In American sports, one of the highest compliments is to call a player a freak. It means their athletic skills are freakishly great, beyond the bounds of normal excellence.
But what do you call a player whose skills are even more astonishing, more freakishly great? That was the challenge that confronted LeBron James. James is arguably the best basketball player ever. But…he recently watched French phenom Victor Wembanyama play against some of the NBA’s top young players. And after watching Wembanyama score far more points than anyone else, James searched for a word to describe him. He finally settled on “alien,” as in “from another planet.”
What makes Wembanyama remarkable? It’s his never-before-seen mix of skills, combining the height and dominance of a center with the shooting and ball-handling skills of a guard.
Wembanyama stands 7’3″ making him one of the tallest players in the world. With his vast wingspan, he can dunk and rebound and block shots with the best of big men.
But he also has exceptional skill and mobility, and is able to handle and shoot the ball like a guard. His 3-point shot is as smooth as crème Chantilly and his height makes his jump shot unblockable.
It’s like a mad scientist has constructed the perfect basketball player: “Igor, hand me those size 22 shoes, we’re headed to the NBA!”
Big From the Start
Wembanyama was always tall. At a youth game when he was 10 years old, he was so tall that an official of Nanterre 92 mistook him for a coach. Nanterre 92, one of France’s top basketball teams, invited him to join their development program and within a few years he was playing professionally.
At 16, Wembanyama created a buzz when he scored easily in a 2-on-2 game against 7’1” Rudy Gobert, one of the top defensive players in the world. A video of the game went viral and NBA scouts started salivating.
Now 19, Wembanyama is expected to be the top pick in June’s NBA draft. He is being called a once-in-a-generation talent, the most anticipated young player since James himself 20 years ago. He’s so good that NBA commissioner, Adam Silver, felt compelled to warn teams against deliberately losing games, in order to improve their chances of receiving the number one draft pick.
What does the future hold for young Wembanyama? Growing fame and great riches, of course. He seems well equipped to handle it, having been famous since he was young. And he is described as a calm and thoughtful young man, a good student who earned his baccalauréat with honors. Wisely anticipating a future in the United States, he learned English at a young age. He now speaks it well, answering American interviewers’ questions with ease.
One thing is for sure: Wembanyama’s NBA career will be closely watched by basketball fans around the world. Especially in France.
The French Connection
On May 16, Wembanyama learned that he will be drafted by the NBA’s San Antonio Spurs. This is a stroke of luck for young Victor, as French basketball legends Tony Parker and Boris Diaw both won championships with San Antonio. Will Wembanyama be next?
Keith Van Sickle splits his time between Provence and California. He is the author of the best-selling An Insider’s Guide to Provence and the best-sellers One Sip at a Time: Learning to Live in Provence and Are We French Yet? Read more at Life in Provence.