The Washington Wizards have a nine percent chance of landing Zion Williamson in the 2019 NBA Draft.
There's a 99 percent chance the basketball-playing phenom, even with any anti-Duke baggage, becomes the most mesmerizing athlete playing in D.C., should the Wizards get lottery lucky.
The 6-foot-6, 280-pound dunking force of nature dominated non-NBA basketball stateside in a way rarely seen. It's bonkers comparing Williamson to LeBron James considering everything achieved by the four-time league MVP and three-time champion.
As seismic-shifting talents and personalities entering the league, it's a spot on evaluation for the NBA's newest first-name-only-required star.
Nobody else in this town comes close.
The Wizards backcourt of Bradley Beal and John Wall has a combined seven All-Star berths. However, at their peak popularity, they've never sniffed the rarified air of crossover stars like James. Williamson breathes at that attention level from the jump.
The Redskins and fan attention trump everything else happening in these parts, even with the late swoon last season. But that's the team and history -- not any single active player.
When the Capitals hosted Game 3 of the 2018 Stanley Cup Final, they brought out three-time Super Bowl-winning coach Joe Gibbs to fire up the crowd. That made sense, but also, no current player or coach moves the needle beyond the Redskins fan base.
Nationals' Max Scherzer and Ryan Zimmerman received the same honor as Gibbs last summer for Game 4. Scherzer entered this season arguably the best pitcher in Major League Baseball. Awesome, but don't throw high heat when I say neither he nor Zimmerman are part of this discussion.
(At this point, I can hear you fuming over one specific omission. Put that name on ice for another second while avoiding any fighting majors.)
Alex Ovechkin is probably the best and most accomplished D.C. sports athlete of the last 50 years. He just led the Capitals to the franchise's first Stanley Cup and the first championship for Washington's teams in the four main sports in more than 20 years. There might someday be a statue of him in the capital of the United States.
Whether we change mesmerizing to compelling or fascinating or enthralling or some other adjective remarking on one's remarkability, Zion trumps Ovechkin for the broader audience Day 1.
Some might accuse me of bias, for whatever the reason, despite my native Washingtonian status, youthful allegiances to these local teams and viewing Duke as No. 1 only in teams-I-root-against rankings. So, I sought out other opinions.
"You're going to get the crowd that says, 'How could you say [Zion is] bigger than Ovi? He's won a Stanley Cup and is one of the all-time greats,'" said Rob Carlin, the Capitals' pre and postgame host for NBC Sports Washington. "That's all true -- but I think if Zion comes here, he immediately becomes the most interesting athlete in town."
Carlin's admitted "burning hatred" for Duke began in the 1980s, intensified while he attended the University of Maryland, and remained a life staple during the subsequent years covering D.C. Sports. Then Zion Williamson showed up.
"He's the first guy that I was like, ‘I don't care [about Duke], I want to watch him play all the time,’" Carlin said. "I'm wrapped up in hockey, not watching college basketball as much as I used to -- and still, I tried to watch him as much as I could."
Carlin is hardly the only anti-Duke person living near the K Street corridor lobbying for Zion's most-captivating candidacy.
"Yes, he's that [most mesmerizing] guy. Of course, he's that guy," said Joe House, a D.C. native and resident, frustrated Wizards fan and contributor to The Ringer. "We just had a season at Duke where the American sporting public collectively held their nose, turned on Duke games and became supporters against all odds. … It's in our basketball DNA [to hate Duke], and yet, we were all supportive of Duke because of this one dude."
Before buying that Wizards' Williamson jersey, remember Washington’s long-shot hopes of winning the May 14 NBA Draft lottery. Then again, only five teams own better odds. The three teams with the best chance -- Knicks, Cavaliers, Suns -- each have just a 14 percent chance of landing that number one selection.
That's why imagining the Wizards with the No. 1 overall pick for the third time since 2001 isn't extreme.
It’s no stretch visualizing sellout crowds and a barrage of media attention if the Wizards jump into the first-pick scenario, even after a trying 32-50 season and several challenges moving forward.
