Caption: Zion Williamson (right) laughing with Ernie Johnson (left) (screenshot)

Young NBA phenom Zion Willamson joined the social talk show #NBATogether with Ernie Johnson. The 2019 number one draft pick  discussed his upbringing, his one year stint at Duke, staying ready if the NBA resumes, and how influential his mother is on his life today and growing up. He even spoke about the iconic rapper Drake wearing his jersey when he was sixteen, and posting it on Instagram before he was “Zion.” Before the NBA was suspended abruptly, Williamson was twenty games in, and having a phenomenal short season and is loved by the fans and staff. Once the NBA shut down and all the pay stopped for the staff workers, Williamson decided to pay the Smoothie King worker’s salaries for one month. He did it for reasons more significant than himself. Williamson thinks about all the times his mother struggled financially, and the workers not being paid bothered him. “I decided to pay the Smoothie King worker’s salaries for one month. And the reason I did that is that’s what my mom taught me. There was a time where I was in a situation where something like this happened, and nobody was going to hand my mom something.” He also says, “Smoothie King workers always set up the court beautifully. Everytime I walk in the arena I always hug and dap up everybody. They felt like family to me.” It’s great to see Williamson making an impact during these times of crisis, and using his “why” as his driving force. 

Williamson came into the season with a knee injury, and critics felt he should have sat the season out to make sure he comes back 100%. Now that the season is suspended and he doesn’t have a choice but to rest his knee, this gives him a different point of view about the game being taken away. He’s embracing the fact he will come back stronger. Williamson’s mindset will set him apart from other young players. In the interview with Ernie Johnson, he stated, “I look at it from a different perspective, this gives me more time to work on my knee and body overall.” 

With that said, he’s been staying in shape, taking care of his family, and would be ready if the NBA resumed. He says, “I’ve been staying in shape, working on myself, and staying ready because we never know when that time will come. I don’t want to look around, and guys see I’m not ready. I’m staying ready for my teammates.” Williamson is bound for greatness, his mindset is well beyond his years. Holding yourself accountable for the sake of your teammates is a strong leadership skill that most players don’t develop until the third or fourth year of their career. He credits his mother and stepfather for his development as a basketball player.”  I’ll credit my mom and stepfather, and I’ll tell you why. My stepfather was my trainer and he really showed me the fundamentals of the game, and always honed them. My mom gets credit for coaching me. My mom, until this day, is the hardest coach I’ve ever had. As a kid, I never understood why she was so hard on me, but as I got older, I realized it’s what’s best for me.” His mother is an excellent representation of how parents should support their children. She molded Williamson into the strong-willed, intelligent, humble, and dominant young King he is today. 

Williamson met Memphis Grizzlies guard, and Rookie of the Year candidate Ja Morant in the ninth grade, and says he always had that killer instinct. “The person he is today, he was that same person back then. Same killer instinct and the drive to be the best,” says Williamson. He praises Morant’s success and wishes excellent things for him, but his competitive spirit wants himself to be the best. “As Ja being a brother of mine, I’m happy for Ja. He’s worked for it, and he’s earned it. I give credit when it’s due.” When asked about winning ROTY, while Morant is the leading candidate, “As a competitor, I want to win at everything. I’m not going to sit here and say I don’t want to win. If I can rally my team into the playoffs, I want to make a run for it.” He goes on to say, “It’s been an honor to be a part of his process, to see him not being on nobody’s radar, to the number two draft pick, to possibly ROTY. I got all love for Ja if he wins it, nothing but respect, but at the end of the day, I want to win.” So many talented young players in the NBA. The league is in great hands with young stars like Morant and Williamson competing to be the best.  

While Williamson attended Duke University for one year, he learned so much about the game from Coach K. During that time; he realized he had so much more to learn about basketball. The best advice Coach K gave Williamson was to be the best version of himself, and when other great players surround you, you have to find ways to affect the game still. “He always believed in my game. One thing he said is there should be no reason none of us are getting extra shots up or putting in extra work. None of us are Kobe, Lebron, or Mike. None of us are in the league yet. There was so much I didn’t know.” 

In this time isolation Williamson has been watching The Last Dance on ESPN. What he finds most interesting watching Michael Jordan’s documentary is the type of leader he was. “The one thing he said that stands out is he plays like somebody is watching for the first time and doesn’t want to disappoint. You never get a second chance for a first impression. For him to play with that mindset throughout his career says a lot about him.” 

For the young people coming up Williamson gave a word of advice, he says, “Be the best version of yourself. Don’t let nobody tell you otherwise that will take you further than anything.”