The glorious comedy of Victor Wembanyama
God Shammgod is a hoops legend from Harlem whose signature devilish crossover move bears his name. (Kobe Bryant’s father famously asked Shammgood to teach Kobe “Shammgood.”) He’s a man with a serious reputation. And yet, there he was, a few weeks ago, at a Dallas Mavericks practice — Shammgood is now the Mavs’ player development coach — wearing long pads that resembled a cross between boxing gloves and canoe paddles strapped to his arms. He would run to the three-point line, like an excited fan waving two giant foam fingers, shouting: “Wimpy! Wimpy! Wimpy!”
Wimpy is Victor Wimpanyama, a rookie player for the San Antonio Spurs. He is seven feet four inches tall, and has a wingspan of eight feet. Shamgod is six feet tall. The Mavericks only have one player, Derek Lively II, who stands over seven feet, while being only seven feet tall. So how do we prepare for the team’s opening match against Tottenham? Apparently, not by force, but by farce. After watching a viral video of the Mavericks using props, Spurs midfielder Zach Collins laughed. “I don’t blame them,” he said. “Shit.”
The height is only half of it. Wembanyama is tall enough to block shots without jumping, but my goodness, he can do that Jumping. The night after Mavericks practice, in the Spurs’ final preseason game, a photographer captured Wimpanyama blocking a shot from Andrew Wiggins, of the Golden State Warriors. Wiggins, an athletic six-foot-seven player who is a former No. 1, followed up, arms outstretched, right wrist bent. Its shape is perfect. But on the other side of him is Wimpanyama, ascending toward the sky, his hand somehow on the ball, several feet above Wiggins’ head.
Wembanyama can “catch” a basketball with only two fingers. He can do splits. The length of his limbs allows him to guard the rim while still hedging toward the three-point line to contest outside shots. His long leg space, and ballistic movements in the paint allow him to defend on the run. In attack, he is less polished, but his potential is limitless. He has the agile movements of a small, mobile guard and the post-up abilities of a big man. He can move to three players, or go around the edge and gently slot the ball into the net. His teammates seemed to realize, as if by accident, that any random high pass to him in the paint could be an alley-oop. He can dribble, feint, cross, and pull. And yes, he can dunk on anyone’s head.
The Shammgod clip is only the third or fourth funniest thing I’ve seen regarding Wimbanyama in the last few weeks. Maybe the fifth. The first came about forty seconds into the game against the Phoenix Suns, when the Suns’ seven-foot guard, Jusuf Nurkic, headed toward the basket — and then panicked, sensing Wimbanyama’s presence under the rim. Not only did he not get the shot, he didn’t even do it Try To clear it, he instead hit the ball when he threw the ball in the mysterious direction of a teammate in the corner. Spurs picked up the pass easily. Wimbanyama’s shadow was credited with the turnover. The second, most comical moment came a few nights later, in a game against the Toronto Raptors, when Otto Porter Jr., spooked by the specter of a Wimpanyama shutout, hit a volley from a three-point shot — and then, after the Raptors got the ball back, Dennis Schröder had much the same thing, hitting a Another three-point volley when he saw Wembanyama coming.
Wimbanyama blocked a mid-range pull-up from Mavericks star guard Kyrie Irving less than a minute into his first NBA game (so much of that drill against the pool noodles at Shamegod). But the Mavericks later found what might be the best way to deal with it. Nineteen-year-old phenom: They got him into foul trouble, keeping him off the field for most of the game. However, he came back near the end, scoring nine of his fifteen points in the final seven minutes of the game. In his second NBA game, he had 21 points and twelve rebounds for his first double-double. By his fifth game — a win over the Phoenix Suns, in which he scored thirty-eight points, including ten during a pivotal 12-0 fourth-quarter run — he looked like he would soon become the NBA’s best player. In Denver the next day, where the true best player in the world, Nikola Jokic, a six-foot-eleven world-class basketball player without positions, was casually crushing the opposition. Even there, a lot of talk was about Wimbanyama.
He had more than his share of turnovers and reckless shots. In his seventh NBA game, a blowout loss to the Knicks, he shot four for fourteen, and the crowd at Madison Square Garden chanted “Overrated!” In the loss to the Heat on Sunday night, he shot two of nine from behind the three-point arc, and committed seven turnovers (along with some incredible passing). It is true that Tottenham lost most of its matches, many of them with lopsided results. However, it seems to me that the joke is on us. Because part of the fun of watching Wimbanyama play, and a measure of his immense promise, is not just how ridiculous he makes other players look. It’s how ridiculous he’s willing to look too.
Wembanyama grew up in Le Chesnay, a small town outside Paris. His father competed in track and field and taught him the perfect running technique. His mother played basketball for the French national team. Later, she became a coach, and he accompanied her. “She looks more like me,” Wimbanyama said. strong hit Magazine last year. “We look really alike, and she’s kind of weird sometimes.” When he was thirteen, and about six feet six inches tall, he joined the France under-15 team. His former coach said strong hit About the moment Wimpy was stopped for three on his first play. “For a player his size, so tall, playing like a 2, I was like, is he crazy? What the hell is he doing? Then the ball went in. Big rustle. Everyone in the gym was smiling, you could tell people were thinking, Who is this guy? This monster? But in a good way. It was legendary. At the time, Victor was far from out of control, prone to mistakes, turnovers and bad plays, yet one game was enough to make him a legend.
Wembanyama is clearly insanely competitive; He wants to win, not brag. When the Spurs came back to beat the Suns, they celebrated like they had won the championship. But he plays with feeling He plays– As if he realizes it’s a game, after all. In the summer of 2021, his agent arranged for him to spend some time with Holger Geschwindner, the coach whose unconventional coaching style was adopted by German star Dirk Nowitzki. Geschwinder calls it the “Applied Nonsense Institute.” Wimbanyama described it as “really strange”. But he saw something in him: mental dedication, an interest in balance. In a recent game against the Indiana Pacers, Wimbanyama spun in traffic toward the basket and fired an impossibly ridiculous shot, but it didn’t go in. It made me laugh out loud. But his balance, aerial awareness and footwork were outstanding.
There is some debate among NBA fans about how good Spurs are at the moment, and how quickly the team should try to build around Wembanyama, to maximize his potential and compete for the title. The Spurs are trying what Gregg Popovich, the team’s longtime coach, calls “the experiment,” with twenty-year-old forward Jeremy Sochan, who has no experience running an offense — and seemingly no natural feel for doing so — playing point guard. This does not make things easy for Wembanyama. Quite the opposite.
But there are different ways to help a young player develop and set him up for success. You can surround him with great players who know how to clear defenses and put the ball in good positions. Something like that is happening in Oklahoma City, where Chet Holmgren, another lanky seven-footer who can dribble and shoot, is thriving on a team capable of challenging the best teams in the Western Conference. Tottenham are doing something else, giving Wimpanyama the license to try and the freedom to fail. “Every game is a game of mistakes,” Popovich said after the loss to the Knicks. “You learn when you win. You learn when you lose.” One of the things Wembanyama and Tottenham have to learn is when to get serious. In the meantime, we might as well just laugh and enjoy the show. ♦
(Tags for translation)Basketball