"[Drafting Zion] would be the most exciting pick in Bullets/Wizards franchise history," said former ESPN staff writer Tom Friend.
Friend, who covered the Redskins’ 1987 Super Bowl championship squad for The Washington Post, obsessed over the local teams while growing up in Montgomery County. The Southern California resident still keeps a close watch.
"Opening night would feel like the equivalent of the NBA Finals in [Washington]," said Friend, who wrote and co-produced the upcoming Showtime documentary Quiet Storm: The Ron Artest Story. "Over the last [three decades] these would be the No. 1 [NBA] picks you had to watch: Shaquille O'Neal, Allen Iverson, LeBron James. Zion would be the fourth."
ESPN's 2018 rank of world fame among athletes included three NBA players -- James, Kevin Durant, Steph Curry -- among the top 10 and eight of the top 38. The first player from one of the other three leagues, six-time Super Bowl-winner Tom Brady, entered at 39.
(DC United’s Wayne Rooney ranked 26th, but that was before the England national team standout joined MLS. He doesn’t register locally on this level despite helping DCU reach the playoffs last season. )
Williamson's profile requires more before thoughts of a global takeover, but interest stateside would instantly rival those just below that James-Durant-Curry tier.
Former Redskins quarterback Robert Griffin and ex-National Bryce Harper commanded attention beyond the Beltway in their respective sports. The Williamson wave with shoe-busting promise and presidential interest might drown those eras.
"The logical comps are RG3 and Harper, but I think Zion would arrive here as a larger pop culture star than either of those guys," said Kevin Sheehan, the longtime local radio talker and host of the popular The Kevin Sheehan Show podcast.
Carlin was entrenched on the Redskins beat when the Heisman Trophy-winning passer arrived in 2012 and won that season's Offensive Rookie of the Year.
"I'd never seen anything like [Griffin’s popularity ]," Carlin exclaimed. "He owned the city. … The Caps winning the Cup, bigger, but as far as a phenomenon, Zion immediately becomes [RG3]."
We don’t know if Williamson’s career might eventually fade like Griffin’s or if he’d bolt early into his career like Harper. We just know he’d also be celebrated from the start.
"In a city with premier athletes like Bradley Beal, Alex Ovechkin, Elena Della Donne and Landon Collins … [Zion] will be the King of DC!” said Wes Hall, co-host of NBC Sports Washington's Wizards Outsiders.
Dalton Ross, executive editor-at-large for Entertainment Weekly and a D.C. sports fan living outside the DMV, isn't ready to put Williamson over Ovechkin should both work in the 202, but believes “if [Zion] can get the Wizards past the second round (of the playoffs), he'll own the town."
Owning the town is an annual option for the Redskins starting quarterback. Dwayne Haskins, Washington's 2019 first-round rookie QB, receives local street cred from his prep days at Bullis and praise for tossing 50 touchdown passes last season for Ohio State.
"I believe Dwayne Haskins will give Redskins fans reason for hope," said NBC Sports Washington's Julie Donaldson, who spent NFL Draft day with Haskins. "But Zion changes the [Wizards'] trajectory instantly."
Carlin added: "There’s one of thing of being the biggest star on the biggest team in the area. It’s another thing to be a big star. Zion can be a big star. That would trump all.”
Can be a big star? Zion is a supernova already, one with a name no Hollywood writer or PR firm could improve upon.
"He’s world-wide Zion already," House said. "Plus, the name. Zion Williamson. Has a truly divine connotation to it.”
If there's anyone still doubting Williamson's power of persuasion, let's recall the final -- and unprompted -- comments from Duke's legendary coach Mike Krzyzewski after the Blue Devils lost to Michigan State in the East Regional Final in the 2019 NCAA Tournament.
"In regards to my team, I want to thank everyone for the coverage you've given us. It's been a remarkable year for these young men," Krzyzewski said. "I'm not sure another group will have it -- a year with all of this."
If Zion Williamson can do that for Duke, imagine how he'd jolt the Washington sports scene. If the draft lottery gods smile on the Wizards, no imagining required.
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