The Wonder of Wemby, and Other Thoughts on a Plane
EN ROUTE TO DALLAS — Would love to see you tonight as we talk a little baseball and a little more baseball and then a lot of baseball in Dallas. I’ll be in conversation with longtime television producer Robert Steinfeld, who has his own stories! Tickets here. Looks like everybody’s ready:
OK, so a whole bunch of disparate thoughts from the plane….
I cannot begin to explain how excited I am to follow the journey of San Antonio Spurs rookie Victor Wembanyama. I see lots of people calling Wemby “the most-hyped NBA rookie since LeBron James,” and that’s probably true, as far as it goes, though there was plenty of hype for Zion and Anthony Davis and Dwight Howard and even Kevin Durant and Blake Griffin, if memory serves. It isn’t the hype that has me excited. It isn’t even the potential that has me excited.
No, it’s just … what even IS Victor Wembanyama? It’s so rare and so exciting when an athlete comes along who defies explanation. What made high school LeBron so thrilling — and what has made him, in my mind, the best of them all — is that he is an evolution of basketball greats, the vision of Bird, the strength of Malone, the open-court explosiveness of the Doctor, the playmaking skills of Magic, the driving force of MJ, etc. LeBron was incredible at such a young age, but in my mind he didn’t defy belief. He just stretched the limits of belief.
Wemby defies belief. I’ve seen him listed at 7-foot-4, 7-foot-5, his arms are longer than Route 66.. How many players have looked like him? Manute Bol? Maybe the Virginia version of Ralph Sampson? And then you see how he plays and it’s like — what? Is he a point guard? Is he a cold-blooded shooter? Is he a shot-blocking monster? Is he the ultimate alley-oop finisher?* Yes to all of it.
*You might know this already … but the sports origination of the term “alley-oop” did not begin in basketball. It began in football, in the 1950s, and it began as a pass play designed for San Francisco’s 6-foot-3 pogo-stick of a receiver named R.C. Owens. As you might imagine, my mind is pretty locked in on my next book, tentatively titled (here’s a shocker) “Why We Love Football,” which will come out in the fall of 2024.
I mentioned Ralph Sampson. Longtime ACC and Virginia (and longtime college basketball) fans will remember just what an absurdity HE was in the early 1980s. He was 7-foot-4 and a fantastic athlete and also had some of those ball-handling and shooting skills, but in those days, everything was more compartmentalized, point guards were point guards and power forwards were power forwards and centers were centers.
Wemby comes to life in a time when there are no positions, no boundaries, when a player can be anything — it’s Total Basketball — and that’s part of Wemby’s wonder. There are no limits, not only to what he can do but what he can be.
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