Zion Williamson signed a five-year contract extension with the New Orleans Pelicans on Wednesday, the maximum allowed under the league’s “designated rookie scale player extension” provision; depending on variables built into the contract, it could pay him somewhere between $193 and $231 million. If you are thinking that this perhaps is a risky investment for the Pelicans to make in a phenomenally cube-shaped young player who missed all of his third pro season with foot problems and who has played a grand total of 85 (incredibly productive!) games over his NBA career to date, well, that is reasonable, if maybe a bit drearily GM-brained for my taste. If you are thinking, “Gee, the Pelicans sure would stand to get a lot more value out of that contract if Zion would swap out some of the sick dunks that have made him a famous and cool basketball star in exchange for some sensible layups!” then I am sorry to inform you that you are the biggest dork who ever lived.
Or, well, you are tied with whoever the doofus is who hit Zion with that vaguely question-like prompt at the official presser following the contract signing on Wednesday evening:
Here is a transcription, in case you can’t play videos wherever you are:
So, you talk about longevity, technically a dunk and a layup are worth the same amount of points, but we know you love dunking and the energy that it can bring, I mean, just curious as to if you can use that as an example of how you’re thinking about longevity.
Holy smokes. What a mind. I just cringed so hard that I am now wearing my own sternum as a neckerchief. The substance of this thing, which I will call a question for simplicity’s sake from here on in, is, Now that you are getting serious about being a real NBA player, isn’t it time to quit with all of this “slam-dunking” nonsense and play more like Kelly Olynyk? I like to imagine what would have happened if Zion had responded to this with something along the lines of “Well, yes, in fact, I have foresworn all dunks from now on, in favor of equally pointful but ever so much more reasonable two-handed layups.” Specifically I like to imagine Pelicans general manager Trajan Langdon and executive vice president David Griffin, seated to Zion’s right on the dais, turning green and haunted as he said it. That’s not what anybody wants! The Pelicans are not selling tickets or Williamson jerseys off of frickin’ finger rolls! They are not landing coveted national-television broadcast slots off of the promise that a newly sobered Zion Williamson will spend the rest of his career imitating Christian Laettner!
Would that trade-off even be safer? I think the assumption here is that because layups are more conservative, less stylish, less cool, they must also be better for one’s health. This is vegetable reasoning. It is deeply and profoundly white. But does it hold up? Personally I cannot think of very many notable examples of players injuring themselves while throwing down mega-dunks. Intuitively, I might even guess that dunking is safer than laying the ball in, as concerns the kind of knee and lower-leg injuries that have funked up Williamson’s early career, insofar as both involve jumping, but only dunking involves the possibility of briefly grabbing the rim to ensure a safe landing. More importantly, the waistband of my pants mysteriously migrated two feet up my torso as I typed this paragraph, and I am wearing Coke-bottle glasses all of a sudden.
Personally I really appreciate the nervous shakiness in the interlocutor’s voice, as if he appreciates that he is advancing the dweebiest argument possible within the English language—for fuck’s sake, imagine saying aloud “technically a dunk and a layup are worth the same amount of points,” I think my mouth would fall off—and is mustering his resolve to see it through to its grim and embarrassing end. Give some credit to this absolute lord of dorks! By gutting through this pocket-protector-ass contribution to a highly visible NBA press conference, he did manage to provoke a lively, fun, animated response out of Williamson—
I’m a competitor, so when I’m on the court, I’m not thinking about, ‘Let me lay this ball in, hopefully it’ll make me last, my career will last longer.” No. I’m thinking about putting that person through the rim. So as far as me dunking, that’s gonna always happen. That’s gonna stay happening. There’s no—no matter what they’re [gesturing at Pelicans honchos sitting beside him] talking about, I’m always dunking. C’mon, man.
—even if it amounted to That’s the nerdiest shit I’ve ever heard in my life and included both Zion and Pelicans coach Willie Green laughing at the questioner, and also heaping doses of this face:
Forfeiting one’s dignity in order to provoke this sort of reaction from a player is the highest tradition of journalistic integrity. Which I am only just now absolutely horrified to realize is also kind of like drawing a charge. Oh God.
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