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Mention the name Zion to any basketball fan today, and they immediately understand you’re talking about New Orleans Pelicans rookie Zion Williamson. He’s so popular he’s recognized by his first name only like LeBron or Magic. 

Three short years ago, Williamson was a relatively unknown 16-year-old high school player in South Carolina who began to build a reputation in the basketball community when his thunderous acrobatic dunks started to appear online. Those videos caught the attention of superstar artist Drake, who also happens to be a big basketball fan, and shortly thereafter, Zion the basketball star was officially born.

Drake wears unknown jersey and changes Williamson’s life forever

It’s well-known the Canadian entertainer Drake is a big fan of the Toronto Raptors. His connection with the Raptors goes back to 2013 when he was named team ambassador. 

Since that time, the Raptors have donned uniforms featuring his gold and black OVO brand in his honor, they’ve both teamed up to pledge $1 million to fix local basketball courts, and most notably, Drake can be found sitting courtside trash-talking opposing players like Steph Curry in last year’s NBA Finals.

Despite that loyalty to his hometown team, Drake’s been called a bandwagon fan, and had his allegiance questioned as he’s been seen in the past supporting other teams when they are successful like the Cleveland Cavaliers. He addressed those charges saying he didn’t necessarily support the team, but his friend LeBron James who played for them at the time. 

Clearly, Drake is a huge basketball fan and appreciates top-level talent. So when Drake posted a picture to his Instagram account three years ago wearing a Spartanburg No. 12 jersey, most people wondered what it represented. Meanwhile, in South Carolina, a 16-year-old high school basketball player’s life was about to change forever.   

Williamson described the moment Zion was born

In an interview with TNT’s Ernie Johnson, Zion Williamson said the morning after Drake’s Instagram post, his phone exploded with notifications. Initially, he thought something might be wrong. With all his messages telling him to go check out Instagram, he did, and was stunned by what he saw.

“It was crazy. When Drake posted that pic wearing my jersey, that was before most of the world knew me. I didn’t know why he wore my jersey, but I just thanked him for the love and support,” Williamson humbly said.

The reaction at school that morning was equally surprising as many of his classmates approached him to talk about Drake wearing his jersey. Williamson said from that moment on, everything changed.

“I think that was kind of the start to everything because after that I went from No. 12 at Spartanburg Day School to Zion. Everybody knew me. It all happened so fast. From the start of my junior year I was No. 12 to the end of my junior year, I was Zion.”

Williamson putting up big numbers his rookie season

After a season at Duke where he won all the player of the year awards, the New Orleans Pelicans selected Williamson with the No. 1 overall pick in the 2019 NBA draft

Unfortunately, Williamson suffered a pre-season knee injury and had to undergo arthroscopic knee surgery. He missed the first couple of months of the season including the season opener on the road in Toronto. He made an impressive debut on January 22, 2019 against the San Antonio Spurs where he scored 22 points and pulled down seven rebounds.

In the 18 games since, Williamson has averaged 23.6 points and 6.8 rebounds per contest. His impressive numbers in limited action have thrust his name into the middle of the Rookie of the Year conversation along with Memphis’ point guard Ja Morant.

While the future NBA schedule is uncertain, you can be sure when the Pelicans visit the Raptors next time Zion will have a special greeting for the Raptors’ biggest fan and one of his earliest fans who let the world know about No. 12 in Spartanburg Day School.