Victor Wembanyama had grown up within the suburbs of Paris dreaming about this second since he was 12 years outdated. He had lengthy felt as if he was completely different from everybody else, as if he might be nice — and never simply in basketball.
He’d spent the previous a number of months, and even the previous few days, exuding cool calm about his future. However when his second lastly arrived, he couldn’t assist however cry.
The San Antonio Spurs chosen Wembanyama No. 1 total in Thursday’s N.B.A. draft at Barclays Middle in Brooklyn. In doing so, they formally began the N.B.A. profession of one of the extremely anticipated prospects in league historical past.
“The most effective emotions of my life,” Wembanyama, 19, mentioned. “In all probability the most effective night time of my life. I’ve been dreaming about this for therefore lengthy. It’s a dream come true. It’s unimaginable.”
The Charlotte Hornets chosen Alabama’s Brandon Miller with the No. 2 choose. The Portland Path Blazers selected Scoot Henderson, a guard from the N.B.A.’s G League Ignite, with the third choose. The Thompson twins from Extra time Elite, a semiprofessional league for prospects, went subsequent. Houston took Amen Thompson with the fourth choose, and Detroit chosen Ausar Thompson at No. 5.
Fourteen gamers from outdoors the USA have been chosen first total within the N.B.A. draft. Wembanyama is the primary worldwide high choose who didn’t play highschool or faculty basketball in the USA for the reason that Italian participant Andrea Bargnani, whom the Toronto Raptors chosen first in 2006.
At greater than seven toes tall, with the agility and ball-handling abilities of a a lot smaller participant, Wembanyama has drawn comparisons to N.B.A. stars like Giannis Antetokounmpo and Kevin Durant. He has lengthy admired these gamers, however he has usually mentioned he doesn’t wish to be like anybody particularly. He has mentioned he desires to “be one thing that’s by no means been seen earlier than and can by no means be seen once more.”
On Wednesday, the N.B.A. took the weird step of internet hosting a information convention only for Wembanyama earlier than the opposite prospects addressed the information media in teams.
“Welcome to San Antonio,” a reporter from Texas mentioned throughout Wembanyama’s information convention. With the draft nonetheless a day away, the reporter rapidly added, “Not but.”
“Not but,” he mentioned.
Wembanyama had been projected because the No. 1 choose for this draft even earlier than the 2022-23 season.
The Spurs received the draft lottery in Might, as Wembanyama watched with family and friends in France.
“I used to be simply considering I used to be feeling fortunate that they bought the choose as a franchise that has that tradition and that have in profitable and making, creating good gamers,” Wembanyama mentioned on Wednesday. “I actually can’t wait.”
The Spurs have had a robust historical past with French gamers and with the highest choose within the draft.
They drafted the French level guard Tony Parker late within the first spherical in 2001. He received 4 championships with the Spurs and was named probably the most helpful participant of the finals in 2007. One other French participant, Boris Diaw, spent greater than 4 seasons in San Antonio and was a part of the 2014 championship staff.
The Spurs have additionally had nice success making the primary choose within the draft. In 1987, they used the No. 1 choose to take David Robinson, who received the league’s M.V.P. Award in 1995, was a 10-time All-Star and received two championships with the Spurs. Then in 1997, San Antonio selected Tim Duncan first total. Duncan went on to win 5 championships and two M.V.P. Awards, and he was named finals M.V.P. thrice.
Coming right into a staff with that form of historical past would possibly look like numerous strain for a young person like Wembanyama, however he has seemed to be unruffled by it.
At a draft night time occasion on the Spurs’ area, the group was chanting “Wemby” an hour earlier than the draft had even begun.
Every staff had 5 minutes to make its choice within the first spherical. Though the Spurs’ choose had been submitted early within the allotted time, N.B.A. Commissioner Adam Silver waited till all 5 minutes had elapsed earlier than saying the choice.
“Longest 5 minutes of my life,” Wembanyama mentioned.
His abdomen started to flutter, and his members of the family grew quiet. They started taking a look at their watches.
