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Alvin Gentry says don’t compare Zion Williamson to LeBron James

New Orleans Pelicans v Atlanta Hawks

ATLANTA, GA - OCTOBER 7: Zion Williamson #1 of the New Orleans Pelicans dunks the ball against the Atlanta Hawks during a pre-season game on October 7, 2019 at State Farm Arena in Atlanta, Georgia. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2019 NBAE (Photo by Scott Cunningham/NBAE via Getty Images)

NBAE via Getty Images

It’s not fair to do what Magic Johnson did to Lonzo Ball, talking to the 19-year-old at his post-Draft press conference, and say we expect to see your name and number up there, pointing to the Lakers retired numbers. The Lakers only retire a number if that player makes the Hall of Fame (or in the case of Kobe, obviously will). To take a raw player just out of college and say “we expect you to be a Hall of Famer” is a heavy and unfair burden.

Yet fans and media do it all the time. (Scouts, to be fair, are loath to do those kinds of comparisons, even when the comps are obvious.)

Alvin Gentry would like us to stop doing it with Zion Williamson, saying he is the next LeBron James. Here’s what he said before the Pelicans’ first preseason game, via Malika Andrews of ESPN.

“There’s very few guys -- at 19 years old -- who can come in and impact this league,” Gentry said. “There’s one in California but there’s also not anybody like him...

“They shouldn’t do that [comparing],” Gentry said. “We are not doing that. We are comparing Zion to Zion. We want Zion to be the best Zion Williamson that he can be. Not anybody else. We want him to be the best basketball player he can become using his name and no comparison.”

He continued: “I know that it’s inevitable that that’s going to be the case, but we are not drinking that Kool-Aid.”

The Pelicans are handling this right. Not that it’s going to matter, the comparisons come because there are just not players with Williamsons’ athleticism who come into the league often.

This has to be said: There is no “next LeBron James.” He is a genetic freak of nature who stands out above the rest in a league where everyone has won the genetic lottery on some level. Then he took those gifts, including an eidetic basketball memory, and worked as hard as anyone to hone his body and skills. The result was a Mount Rushmore NBA career that includes both three titles and a massive off-court impact on players and popular culture.

There simply is not going to be another LeBron.

Zion has the potential to be special. Maybe generationally special. Maybe. But he’s a long way from that because there is a lot of work — and some luck — that has to go into all of it to get where Williamson wants to go.