Zion Williamson is unique — there is not another athlete like him in the NBA. It’s not just his strength and explosiveness, it’s his build and how his body reacts. There are stories about how the Pelicans had to cut back and retool his weightlifting workouts because he put on muscle (and with that weight) too quickly and easily.
Zion has heard ridicule for his weight — which has gotten above 300 pounds at times — going back to the AAU circuit. That talk didn’t come out of nowhere, league sources have told NBC Sports of his questionable eating habits and inconsistent focus on fitness. The Pelicans put a weight and body fat percentage clause in his new max contract extension, although that’s not as punitive as some fans think (it only matters if New Orleans waives Zion during the contract, and if it gets to that point there are bigger issues).
However, Zion is bothered by the idea that people think his weight is a sign he doesn’t love the game or want to be great, reports William Guillory at The Athletic.
Williamson understands how much his weight has been a topic of discussion. While the Pels star has always tried to say the right thing whenever asked about his weight, people around Williamson maintain the constant ridicule he’s dealt with annoys him just as much as you’d expect.
But it’s not so much about people making fat jokes. Williamson has dealt with those kinds of jeers from opposing crowds most of his playing career. From what I’ve heard, it truly bothers him because people use his apparent weight gains in the past as proof that Williamson doesn’t like to work or doesn’t care about doing what’s necessary to be great. Williamson has always maintained that he has a deep love for the game, and he’s determined to fulfill his vast potential on the court.
Williamson has reached the “actions not words” point in his career. Through three years in the NBA, he has played in just 85 games — and looked legendary in those games, but he can’t help his team win from the bench. He can talk about his love for New Orleans, his passion for the game, and his desire to be great, but he has to get on the court, stay on it, and prove all of it. He reportedly has a personal trainer and a personal chef he is working with, both good signs, but results matter now, not intentions.
If Zion is annoyed by the talk about his weight, he has to get on the court and give everyone something else to talk about.
The Pelicans have made a Joel Embiid-style bet on Zion. The 76ers maxed out Embiid after he played just 31 games through three seasons due to foot issues, betting that the big man would largely stay healthy and transform their franchise. That bet has paid off big time for Philly. New Orleans is hoping for the same kind of return.
The Pelicans are poised to do damage. Brandon Ingram is an All-Star and scoring machine, CJ McCollum can not only get buckets but is the kind of locker room leader the team has needed, Willie Green can flat-out coach, and there are quality role players up and down the roster such as Herb Jones, Jonas Valenciunas, Devonte' Graham and Trey Murphy III. But a healthy Zion is the player who can put that roster over the top and make them a dangerous team in a deep West.
It’s about his actions now, not his talk about weight.