Victor Wembanyama not just winning over NBA GMs, fans in France falling for him

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PARIS — Victor Wembanyama scored his team’s first points after just 54 seconds, then pumped his arms when he assisted on the last score of Friday night’s game with a pass that traveled nearly the length of the court.

“Wembamania” is sweeping France and everyone is trying to get a look at the 18-year-old prodigy widely expected to become an NBA star.

Even 85-year-old former Prime Minister Lionel Jospin, who called the club’s president to ask for a ticket. The Socialist Party politician watched as Wembanyama scored 17 points on 7-of-10 shooting for Paris-based Metropolitans 92 in a 113-88 win against Blois. He went 2 for 3 from 3-point range and had seven rebounds and five blocks.

Grinning after a slick alley-oop and dunk late in the game, the 7-foot-3 Wembanyama then drew the roar of the night when he made a deep 3. Those few minutes of effortless-looking yet ruthless play were worth the entrance fee for the crowd of roughly 4,000.

He even did a little improvised coaching on court, tapping his head as if to say “think” to a teammate. Before the game started, he twice tapped the undersoles his of giant shoes.

Wembanyama drew a huge cheer when he sprinted like an Olympian – his angular running style making his arms look like pistons – to get back and block a shot near the end of the first quarter.

NBA great LeBron James described Wembanyama’s athleticism by saying “no one has ever seen anyone as tall as he is but as fluid.”

Wembanyama did let frustration get to him at times on Friday, dropping his head when he missed one block. He looked annoyed with the officials – raising his hands as if to say, “Oh, come on!” – when a Blois player appeared to trip him.

He had only five points in the first half, without trying a 3, but made five blocks. After hitting a 3-pointer 40 seconds into the third quarter, he then launched himself into the air to catch a pass and throw the ball off-balance back to captain Lahaou Konate, clenching his fist when Konate’s shot went in.

He jumped up from his seat and slapped a towel in appreciation when another teammate made a deep 3-pointer in the third period, before he turned entertainer again.

The crowd was small compared to what awaits Wembanyama in the NBA. When his name was read as part of the starting five, huge cheers broke out around the compact arena.

He is considered the likely top pick in the 2023 NBA draft and is a near-certainty to be the first top-five draft pick from France.

He’ll be 19 1/2 years old – almost exactly the same age soccer star Kylian Mbappe was when he starred for France in its 2018 World Cup win. Both prodigies grew up in the suburbs of Paris, where Wembanyama could take the baton from judo great Teddy Riner as France’s new Olympic star at the 2024 Games.

The hype surrounding Wembanyama is growing and national news channel France 2 aired a report on him after his jaw-dropping performances in two exhibition games in Las Vegas.

Metropolitans president Alain Weisz, who launched four-time NBA champion Tony Parker’s international career with France, said tickets for Friday’s game were made available 10 days ago and sold out in two hours. The game at Le Mans last Saturday – Wembanyama’s first after his Las Vegas bonanza – saw that modest club sell all 6,000 tickets for the first time.

“What the lad’s doing is unheard of,” Weisz told France Info radio. “It’s not just young people here or rappers who identity with Victor. Even Lionel Jospin called me for a ticket. What happened in the United States created an interest level what was unimaginable.”

Jospin served as France’s Prime Minister from 1997 to 2002.

The club has already sold twice as many jerseys as last season in one month of competition – 85% with Wembanyama’s name. An average of six scouts come to each game and one from the Sacramento Kings even spent two days watching him train before attending the Le Mans game.

“Victor’s determination is extraordinary,” Weisz said. “He reminds me a lot of Tony Parker.”

Wembanyama looks like the ultimate perfectionist.

One hour before Friday’s game, he muttered in annoyance at himself for missing a couple of close-range shots during warmups.

Wemby, as he is already affectionately called, was lethal in Las Vegas. He finished two exhibition games with 73 points, nine 3-pointers, 15 rebounds and nine blocked shots and an army of fans dreaming of what he might do in the NBA.

He’s coached at Metropolitans 92 by Vincent Collet – France’s longtime national team coach who lead the team to a silver medal at the Tokyo Olympics.

Celtics lock-up Al Horford with two-year, $20 million extension

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Brad Stevens has locked up the core of this Celtics team — the one that reached the Finals last season and has the best record in the NBA to start this one — through the summer of 2025.

They did that with a two-year, $20 million extension (that kicks in next season). The story was broken by Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN and later confirmed by the Celtics.

Horford, 36, is making $26.5 million this season, the final year of a four-year, $109 million deal he signed in Philadelphia. While he never fit well as a stretch four next to Joel Embiid, he has worked well as a role player in Boston’s front line. The Celtics have locked him up at a deal closer to the league average and about his value now, at an average of $10 million a season (both years are fully guaranteed). It’s a fair deal for both sides, and a low enough number that if Father Time starts to win the race it doesn’t hurt Boston much.

