There was a great article some years ago in the Washington Post after legendary sportswriter Shirley Povich died - he filed his last column the day before he died at age 92 and the article offered some perspective on his life.
Talk about Babe Ruth’s called shot, it said, and Povich would tell you about it. Talk about the shot heard ‘round the world and Povich would be happy to talk about it. Talk about the Ali-Liston fights and he’d talk about that too. Red Grange, the terrorist attack on the ‘72 Berlin Games, Secretariat’s amazing run in the Belmont, No Mas, Villanova’s shocking win over Georgetown, Havlicek stole the ball...the guy lived through everything and, to the benefit of his colleagues, was apparently happy to talk about any of it.
For our age, the list is probably a bit smaller, at least so far. We have memories of Mike Tyson chopping guys down in 30 seconds, Bo Jackson running over Brian Bosworth or breaking a bat over his thigh, Michael Jordan hitting that winner over Brad Ehlo or Christian Laettner’s epic shot against Kentucky. Maybe that shot that Villanova hit to beat UNC in the NCAA finals.
But we get some and we’ll get more. And some day, it’s possible that we’ll turn to young people and say, something like this: “kid, I saw Zion Williamson block a shot when he was three feet behind the guy,” or “kid, I saw Zion catch the ball and dunk it so hard it could have gone through a second time.”
We might be able to indulge in that way. But we’d also want to say something like this:
“Kid, he wasn’t just a dunker. The guy was a brilliant passer. He anticipated like a cheetah about to run down a gazelle. I’m telling you kid, the video can’t do him justice. You had to see it to believe it.”
Parts of this you can bank right now because Williamson, partly due to his powerful build and partly due to a remarkably high basketball intelligence, has a game like literally no one else.
He’s an immense physical talent of course and he pounces like nobody’s business. When Coach K said that he was really a guard it was kind of hard to swallow because the guy is 6-6 and 270. He could be a Hall of Fame football player at linebacker, receiver, halfback, quarterback, who the hell knows. Football could be his plaything.
The truth though is that while this guy may be built like a football player, he’s basketball to his core. And what’s more, he has the potential to take the game to a completely different place.
You know how everyone likes to blather on about positionless basketball? It’s very true in one sense - take a bunch of guys who have versatile skills and let them play all over the court. It’s an exciting concept and is changing the game. Just look at Golden State or Williamson’s Cam Reddish as great proof of concept.
But when you look at Reddish, Barrett, Kevin Durant, Draymond Green, Russell Westbrook, Klay Thompson, Paul George, Brandon Ingram or any of the rest of them, they all have one thing in common: they’re all long and lean.
What happens when a guy comes along who really gets the game, who’s possibly even more athletic, and who weighs 270?
Because suddenly it’s not really positionless anymore. It’s Zion taking whatever he wants and telling opponents to get over it because what can they do about it?
The only guy in the world we can think of who could challenge (and better him) on nearly every level is LeBron James. He has the total package and he’s just as powerful. However we’re not sure that even LeBron is as athletic although in fairness he is 33 now.
The point is is that these guys are pointing to a major shift in the game’s evolution.
We can’t say for sure how Zion’s career will play out obviously. Lots of stunning talents have never met potential. We can say this though: the only way to guard a guy like that is with a guy like that.
...What happens when more positionless players are built like he is? What happens when football players like Julius Peppers and Martellus Bennett decide to pass on football and find a less crippling sport? What happens to guys like Durant or Ingram when equally skilled and athletic basketball players routinely weigh 270 or more?
We’re not saying that Williamson is a sure-fire Hall of Famer. There are a million and one pit falls for anyone before getting to Springfield.
What we are saying is that he has the potential to change the game. And he’s incredibly fun to watch. We would tell any of you, if you get a chance, go. Because one day you’re going to find yourself saying, “kid...”