NEW ORLEANS, LOUISIANA - FEBRUARY 06: Zion Williamson #1 of the New Orleans Pelicans warms up prior to the start of an NBA game against the Memphis Grizzlies at Smoothie King Center on February 06, 2021 in New Orleans, Louisiana. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images)

Pelicans, Zion Williamson have plenty of reasons to celebrate as forward signs long-term extension

Zion Williamson called it the best birthday he’s ever had. It also felt like reason for New Orleans basketball fans everywhere to celebrate – and dream of additional joyous occasions in the future.

On his 22nd birthday, Williamson officially signed a long-term contract extension Wednesday with the Pelicans, signaling his commitment to the franchise for the next half-dozen years. After being sidelined for the entire 2021-22 season due to a broken foot – an ailment he coincidentally learned of on his 21st birthday – Williamson was all smiles 12 months later, sitting at a podium inside the city’s historic Dryades YMCA.

Williamson: “When we came to the agreement, (Pelicans Executive Vice President of Basketball Operations David Griffin) said, ‘Look, it’s going to be hard for someone to top this birthday gift.’ It’s a lot. My emotions were high, and they still are. Like I said, I’m excited to get on the court.”

Zion Williamson contract extension press conference 7/6/22

“We’re not about what you say; we’re about what you do,” Griffin said of the Pelicans’ emphasis on actions over words. “What Zion did today (by signing a contract extension) was express his commitment to this team, city and community, and made it very clear this is what he is about.”

“This is a huge day for him, especially with what he’s been through the last year,” Pelicans head coach Willie Green said of the 2021 All-Star sitting out last season. “What a difference a year makes. I’m fortunate and blessed to be sitting here with this young man, who has a bright future. We’re excited to add what he does to our program. I look forward to getting the opportunity to finally coach (him) and get him on the floor.”

New Orleans pulled off a memorable second-half turnaround in ’21-22 despite playing without its leading scorer and All-Star from the previous season, using a 13-10 record to earn a play-in tournament berth. The Pelicans then beat San Antonio and the Clippers to qualify for the Western Conference playoffs, where they gave top-seeded Phoenix all it could handle in a hard-fought, 4-2 series defeat. New Orleans fans were thrilled to witness the development of numerous young players, including rookies Herbert Jones, Jose Alvarado and Trey Murphy III. The Pelicans are eager to see what they can accomplish in the future behind a cast of proven veterans and talented youngsters whose best days in the NBA are ahead.

Zion Williamson facetimes with Pelicans Governor Gayle Benson after signing contract extension

“We really like the group we have,” Griffin said. “We feel like it has a chance to do something special together. It has the requisite versatility it needs, the upside talent it needs. We feel like with the team we have assembled, with Zion as an enormous part of that, Coach Green and his staff are going to be able to put together an incredible run. We’ve got an opportunity to run toward sustained success for quite a long time. We’re young, we’re talented and most importantly, we’re very hungry.”

“The ultimate goal is to win a championship,” Williamson said. “That’s what we’re all striving for. We’re hungry.”

Asked Wednesday where birthday No. 22 ranks so far on his list, the South Carolina native smiled and put his hand on Griffin’s shoulder, signaling back to the media “No. 1.” He repeatedly expressed his excitement to get back in uniform this fall.

“For the Pelicans to come give me this birthday gift, I’m not going to let them down,” Williamson said. “I’m not going to let the city down. I’m not going to let my family down. Most importantly, I’m not going to let myself down.”