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The Spurs take Wembanyama with pick 1 in the NBA draft. Here's what you need to know

Victor Wembanyama looms over the 2023 NBA draft as the most heralded prospect since LeBron James in 2003.
Timothy A. Clary
/
AFP via Getty Images
Victor Wembanyama looms over the 2023 NBA draft as the most heralded prospect since LeBron James in 2003.

Updated June 22, 2023 at 8:16 PM ET

The answer to the San Antonio Spurs' prayers stands over 7 feet tall and can shoot three-pointers on one leg.

The Spurs surprised no one when the team selected Victor Wembanyama, a 19-year-old from France, with the first pick in the 2023 NBA draft Thursday night.

Here's everything you need to know.

Who is he?

  • If Wembanyama, a.k.a. Wemby, were a unicorn, he would probably also have wings. The hype around him is that huge, and the expectations and excitement are that great as he comes to the NBA. And like a flying unicorn, he combines rare and unusual abilities.
  • "He is a center who plays like a point guard," Will Leitch, a contributing editor for New York Magazine, told NPR last month. "He is a mix of sort of Magic Johnson, Steph Curry and Wilt Chamberlain and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar with all that kind of comes with that."
  • His parents are also athletes, and they've helped him prepare for life in the pros. That includes lots of core workouts – and famously, he puts resistance bands on his big toes and moves over the ground on his fingers and toes like an enormous gecko.
  • What's the big deal? More like huge deal.

  • Wembanyama stands around 7-foot-3, according to his French pro team, and he's often cited as being an inch or so taller. It's possible that, at 19, he has just kept growing.
  • He is seen as the best NBA prospect in 20 years, dating to the Cleveland Cavaliers selecting LeBron James.
  • Wembanyama's wingspan is listed at 8 feet, and he swats shots and yanks rebounds from above other players' heads. He can shoot from nearly anywhere on the court. He's also an adept ball handler and passer.
  • But does he weigh enough? He is listed at 230 pounds — and he's trying to bulk up to cope with the NBA's physical play: "I gotta eat whenever I can," he told Good Morning America.
  • What are people saying? That the hype is real, basically.

  • "You see him doing things that you wouldn't have even guessed someone could do," San Antonio Spurs' GM Brian Wright said of Wembanyama, praising his approach to the game. "I think when you use the word generational talent, it extends beyond just your ability to put the ball in the basket."
  • Wembanyama is playing it cool, saying on Wednesday: "I don't let this, all this stuff, get into my head because I got such high expectations for myself that I'm immune to all this stuff. So I really don't care."
  • He said that in the buzzy media hive of New York, where, just to kick it up a notch, Wembanyama threw out the first pitch at a Yankees game. Luckily, his not-great throw won't influence his draft ranking – but people gawked at how the baseball looked like a tangerine in the French giant's hand.
  • So, what now?

  • San Antonio might want to take a breath on the championship hopes. Remember that LeBron James won his first NBA championship in his ninth season. Michael Jordan won his first ring in his seventh season.
  • "The Spurs ain't close to winning no championship, young fella," analyst Charles Barkley said, according to Texas Public Radio. "Y'all probably ain't gonna make the playoffs next year."
  • The team will have to assemble a roster around Wembanyama, and as Texas Public Radio notes, the Spurs "have considerable cap space" to sign new players.
  • Potential moves could see the team acquiring help at point guard to spread the offensive load, and/or adding another big man with enough bulk to help bear defensive responsibilities.
  • When the 2023-24 NBA season tips off in late October, all eyes will be on Wembanyama, watching for signs of the greatness for which he seems destined.
  • Learn more:

  • The Denver Nuggets have won the NBA Finals for the first time in the team's history
  • Nikola Jokic is an NBA champion, and fans are obsessed with the way he celebrates
  • A girls basketball team had to play boys, then weren't allowed trophies after winning
  • Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

    Bill Chappell
    Bill Chappell is a writer, reporter and editor, and a leader on NPR's flagship digital news team. He has frequently contributed to NPR's audio and social media platforms, including hosting dozens of live shows online.