NBA Execs Talk Zion Williamson's Impact on NBA Ahead of Return from Knee Injury

Tyler Conway@jtylerconwayFeatured ColumnistJanuary 15, 2020

New Orleans Pelicans' Zion Williamson practices before the team's NBA basketball game against the Boston Celtics on Saturday, Jan. 11, 2020, in Boston. (AP Photo/Winslow Townson)
Winslow Townson/Associated Press

Zion Williamson is gearing up to make his NBA debut next week. With Williamson's return, NBA executives speculate there will be some boost in the league's struggling ratings. 

"I think so. The league does need him," Pelicans coach Alvin Gentry told Yahoo Sports' Vincent Goodwill. "Because he's a great personality, a great feel for the game. And he's a different kind of player. Kind of like Luka [Doncic], basically. They bring an element to the game you don't see in other guys."

NBA ratings are down around 15 percent overall from last season, and even marquee events like Christmas Day are down year-to-year. The NBA has become concerned enough with the lack of urgency in the regular season to explore the possibility of drastically changing its structure, a plan highlighted by the introduction of a midseason tournament.

One executive said Williamson's absence played a large part in the dip in ratings because the NBA banked heavily on the top pick's star power.

"The Pelicans games were put on almost exclusively because of him," the official said. "So his absence hurt us big time because they were on [national TV] so much early, and it hurt the spotlight on those games."

Another called Williamson a "max entertainer," a near-perfect moniker for perhaps the most famous rookie since LeBron James. Zion went from mixtape legend to Duke superstar during his lone season in Durham, winning every national player of the year honor while throwing down a series of jaw-dropping feats of athleticism.

"As big as he is on the basketball side, with the season tickets they've sold, their marketing, their grassroots marketing, he's bigger on the business side," an executive told Goodwill. "He changes the perception of the franchise. Between drafting him and hiring David Griffin, they've changed their perception. They're a national franchise now, businesses will be attracted to them."

Now that we've gotten a date for Williamson's long-awaited debut, we'll get to see whether he's worth all the hype. Given he's proven himself at every level of basketball, the overwhelming odds are he will.


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