Zion Williamson’s 21st birthday was a bad birthday.
Her 22nd birthday, the high-flying star said Wednesday, was her best yet.
Last year, on July 6, Williamson said he discovered he had fractured the fifth metatarsal in his right foot. This injury has been the source of a season of frustration. Williamson suffered numerous setbacks and didn’t play at all as the Pelicans overcame a 1-12 start and made a surprise run to the playoffs.
This year, on the same date, Williamson put pen to paper on a five-year contract worth $231 million. Williamson signed him to the Dryades YMCA in Central City, where he and his family helped organize a basketball camp for local kids.
“I’ve come to a camp like this for many summers,” Williamson said. “That’s how I fell in love with basketball.”
The extension, executive vice-president David Griffin said, contains no player options, meaning Williamson will be under contract for the next six seasons.
“What Zion Williamson did today was express his commitment to this team, this city and this community, and made it clear who he is,” Griffin said. “The noise on the periphery is completely irrelevant to us, including Zion, because his actions speak much louder than any words that are spoken.”
New Orleans drafted Williamson the No. 1 pick in 2019. Any chatter he wanted to be somewhere else has been refuted. The team and Williamson said they hope the extension silences him for good.
“At the start of the season, I said to the world, ‘If you ever want to know if I want to be here, ask me,’ Williamson said. “Instead of asking me, the world just ran with stories . So when my family would go out in public, people would ask them why we don’t like New Orleans, why we don’t want to be here when we really don’t.
Williamson’s first three years in New Orleans were tumultuous. The team went through three different head coaches and a pair of lower body injuries limited Williamson to 85 games. Wednesday felt like a page turn.
The Pelicans found the right fit in head coach Willie Green, who sat next to Williamson at the desk. And for the next two years, the team will have Williamson, Brandon Ingram and CJ McCollum – the most talented trio to ever come together in New Orleans – all under contract.
“I want to prove that I’m a winner,” Williamson said. “Simple as that. I want to win with the coach. I want to win with my teammates. The ultimate goal is to win a championship. We’re hungry. You saw what the team did in the spring. I’m delighted to add to that.
To do that, Williamson will need to stay healthy. He tore the lateral meniscus in his right knee as a rookie which knocked him out for 44 games. His broken right foot cost him an entire season.
In May, Williamson was finally allowed to return to basketball without restrictions. Her stepfather, Lee Anderson, said in June that Williamson had started working with a personal chef to improve her diet.
Williamson said McCollum, who is the president of the NBA Players Association, gave him advice on how to maximize his career.
“Since we added CJ, from the time I met him, he’s been a great teammate,” Williamson said. “CJ has been in the league for a long time. He’s already put me on the game for a few things for longevity. As I said, the Pelicans are always there and offer advice and help solutions.
“I feel like I’m in a great place right now.”
Several Pelicans players described next year’s roster as “scary,” a word Green used on Wednesday.
“Now it’s going to take work to get there,” Green said. “Which bands play well together? How can we take advantage of the different mismatches? How can we put all of our guys on the floor and give them a chance to succeed? It takes work.
“But everything falls into place at some point during the season, and when it does I think we can be a scary team.”