I don’t remember when I first heard of Victor Wembanyama, but it was immediately hard to believe that he was real. A French teen who is 7-foot-4, can handle the ball on the perimeter, and shoot it from all over the floor? That’s not a basketball player, man. That’s a cryptid. Eventually there were highlight clips from anonymous French gyms to inspect, which seemed to prove that, yes, there really is a guy out there who is taller than Joel Embiid but plays like a guard. Still, could you really trust that? Anyone can look good in a 30-second clip. The big question remained: Is this guy actually a player or just a curiosity?
As of this morning, that question seems to have been answered. On Tuesday, Wembanyama’s team travelled to Nevada to play an exhibition game against the G-League Ignite. It was a game that came with some real stakes, too, as it put Wembanyama in a head-to-head matchup against the Ignite’s Scoot Henderson, the other guy that NBA teams are eagerly getting ready to tank their seasons for. So there he was: Victor Wembanyama, in high definition, in a full 48-minute game, playing against a worthy rival. If I had use one word to describe the viewing experience that all of that added up to, I would probably go with “hallucinogenic.”
Wembanyama scored 37 points, blocked five shots, and hit seven of the 11 three-pointers he attempted. Everything that I had seen Wembanyama do in clipped highlights was suddenly happening, over and over again, in the flow of a real, competitive game. I got swept up in it. It is an objectively absurd thing for a person to raise their hands to the sky and yell, “Bang!” in response to any shot that is made at any point during an exhibition game between a G-League team and some French guys, and yet that is exactly what I found myself doing as Wembanyama took over the fourth quarter and almost brought his team back from a double-digit deficit.
The experience made me realize that Wembanyama is unlike any NBA prospect I’ve encountered before, in that I am currently less concerned about what his eventual NBA career will look like than I am with who he is right now. He’s a wonder, to such a degree that it doesn’t matter where he’s playing or who he’s playing against, I just want to see him play. Which is why ESPN or some other sports network needs to work out a broadcast deal with the French pro league and put every single one of Wembanyama’s games on TV this season. I’ve gotten a glimpse of this giant impossibility, and now I need to see more. We all do!