France’s Victor Wembanyama was chosen with the top pick in the NBA Draft by the San Antonio Spurs on Thursday, sparking wild celebrations as the Texas club reveled in landing the gifted teenager seen as a once-in-a-generation talent.
The 7ft 4in (2.24m) 19-year-old hugged family members as the Spurs confirmed a decision which had been a mere formality ever since San Antonio were handed the No.1 selection in the Draft last month.
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“Just accomplishing something that I’ve been dreaming about my whole life,” Wembanyama said after his No.1 status was announced by NBA commissioner Adam Silver at the Barclays Center in New York.
“Hearing that sentence from Adam Silver, I’ve dreamed of it so much - I’ve gotta cry,” he added.
Wembanyama is widely regarded as a transformational talent, who arrives in the NBA as the most coveted No. 1 pick since LeBron James entered the league in 2003.
In San Antonio, Spurs fans packed into the team’s 19,000-capacity AT&T Center to watch the draft ceremony on a giant screen and roared with delight as Wembanyama’s selection was confirmed.
Celebrations also erupted in the streets of the Texas city, with fans honking car horns in celebration of Wembanyama’s selection.
“My message to them is I’m going to give 100 percent, make all that’s in my power to make this franchise win, to have impact on the franchise and the fan base and the community,” Wembanyama said.
Wembanyama has cut a relaxed figure since arriving in the United States earlier this week, brushing off the soaring hype that has surged in the build-up to the draft.
On Thursday, the Frenchman, wearing a dark green suit, happily signed autographs for fans in the minutes before the draft ceremony got under way.
In an interview with ESPN before his selection, Wembanyama said he was relishing the challenge of being a star both on and off the court.
- More than basketball -
“I know I can bring so much more than just basketball to a franchise,” Wembanyama said.
“My goal is always going to be to win titles, obviously. But also to the community, the franchise, to the fan base I know I can bring so much more.”
Wembanyama will begin his NBA career under the watchful eye of Spurs coach Gregg Popovich, the widely revered 74-year-old who has led San Antonio to five NBA Championships since taking over in 1996.
“We’re thrilled that we’re able to bring Victor on board,” Popovich said at a press conference in San Antonio on Thursday.
“Anybody would be excited about getting the number one pick. I’m very excited. You don’t want me to jump and down, or put on a show do you? I’d do a somersault but I’d be out for three months.”
Popovich meanwhile brushed off invitations to compare Wembanyama with some of the greats of NBA history.
“I don’t compare players, that’ll never happen,” Popovich said. “He’s Victor -- and that’s who I want him to be, and that’s who myself and my staff will coach.”
Wembanyama meanwhile earned a congratulatory message from France’s President Emmanuel Macron.
“You’re already making us dream...no doubt about it: you’ll change the game,” Macron wrote on Twitter.
With his potentially dominant blend of size and skill, Wembanyama has already drawn a legion of admirers across the NBA before even setting foot in the league.
LeBron James says Wembanyama’s skillset makes him less a “unicorn” and “more like an alien.”
“No one has ever seen someone as tall as he is and as fluid and as graceful as he is on the floor,” James said last year.
“He’s for sure a generational talent.”
If Wembanyama manages to live up to the hype, he could conceivably be one of the faces of the NBA for years to come, with the likes of stars such as James, Stephen Curry and Kevin Durant all well into the final phase of their playing careers.
NBA officials, meanwhile, say there is already evidence of a “Wembanyama effect”, citing spikes on streaming platforms and social media.
“Victor is an incredibly promising young player who seemingly has all the attributes of a true game-changer,” NBA deputy commissioner Mark Tatum said.
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