The 2019-20 NBA season hasn’t gone as anyone in New Orleans planned. The Pelicans drafted Zion Williamson first overall, expecting him to change the course of the franchise; the rookie, however, didn’t take the court until the new year after having knee surgery. Then, once the forward got back on track, the NBA season was suspended.
Zion Williamson, however, is still finding ways to make headlines without basketball. The Audubon Aquarium of the Americas recently named a penguin chick after the rookie. What motivated that move?
Zion Williamson’s rise to stardom
After a breakout season at Duke University, everyone expected Zion Williamson to make an instant impact at the NBA level. While his arrival was a bit belated, the forward finally made a splash in 2020.
On the eve of the regular season, the Pelicans announced that their star rookie would need knee surgery. While the club expected him to return to action within eight weeks, his rehab stretched well past that timeframe. Rumors started swirling; some even suggested that Zion was too big to ever have an NBA career.
Once Williamson hit the floor, though, all those doubts vanished. Through the first 19 games of his NBA career, the rookie averaged 23.6 points, 6.8 rebounds, and 2.2 assists per outing; he instantly made the Pelicans playoff contenders and even impressed the likes Charles Barkley and Michael Jordan.
From a pelican to a penguin?
The Audubon Aquarium of the Americas recently announced that its newest African penguin chick would be going by Zion. That choice wasn’t only inspired by Williamson’s basketball talents, though.
“We chose the name Zion in honor of @pelicansnba rookie @ZionWilliamson,” the zoo’s Instagram caption read. In this time of uncertainty, Zion embraced the New Orleans community with a truly remarkable act of generosity after NBA season halted.”
That act of generosity, of course, came recently. With the NBA season suspended, countless arena workers have lost their main source of income. The Pelicans rookie, however, announced that he would ensure every Smoothie King Center employee received their regular salary for 30 days. “This is a small way for me to express my support and appreciation for these wonderful people who have been so great to me and my teammates,” Williamson wrote on Instagram, “and hopefully we can all join together to relieve some of the stress and hardship caused by this national health crisis.”
Zion Williamson’s star will only get brighter
While it may feel like we’ve been talking about Zion Williamson forever, the forward only has one NCAA season and 19 NBA games under his belt. Based on that reality, it’s safe to assume his star will only get brighter.
On the court, Williamson seems to have all the tools to succeed. While there’s always room for improvement—a consistent outside shot would make the rookie unstoppable—he’s already shown that his size and athleticism translate to the professional game. You don’t start your career by scoring 20+ points a night by accident.
Off the court, Zion has also shown a great deal of maturity. Whether he was working through his rehab or donating money to the unheralded people who help NBA games go off without a hitch, the rookie hasn’t acted like a teenager.
Zion Williamson may already have a penguin named after him but, if his career continues at its current trajectory, he’ll continue to rack up more and more impressive honors.