ready for it. The city is ready to explode" (NOLA.com, 1/18). FS1's Jenny Taft asked, "Are we about to see the most highly anticipated debut ever?" ("Undisputed," FS1, 1/22).
TURNING THE CORNER: THE ATHLETIC's William Guillory notes Williamson might be able to "pull off the unthinkable: turning New Orleans into a basketball town." The Pelicans have "finished in the bottom 10 for attendance at home games year in and year out," but with the NBA's "biggest rising star making himself at home in New Orleans, ticket sales probably won’t be much of an issue. Pelicans F Brandon Ingram said, "It's going to be sold out every single night. Every single night they get to see Zion playing, it's going to be sold out" (THEATHLETIC.com, 1/22).