7ft 5in Wembanyama to become first French no.1 NBA draft pick and rival Mbappe’s stardom
Ahead of arguably the most anticipated NBA draft since LeBron James entered the league in 2003, ‘Wemby-mania’ is sweeping New York.
Coming out of the relatively obscure Metropolitans 92 in Paris, Victor Wembanyama is putting his country on the map like no one has before as he prepares to become the first-ever French no.1 pick.
A lock to have his name called first by the San Antonio Spurs, the gigantic 7ft 5in 19-year-old is the absolute definition of a ‘franchise player’.
Basketball players over 7ft aren’t exactly rare, but ones with Wembanyama’s skillset are essentially non-existent, and the 19-year-old wears it so well you’d hardly even notice he’s set to be the league’s tallest player.
That is of course, until you put him next to a mere mortal, which has been the case in the days leading up to the draft at the Barclays Center, driving anticipation through the roof, with LeBron himself calling the star ‘an alien’.
Possessing the kind of movement and point-scoring unheard of for someone of his size, Wembanyama has every chance of taking Spurs from the bottom of the Eastern Conference to the top, and with time, even further.
Traditional European and global sports have attempted time and time again to break the US market, but with Wembanyma’s potential, it could instead mean that the NBA goes fully global outside of the States.
Where football has tried to break America with signings like Lionel Messi and David Beckham, the NBA has the potential to instead steal their viewers with what’s widely considered the second-most played team sport in the world.
On top of that, basketball can match soccer’s ability to boast superstars from almost every continent and corner of the globe, and in France, things are about to go stratospheric.
Explaining Wembanyama’s appeal, the man in charge of his image rights, Frank Hocquemiller, told Le Parisien exactly what is going to happen in San Antonio.
“In marketing, he has the potential to be at the level of a [Kylian] Mbappe,” he said. “Like him, he can mark the history of his sport forever.
“His disproportionate size makes him an exceptional person who cannot be compared to anyone.
“He has a profile to interest brands in different universes, in fashion, energy drinks, car manufacturers… There are things to do in storytelling.
“But we want to make Victor rare. He rejects multi-million dollar contracts because he wants to focus on basketball.”
Focus will be no problem at all for the center, who explained exactly that as he charmed the media switching between French and English with ease.
Asked if he was feeling the pressure at his 20 minute pre-draft press conference, he simply said: “No.
“I don’t let this, all this stuff, get into my head because I have such high expectations for myself that I’m immune to all this stuff. So I really don’t care.”
Walking around the skyscrapers of New York looking like one himself, he even hurdled a ticket machine like his country’s former president Jacques Chirac, creating the first iconic photo of many.
He then threw a pitch at Yankee Stadium, wearing a sporting logo that he has the potential to be as big as.
Even discussing his new nickname, he is well aware of what is going on in the background.
“It prevents people from making spelling mistakes,” Wemby said. “It’s going well, it’s fluid… marketing.”
His profile means sports writers can’t even put a ‘The Next…’ before his name as they usually would for the basketball’s newest star, and even calling him ‘The Next Mbappe of Marketing’ is folly.
That’s because of what’s come before him, with Europe’s domination of the NBA taking the sport to bigger and bigger heights.
Two of the three previous championships have been led by Europeans, with Denver’s Serbian superstar Nikola Jokic securing glory this year, two years after Milwaukee’s Greek God Giannis Antetokounmpo.
In fact it’s been six years since an American was named the league’s MVP, with the 76ers and Cameroon’s Joel Emblid taking the honour this year.
Whether it’s Dirk Nowitzki of Germany, Pau Gasol of Spain or Yao Ming of China, basketball has long been expanding its reach, something Wembanyama will literally and figuratively push even further.
And with a salary-capped league ensuring competitive balance football could only dream of, who could blame your average Parisien for switching the TV over from Mbappe to get their fix of Wemby-mania? The only question is, will other countries follow?