Zion Williamson departed Orlando Thursday morning to attend to an urgent family medical matter, the New Orleans Pelicans announced in a release. Per the team, Williamson intends to rejoin the team in Orlando for the NBA restart at a later date.
“We fully support Zion’s decision to leave the NBA campus to be with his family,” said Pelicans Executive Vice President of Basketball Operations David Griffin said in the team's statement. “Out of respect for the Williamson family, we will have no further comment at this time.”
In early July, as teams readied to arrive at the NBA campus at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex in the Walt Disney World Resort, Williamson told The Associated Press he and New Orleans were gearing up for a playoff push. That appeared highly unlikely when he was sitting on the sidelines with a surgically repaired knee, watching New Orleans labor through a franchise-worst 13-game losing streak that left the club with a record of 6-22.
“I think this team can be really special when we’re all healthy,” Williamson said.
The 6-foot-6, 285-pound Williamson was expected to be out six to eight weeks when he had surgery to repair his torn right lateral meniscus the day before the regular season. He wound up missing about three months and 44 games. When he finally returned on Jan. 22, fans packed the stands and Williamson routinely delighted them with around-the-rim highlights.
Williamson averaged 23.6 points and 6.8 rebounds in the 19 games he played. New Orleans won 10 of those games and looked to be gaining momentum when the season was suspended March 11 because of the coronavirus pandemic.
Still, that stint kept the Pelicans close enough to the playoff picture – 3 1/2 games behind Memphis for the eighth and final playoff seed in the Western Conference -- to be included among 22 NBA teams that will finish their regular seasons at a central location in Orlando, starting July 30, when New Orleans plays the Utah Jazz.
It’s been 18 years since an NBA team began a regular season at 7-23 through 30 games and still made the NBA playoffs. It’s been 35 years since a club withstood a losing streak of 13 games and reached the postseason.
Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.