On memorable draft night, New Orleans opens its arms to embrace Zion Williamson – and vice versa
BROOKLYN – Let’s dance. Let’s party.
Despite 90-degree-plus temperatures Thursday, thousands of basketball fans packed into Fulton Alley in downtown New Orleans to hold a raucous celebration, honoring the selection of Duke forward Zion Williamson. Even though the world knew Williamson as the team’s No. 1 pick was a foregone conclusion since the May 14 draft lottery, it didn’t stop periodic “We want Zion!” chants at Pelicans DraftFest, along with an atmosphere described by some in attendance as “filled with energy and electricity.”
After making numerous stops on the required media circuit at Barclays Center, Williamson sought and viewed a clip from the team’s official draft party; he began smiling and laughing at the vociferous reaction.
“All the fans celebrating on Fulton Street, thank you,” the 18-year-old said into a camera, after seeing video and photos of the bash. “I’m ready to work. I’m ready to have fun. I’m excited. Let’s dance.”
On his first day on the job as a pro, with those last two words the South Carolina native had already coined what appeared to be an instantly popular slogan among Pelicans fans, who quickly began using it on social media.
“It’s a breath of fresh air,” one fan tweeted about Williamson’s presence, after listening to the player’s recent interviews. Another wondered, “Is (this) the greatest day in franchise history?” acknowledging the emphatic response and palpable excitement from the team’s fan base. Of the atmosphere at the draft party, a third noted, “This is what New Orleans is all about, people that have never seen each other hugging and laughing with each other.”
Williamson alluded to the close-knit nature of his new NBA home, as he discussed the loving reception he enjoyed during a recent trip to the Big Easy and visit with the Pelicans organization.
“It was just a great feel. It was almost like they were welcoming me to a family,” a smiling Williamson said. “They were excited to see me. They were telling me certain spots I should go for food… I was there for less than 24 hours, and the time I spent there was just incredible. So I’m glad they selected me.”
Williamson was eager to return to New Orleans, something he’ll do Friday afternoon for his local introductory press conference (3 p.m. Central, streaming live on Pelicans.com). He couldn’t wait to touch down in Louisiana after a flight from New York City.
“I know that when I get off that plane, I can say, ‘This is my new home’ officially,” Williamson looked ahead to Friday. “I’m home.”