Zion Williamson at Media Day

Off the Court: Pelicans forward Zion Williamson

by Jim Eichenhofer

Less than a year into his NBA career, the connection between Pelicans rookie Zion Williamson and the city of New Orleans has proven to be a perfect marriage. Confident but not cocky, widely-celebrated but remaining humble, the 19-year-old embodies many of the Crescent City’s best traits. Since arriving in the Big Easy last summer, Williamson has consistently put others before himself, as evidenced by his recent vow to help Smoothie King Center staff members cover lost wages due to the NBA’s suspended season. The Duke product and No. 1 overall pick is also beloved by his veteran teammates, who appreciate his selfless approach and eagerness to simply want to be part of the team. During countless interviews since becoming a pro, Williamson has emphasized the impact of his upbringing and family-first mentality, something he touches on repeatedly when describing his background and interests away from basketball:

Best moments as an athlete: “Whenever I won a championship, whether it was winning the ACC championship at Duke, my three-peat (of state titles) in high school, or a youth-league championship when I was younger. The championship moments are always the best and the ones you remember.”

How he chose his current uniform number of 1: “I had it at Duke. I thought about going back to my high school number of 12, but No. 1 is No. 1. I’m trying to be the best. I felt like it’s fitting for me.”

One thing fans might be surprised to know about him: “I’m a cool dude. You don’t have to be scared, you don’t have to be intimidated (to approach him). You can come talk to me like I’m Adam, Joe, a random person. You don’t have to be intimidated.”

Favorite thing about New Orleans: “The community. This community is very loving, very welcoming. If you love it, it will love you right back. They always have a very positive vibe about them. I don’t think there has been a negative day here since I stepped foot in New Orleans.”

Pregame ritual: “Put on some Jay-Z, text my mom that I love her, and go dance.”

Favorite athlete as a kid: “Michael Jordan.”

Unique childhood memory from playing basketball: “In my seventh-grade summer, we went to (AAU) nationals in Virginia. We did very well, started off 4-0 or 5-0, lost our sixth game maybe. While we were there, a random guy was watching us play and came up to me and said, ‘I don’t know what it is about you young fella, but you’re going to be special.’ At the time, I was like, ‘Somebody get this stranger away from me.’ [smiles] But it’s those small interactions that just pop back into your memory several years later. I’ve been thinking about that for a while. That really hits me.”

Biggest lesson from basketball: “That life doesn’t always go the way you want it to go. You can expect to win, but it’s not (necessarily) going to happen. It can go the complete opposite way and you lose. But it’s a matter of how do you battle that adversity.”

Biggest mentor: “My stepfather is my mentor. He’s also like a father to me. He taught me how to be a man, how to carry myself and how to handle my business. Even to this day he still teaches me small things and how to interact with other people, to never think I’m above anybody else. He’s been a great mentor for me. (Basketball-wise), he taught me everything I know since the day I started. He still motivates me.”

Subjects he’s knowledgeable about besides basketball: “Music and movies. My favorite movie is He Got Game. My favorite artists are Jay-Z, Drake and J Cole. Part of why I say them is because a lot of their good music comes from the appreciation they have of older music that came before them. They use snippets from old songs in their music, and I think that’s incredible how those three do that.”

Actor he’d want to play him in a movie: “Nobody. I feel like I'm one of a kind.”

Favorite gift he's received: “When I got my car my senior year of high school. I still have it and love it, probably will never give it away or sell it. It’s a GMC Yukon Denali.”

Favorite healthy food: “Salmon.”

Favorite ice cream flavor: “Oreo.”

Three-pointer at the buzzer or posterizing dunk: “Posterizing dunk, for sure.”

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