Zion: I have to prove that I am a winner

NEW ORLEANS — What a difference a year makes.

On July 6, on his 21st birthday, Zion Williamson He found out that he had suffered a fracture in his right foot, an injury that ended up costing him the 2021-22 season. This year on July 6, his 22nd birthday, the New Orleans Pelicans forward put ink to paper and signed his five-year rookie maximum designated extension that could be worth as much as $231 million.

When asked where this birthday ranks, Williamson smiled and patted Pelicans executive vice president of basketball operations David Griffin on the shoulder. “Number one,” he said.

Williamson signed the extension in front of about 80 children participating in her six-week summer camp at a local YMCA. Williamson sat at a table with his parents Lee and Sharonda Anderson sitting next to him and his little brother Noah, who attends camp, standing to his right. Most of the camp kids surrounded the table as Williamson signed the deal. As he put the cap back on the pen, Williamson looked up and said, “I’m locked in, baby.”

Williamson’s deal is worth $193 million over five years and could rise to $231 million if he meets the escalator clauses in the deal by making an All-NBA team next season. Griffin said during the news conference that he followed through on the signing that Williamson’s deal does not include a player option at the end. When Brandon Ingram signed his five-year deal with New Orleans after the 2019-20 season, he also signed a five-year deal with no option.

“Zion wanted to make the same level of commitment to this organization,” Griffin said. “He wasn’t looking for a way out. He was looking for a way to stay. His family was looking for a way to get more involved in the community and you see this here today. This is a human thing.” When Williamson addressed the media, he talked about how last season had taken its toll on him not being able to get out on the court.

“I want to thank my family. I want to thank the YMCA. I want to thank the city of New Orleans, especially Mrs. Benson. Thank you all for believing in me,” Williamson said. “Just giving a kid like me a chance to show off my skills and hopefully help bring the team multiple championships. Thank you all for sticking with me last year.”

“On my birthday last year, I found out I broke my foot. I was out all year. It was a tough year. For the Pelicans to come give me this birthday present, I’m not going to let them down. I’m not going to let me down. family. I’m not going to let the city down. And most importantly, I’m not going to let myself down.”

Williamson said the past few months have been a “roller coaster of emotions” for both him and his family. While discussing Williamson’s desire to be in New Orleans for the long term, he said it was his family that began to bear the brunt.

“At the beginning of the season, I told the world, ‘If you ever want to know if I want to be here.’ Instead of asking me, the world just ran with narratives,” Williamson said. “So when my family came out in public about why we don’t like New Orleans, why we don’t want to be here when that’s not the case at all. I couldn’t play because my foot was broken. So that sucked. Every time I I’d check my phone, it was always negative. Even when you’re trying to make something positive out of the situation, it was really hard.”

Williamson was officially cleared to return to full basketball activities on May 26. Now the focus is on preparing for the 2022-23 season, a season in which Williamson wants to prove more than just that he’s healthy again.

“I want to show that I am a winner,” Williamson said. “It’s as simple as that. I want to win with Coach. As well as my teammates. The ultimate goal is to win the championship. I feel like that’s what we all fight for. Like Griff said, we’re hungry.” You all saw last year what the team did and I’m excited to add to that.”

Williamson credited Pelicans shooting guard, CJ McCollum, along with the Pelicans staff, for helping him work on things to improve his longevity. He said that he felt he was in a “great situation” overall.

When Williamson returns to the court, the team will look very different from the one it last played on May 4, 2021. McCollum is just one of the new additions along with center Jonas Valanciunasthe eaves Larry Nance Jr.., guard Devonte Graham, as well as 2021-22 rookies Herb Jones, Trey Murphy III and José Alvarado and the 2022 draft pick Dyson Daniels.

It was the core of that group that carried New Orleans through last season’s play-in tournament and into the first round of the playoffs as the No. 8 seed losing to the Phoenix Suns in six games in the first round. New Orleans accomplished that under the guidance of first-year coach Willie Green, who was excited at the prospect of finally being able to coach Williamson on the floor next season.

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Zion: I have to prove that I am a winner