Victor Vembanyama NBA Summer League debut: A must-see event with a forgettable start

LAS VEGAS — A crowd of nearly 19,000 at the Thomas & Mack Center lined the stands in anticipation of Victor Wombanyyama’s debut with the San Antonio Spurs in the NBA Summer League on Friday against the Charlotte Hornets.

When he came onto the court, they booed, finally getting a glimpse of the 19-year-old who is getting more hype than anyone since LeBron James entered the league in 2003.

Tickets went on sale earlier this week. It was only the second time in NBA Summer League history that a gameday was sold out, following Zion Williamson’s debut with New Orleans in 2019. And this was the fifth selloff ever.

Six-time NBA champion Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, as well as Jerry West (whose likeness is the NBA logo) and rapper J.J. Cole was present.

But after all the build-up, the show was counterproductive.

Vembanyama’s veins and rust appeared. The No. 1 overall selection in the draft had nine points on 2-of-13 shooting from the field, including going 1-of-6 from beyond the arc in the Spurs’ 76–68 win, a game in which he was the No. 2 overall pick. Brandon Miller (16 points, 11 rebounds) scored.

Vembanyama had eight rebounds and five blocked shots. But he finished with the fourth-highest plus-minus on the Spurs behind Julian Champagne (10), Blake Wesley (nine) and Eric Stevenson (six), both of whom went undrafted.

This was not the performance he wanted.

“To be honest, I really didn’t know what I was doing on the court tonight,” said Wembanyama, who missed Spurs’ Summer League games in Sacramento this week after being drafted last month.

Vembanayama cited his conditioning as an issue that he needed to improve before the start of the season.

“Even though it was only 40 minutes tonight, I was always tired and fatigued when I passed out,” he said. “So, I think there’s just a lot of conditioning to do.”

Still, Vembanyama’s potential shone through in his rockiness.

At times the game seemed easy for him. He won the opening tip with ridiculous ease. He showed off some fancy dribbling moves in the first quarter that left the crowd spellbound.

When Spurs coach Gregg Popovich sinks his paws into Wombanyyama, we’re going to see a much calmer player. He needs to get back in basketball shape and feel confident in a Spurs jersey.

Eventually, deep propagation will become white noise. However, on Friday, it was at a fever pitch.

A few days before his debut, a strange incident went viral britney spears tried to congratulate Vembanyama made a nod at his success at the ARIA Hotel and Casino, which changed after he touched down, was thwarted by Spurs security and went on to file a police report.

That play this week was the first indication of the microscope he is now under. And if he didn’t really get it then, Friday’s circus was certainly an eye-opener.

Hours before the start of the game, fans dressed in Vembanyama jerseys thronged the ground, coming from all over.

Dallin Bjorn, a 27-year-old Spurs fan, traveled 11-12 hours from Colorado to Las Vegas to watch Wembanayama play. He said he bought three tickets for $45 as soon as they went live online, selling one of them for almost five times that price on Thursday ($215) to raise money for the trip.

Bjorn said of the Spurs, “I think this is the continuation of the rebirth of our dynasty, which won five championships in the last four seasons before missing the playoffs.” “So I wanted to see him play for the first time. It’s a big deal.”

Michael Escobedo, 45, flew from Indiana to Las Vegas to catch a glimpse of the Spurs star. He believes that if Vembanayama stays healthy, he can become the next face of the league.

Escobedo said, “I didn’t even know if he was going to play, but I still got (the tickets).”

At 7 ft 4 in and an 8 ft wingspan, Vembanyama is considered a never-before-seen talent. He can dribble and shoot with the skill of a player one foot shorter than him. He can also post-up and rebound, taking advantage of his incredibly unique frame.

An NBA source believes the mystery surrounding Vembanyama may even extend beyond James 20 years ago. After all, many people have only heard about Vembanyama’s talent or seen clips of him online, which has made him a myth of sorts.

“We knew about LeBron,” the source told Fox Sports. “We saw LeBron play in high school. I saw LeBron play football. But there was Wembley (in France). It’s 2023 and obviously we have more access to everything because of social media. But we don’t I’ll bet that when you go to that game tonight, if you poll the crowd and ask them how many of you have actually seen him play, it’s going to be a very, very few people. “

So, in a way, Friday could be considered Vembanyama’s first real NBA test, other than a few games against the G League’s Ignite last October.

Vembanyama was clearly disappointed on Friday evening. The usually flirtatious interviewee was comparatively cut off and her body language changed.

But he is expected to play again on Sunday against Portland, giving him at least one more chance to dazzle the Las Vegas crowd before he eventually shuts down to avoid injuries. (The Trail Blazers’ third overall choice Scooter Henderson suffered a shoulder injury on Friday and it is uncertain whether he will return to the injury on Sunday.)

Back in France, Vembanyama made a name for himself. Last season, he averaged 21.6 points, 10.4 rebounds and three blocks per game for the Metropolitans 92. He was named MVP of France’s LNB Pro A league, the youngest player ever to receive the honour.

While Vembanayama is undoubtedly a remarkable talent, it remains to be seen whether he will be able to become the player to be made in the NBA.

An NBA source said, “By the All-Star break, people will have a better sense: whether he is all that or not.” “I think he might. I don’t know how long. The ‘how long’ part scares me. He has to do a lot of work on his body. He really does. Because of all the hype, people we Will follow him. So, we’ll see if he can stick to that.”

For Vembanyama, Friday was just the beginning, something he would certainly like to forget.

He was dumped by Kai Jones. He had become windy. His performance was very disappointing.

But Spurs believe it was an aberration for a generational talent who had only a few practice spells with the team before being pushed into the dazzling bright lights.

Spurs summer coach Matt Nielsen said, “I think overall they did a good job.” “Obviously, there’s a lot of focus on that. You can talk about the external things, but the physicality and that was something they obviously wanted to line up, as you want, and overall I Thought he turned out great.”

All eyes will be on him this season, which could be the ultimate blessing or curse for a teenager carrying the weight of the world on his shoulders.

On draft night, Vembanyama wept as his lifelong dream had finally come true.

And in spite of everything, he made sure to take a moment during his debut to understand what was happening.

“Special moment, wearing that jersey for the first time is really special,” he said. “It’s really an honor.”

Melissa Rohlin is an NBA writer for Fox Sports. He previously covered the league for Sports Illustrated, the Los Angeles Times, the Bay Area News Group and the San Antonio Express-News. Follow him on Twitter @melissarohleen,

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