As far as sports are concerned, it’s been a season of extremes around here, what with one glorious football season ending in premature heartbreak and another surpassing Louisiana’s wildest dreams.
It’s not just the Saints’ and Tigers’ fortunes that have prompted massive regional mood swings. It’s also the saga of New Orleans’ long-suffering NBA franchise.
Talk about ups and downs. First Pelicans star Anthony Davis’ trade demand torpedoed last season. Then, via a lucky ball bounce, came the #1 draft pick, in a year in which the most-coveted college player, Duke’s Zion Williamson, had more buzz than any future rookie in eons. Improbably, the Pels got him, setting off a basketball frenzy the likes of which this gridiron-obsessed state has rarely seen. But then, after Williamson wowed everyone in the preseason, came word that he’d need knee surgery and miss at least part of the season.
Now, with more than half that season under the Pels’ collective belts, Williamson’s finally due to take the court, and things are definitely looking up again.
As soon as the team announced that the 19-year-old forward would likely to make his regular season debut Wednesday at home versus the San Antonio Spurs, anticipation started to build, and not just here. ESPN announced Friday that the development was significant enough to upend its schedule and air the game nationally. Assuming Williamson finally plays, it will be the biggest moment in local sports since — well, you know.
The young team he’ll finally join has shown grit through adversity, just like the city it represents. Fellow forward Brandon Ingram, one of the moving parts in the long-running Davis-to-the-Lakers deal, has emerged as a star in his own right, and others are finding their rhythm and gelling as a group. Somehow, even without their centerpiece, the Pelicans emerged from a demoralizing 13-game losing streak as one of the league’s hottest and most entertaining teams, and arrived at midseason with a mathematical chance of eking into the playoffs.
That would be lagniappe in a year like this, but it’s also kind of beside the point. It was always likely that Williamson would take some time to find his footing as an NBA superstar. This season’s early frustrations mean it will take a little longer.
Yet the timing actually works, in a way. It’s often been said that Louisiana fans don’t pay much attention to basketball until football season is over. The NFL playoffs are still going, but for locals, football concluded in perfect fashion last Monday.
So in that spirit, we say: Let the games begin. Again.