Then Silver lastly referred to as Wembanyama’s identify, and a brand new chapter of his life started. He hugged his sister and his brother, who each cried with pleasure. He hugged his dad and mom after which his brokers.
Later, backstage, somebody handed him a Spurs jersey together with his identify on it.
“Somebody knew this was occurring by some means,” he quipped.
In San Antonio, Spurs Coach Gregg Popovich was thrilled.
“He’s not LeBron, or Tim, or Kobe, or anybody else,” Popovich advised reporters there. “He’s Victor.”
Wembanyama talked about working to win a championship as quickly as attainable, and concerning the breakfast tacos he’d heard a lot about.
On Wednesday, Wembanyama had been requested a few remark from a pundit, who mentioned that his profession could be a disappointment if it wasn’t like that of Durant or the Corridor of Fame heart Hakeem Olajuwon.
Wembanyama calmly dismissed the premise.
“I’ve bought such excessive expectations for myself that I’m proof against all these things,” he mentioned. “So I actually don’t care.”
Wembanyama grew up in Le Chesnay, west of Paris, however left at age 14 to stay about 20 minutes away within the dorms of his childhood membership, Nanterre. He went to highschool throughout the road. He has performed professionally in France since he was 15, usually competing towards and with gamers a lot older than him. It meant he had few alternatives to guide a staff.
However final season, he starred for Metropolitans 92, a French membership based mostly within the Paris suburb of Levallois-Perret. Most of his video games have been broadcast on the N.B.A. App.
“Solely this yr I had the chance to study to know this sort of duty,” Wembanyama mentioned. “It’s the smartest thing I realized in my profession to date.”
The staff had created a plan to arrange Wembanyama bodily and mentally for the N.B.A. In flip, Wembanyama turned deeply invested in his teammates’ development.
In the future in April, he advised his agent Bouna Ndiaye that he wanted a second athletic coach as a result of the primary was overloaded. Ndiaye, assuming Wembanyama meant a second coach for himself, discovered one and had been ready to pay the second coach’s wage to fulfill his shopper. However Wembanyama advised him the coach was for the entire staff.
“He advised me, ‘Yeah, however you don’t perceive,’” Ndiaye mentioned. “‘My teammates want that. As a result of I consider on this staff.’”
The membership ultimately agreed to rent one other coach.
Wembanyama was named probably the most helpful participant of his French league, the youngest ever to win that award, and led his staff to a second-place end. They misplaced within the finals final week.
He bought to New York on Monday, excited to expertise town he had seen solely in movies and on tv.
He rode the subway to Yankee Stadium within the Bronx from Columbus Circle in Manhattan on Tuesday. He jumped over the turnstile as he exited the prepare station in homage to Jacques Chirac, the previous French president, who hopped a turnstile within the Paris metro in 1980. Wembanyama threw out the ceremonial first pitch for the Yankees’ recreation towards Seattle and laughed after it sailed broad.
It had in any other case been troublesome for Wembanyama to easily exit and see town. The anticipation for what heights his profession might attain had been constructing even earlier than Thursday’s official welcome into the N.B.A.
Wembanyama was the primary participant to stroll into the inexperienced room at Barclays Middle on Thursday night time. About two and a half hours earlier than he heard his identify referred to as, he walked onto the stage for a second. As he left the ground a minute later, he turned again to have a look at the stage yet another time.
“That is when it began to really feel just a little bit actual,” Wembanyama mentioned after he was chosen. “It nonetheless isn’t fully actual. At that second I began visualizing.”
In San Antonio, Spurs followers felt a brand new sense of hope after a stretch of dropping seasons. They walked round yelling “Go Spurs Go!” In a single bar, followers handed round a cutout of Wembanyama’s head for pictures.
Wembanyama mentioned he had felt “a lot love” from Spurs followers since San Antonio received the draft lottery final month.
“I believe there’s murals of me within the metropolis heart in San Antonio,” he mentioned. “It’s simply unimaginable. I couldn’t ask for a greater welcome than this.”
Santul Nerkar contributed reporting from San Antonio.