NEW ORLEANS - Ask anyone that's ever been here and they'll tell you: There's no place like New Orleans. Having lived in the city for 10 years growing up, that's something I can confirm.
Ask anyone that's ever seen him play and they'll tell you: The NBA has never seen anyone like Zion Williamson. Not that I'd need to, but having watched him play, I can confirm that as well.
It's the perfect match, right?
While they say New Orleans is a football city - and it is - a generational talent of Williamson's calibre is the main ingredient that could bring about a culture shift of some sorts. It's a culture shift that began the moment the Pelicans won the lottery on May 14.
The phone in the season-ticket office rang off the hook.
#PELICANS TICKET OFFICE IS WILDIN!!' 🔥🔥🔥 #BirdStrikes pic.twitter.com/meihqCrWdd- New Orleans Pelicans (@PelicansNBA) May 15, 2019
A more-than-palpable buzz existed surrounding the franchise and when the day finally arrived, Zion-mania had completely consumed the city of New Orleans.
To be clear, the Saints will always reign No. 1 in the Crescent City. As I maneuvered around town in the hours ahead of the draft, I couldn't help but notice car windows adorned with the team's iconic fleur-de-lis, and plenty of Lousiana license plates that read "Super Bowl XLIV - World Champions."
But on June 20, 2019, I also saw locals in all parts of the city decked out in Pelicans gear.
Popeyes Chicken, a Lousiana cornerstone, unveiled its limited draft-day "Wingspan Box", a chicken mega-deal in a box 82 inches long, a measurment mirroring Williamson's wingspan.
Something big is coming to New Orleans. Also, we made a really big box of boneless wings. Introducing the Wingspan Box.- Popeyes Chicken (@PopeyesChicken) June 20, 2019
Available today only in New Orleans at the Canal Street location. But just like once-in-a-generation talents, supplies are extremely limited. #NBADraft pic.twitter.com/6lmwu5Ltmm
Streets were (unofficially) renamed.
The team's official draft party resulted in a massive crowd in the city's Fulton Alley.
And it all culminated with the moment.
🌟 @Zionwilliamson gets selected 1st overall by the @PelicansNBA! #NBADraft 2019 presented by State Farm pic.twitter.com/BQdYOIY8IN- NBA (@NBA) June 21, 2019
Zion's message to his new hometown was simple: "Let's dance."
No caption necessary. This emotion speaks for itself.#PelicansDraft pic.twitter.com/2JLO3Uans3- New Orleans Pelicans (@PelicansNBA) June 21, 2019
For one night, at least, New Orleans was a basketball city. Things will revert to how they once were, and that's okay. The scene in New Orleans on draft night was awfully reminiscent of Canada's Jurassic Parks, basketball-fan havens erected within hockey towns, and cities located in what's universally known in a hockey country.
A hockey country that is now home of the NBA Champions. Toronto, a hockey city, saw over 2 million people pour in for the championship parade commemorating its basketball team that had reached the top of the world.
Names like Carter, DeRozan and Lowry set it up, and the generational talent of Kawhi Leonard made it happen.
Now, imagine the once-in-a-lifetime prospect that is Zion Williamson having a similar impact on a city that has, and always will be known for its love of the pigskin.
What I saw in New Orleans on June 20, 2019, is only the beginning.
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