With Robert Williams still out following knee surgery, Horford has seen his minutes increase to start this season but he has handled it well, averaging  10.9 points and 6.3 rebounds a game, shooting 55.5% overall and 48.8% from 3-point range. Joe Mazzulla will likely try to get Horford some rest down the line when he can, but for now he’s leaning on the veteran.

And the team has rewarded him.

Donovan says Lonzo Ball’s recovery has ‘been really slow’

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Watching the finger-pointing and heated moments between Bulls’ defenders on Wednesday night as Devin Booker carved them up to the tune of 51 points, one thought was how much they miss Lonzo Ball‘s defense at the point of attack.

Ball had a second surgery on his knee back in September and the team said he would be out at “least a few months.” It’s coming up on a few months, so Donovan gave an update on Ball and his recovery, and the news was not good for Bulls’ fans. Via Rob Schaefer at NBC Sports Chicago:

“It’s been really slow,” Donovan said when asked about Ball’s rehab. “I’m just being honest.”

Donovan added Ball has not necessarily suffered a setback. The Bulls knew this would be an arduous process. But he also noted that Ball is “not even close” to being cleared for contact or on-court work.

Ball had his first knee surgery in January and the expectation was he would be back and 100% by the playoffs. However, Ball’s knee didn’t respond well, and he was eventually ruled out for the season. Things didn’t improve over the summer, which led to the second surgery. How much do they miss him? The Bulls were 22-13 with him last season, and he averaged 13.1 points, 5.4 rebounds, and 5.1 assists, a game. However, it was his defense that was most crucial.

There is no timeline for his return. Which is not good news for Chicago.

PBT Podcast: Timberwolves without KAT, get Luka some help

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Minnesota has stumbled out of the gate this season, and now they will be without Karl-Anthony Towns for around a month with a calf strain. Just how much trouble are the Timberwolves in?

Corey Robinson from NBC Sports and myself discuss that and then get into Giannis Antetokounmpo‘s Team USA vs. Team World matchup — does Evan Fournier get the world team in trouble? Who guards whom?

From there, it’s time for Corey’s Jukebox and some New Orleans jazz for Zion Williamson. Some Mavericks’ talk follows that — Dallas has put a big load on the shoulders of Luka Doncic, and while he’s playing like an MVP it’s a long-term concern for the Mavericks and their fans.

You can always watch the video of some of the podcast above, or listen to the entire podcast below, listen and subscribe via iTunes at ApplePodcasts.com/PBTonNBC, subscribe via the fantastic Stitcher app, check us out on Google Play, or anywhere else you get your podcasts.

We want your questions for future podcasts, and your comments, so please feel free to email us at PBTpodcast@gmail.com.

LeBron calls out reporters for asking him about Kyrie Irving but not Jerry Jones

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Within days of Kyrie Irving being suspended by the Nets in the wake of a Tweet promoting an antisemitic film (and his initial refusal to apologize for it), Irving’s former teammate LeBron James was asked about it. He had to deal with the controversy, saying, “I don’t condone any hate to any kind. To any race.”

At the end of his press conference Wednesday night after the Lakers beat the Trail Blazers, LeBron scolded the assembled press for not asking him about the 1957 photo that surfaced of Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones outside North Little Rock High School while white students protested the integration of the school when they had been quick to ask about Irving.

“When I watched Kyrie talk, and he says, `I know who I am, but I want to keep the same energy when we’re talking about my people and the things they’ve been through,’ and that Jerry Jones photo is one of those moments that our people, Black people, have been through in America. And I feel like as a Black man, as a Black athlete, someone with power and with a platform, when we do something wrong or something that people don’t agree with, it’s on every single tabloid, every single news coverage. It’s on the bottom ticker. It’s asked about every single day.

“But it seems like to me that the whole Jerry Jones situation, the photo, and I know it was years and years ago, and we all make mistakes, I get it. It seems like it’s just been buried under, like, `Oh, it happened. OK. We just move on.’ And I was just kind of disappointed that I haven’t received that question from you guys.”

Irving and LeBron were teammates in Cleveland and won a ring together, there was a direct connection (plus Irving had been linked to the Lakers in trade rumors over the summer).

However, there was a connection between LeBron and the Cowboys as well. LeBron was for many years a very public Cowboys fan (despite growing up in Browns territory). It came up as recently as October, when LeBron was on Instagram Live promoting his HBO show with Maverick Carter “The Shop” and he said he had stopped rooting for the Cowboys in the wake of Colin Kaepernick’s peaceful protests, “There’s just a lot of things that were going on when guys were kneeling. Guys were having freedom of speech and wanting to do it in a very peaceful manner…. The organization was like, ‘If you do that around here, then you will never play for this franchise again.’ I just didn’t think that was appropriate.”

When asked about the photo, Jones said he was a curious 14-year-old who was watching and didn’t understand the magnitude of the moment or situation.