Zion Williamson has riveted the basketball world ever since he was a high-flying, 16-year-old with dunks that quickly became viral sensations.
Now, after an impressive season at Duke University, the No. 1 overall pick will take his generational talents to the New Orleans Pelicans.
Before his debut NBA season tips off, check out some interesting facts to know about Zion Williamson.
Mount Zion at birth: Williamson was born on July 6, 2000, in Salisbury, N.C. The son of two collegiate athletes, his family decided to name him after Mount Zion, which was believed to be the highest point in ancient Jerusalem. Little did they know how apt this name would become for the future No. 1 draft pick.
Motivated since kindergarten: Williamson was clear about his basketball goals from an early age. At 5 years old, Williamson told his mother he wanted to play college basketball and be the No. 1 player in the country. His family took his goals seriously and started to help him develop his skills. Williamson was the only 5-year-old on an AAU team for 9-year-olds. And by the time Williamson was nine, he was waking up at 5 a.m. for workouts. Throughout it all, his parents were eager to help him grow his game.
All in the family: Williamson’s mother, Sharonda Sampson, was his first basketball coach throughout numerous youth leagues. After divorcing her husband when Williamson was five, she remarried a few years later to Lee Anderson, who was experienced in youth basketball development and played collegiately at Clemson and Columbus (Ga.) State. With expert guidance from his mother and step-father, Williamson had all the tools he needed to develop his skills throughout childhood.
Point guard origins: Williamson was rarely the largest player on his youth teams, so his parents focused on developing his point guard skills. This extra work on ball handling, passing and court vision proved beneficial for Williamson. Especially after he grew from 5-foot-9 to 6-foot-6 between the 8th and 10th grade. This growth spurt transformed Williamson from an above-average, hard-working player into a once-in-a-generation talent.
Created his dunking destiny: Williamson had grown to 6-foot-3 prior to his freshman season at Spartanburg Day School in Spartanburg, S.C. But there was one problem -- he still couldn’t dunk. So the 14-year-old Williamson spent his summer in the gym, working hours on end to improve his jumping ability. Eventually, it all clicked for Williamson when he tried to throw himself an alley-oop off the backboard. This setup allowed him to clear his mind and finally reach the rim. The rest is history.
A viral high school sensation: After a solid freshman season at Spartanburg, Williamson took his game to another level during his final three seasons there. He averaged 36.8 points, 13.0 rebounds and 2.5 blocks per game his junior year and scored 51 points in the state title game as he led the Griffins to the second of three straight state championships.
It was the highlight dunks during that 2016-17 season to catch the world’s attention, making his games must-see events. One particular 360-degree dunk led SportsCenter’s Top 10 Plays on ESPN and propelled the 16-year-old Williamson to stardom on social media. The clip generated nearly 500,000 views in five days.
Zion Williamson threw down an NBA Dunk Contest-worthy slam.— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) February 14, 2017
Oh, and he's in high school. pic.twitter.com/2fXtcP5V8W
Best since MJ?: Williamson finished his high school career in 2018 as one of the most accomplished prep basketball players in South Carolina history. He won three state championships, scored more than 50 points on numerous occasions and took home South Carolina's Mr. Basketball honors after his senior season. The hype around Williamson was enough for North Carolina coach Roy Williams to tell Williamson during his junior year that he was, “one of the best high school players he'[d] seen since Michael Jordan.” Despite the attention, some still wondered if Williamson would be able to dominate at the next level.
Duke wins the chase: Williamson received his first collegiate basketball offer from Wofford College when he was a freshman in high school. That began an avalanche of offers for Williamson before he decided to join Duke University during a televised special on Jan. 20, 2018. With Williamson set to join fellow top prospects RJ Barrett and Cam Reddish, Duke became the first school since prep ranking began to land the top three recruits in a single class.
Thanks for coach K and Duke basketball for coming to visit pic.twitter.com/4PJD39Lp2L— Zion Williamson (@Zionwilliamson) September 23, 2016
Big Easy-bound: After an electrifying season at Duke ended in disappointment during the NCAA Tournament, Williamson announced his intentions to declare for the 2019 Draft. Williamson was the clear No. 1 prospect and it all came down to the Draft Lottery to determine where he would start his career. Luck shined on the New Orleans Pelicans, who defied the odds to land the No. 1 overall pick (and it was hard for them to control their excitement). Less than one month later, the people of New Orleans welcomed Williamson in to the NBA world.
Like Mike … again: Williamson enters the league as one of the most well-known rookies since LeBron James in 2003. With more than 4 million followers on Instagram, Williamson boasts global name recognition and an above-the-rim game that should consistently produce must-see highlights throughout his career. The last thing Williamson needed to secure was a signature shoe deal. He decided in July 2019 to go with Jordan Brand, which makes sense for one of Carolina's own. According to ESPN, Williamson's deal with Jordan Brand is the richest annual take for an NBA rookie ever offered.