Virginia’s De’Andre Hunter appeared to have a clean look at a corner three. Then all 285 pounds of Zion Williamson rained down on him as if sent from a vengeful god. The Duke freshman and eventual National Player of the Year used incredible closing speed and otherworldly elevation to reject the shot into the seats. It was just the latest in what is becoming a CVS receipt of incredible athletic feats.
Williamson’s dunks, blocks, and man-sized rebounds tend to blur together in a montage of greatness. Yet there’s something is different about this one. Yes, it came in arguably the biggest game of the season to this point. But this was such a display of raw physicality that it pierced through an ever-hardening exoskeleton.
Long ago, sports became an arms race. And the weapons are the athletes. They’ve become larger, stronger, quicker, and more versatile. A new crop is always waiting around the corner to impress with their shiny new capabilities.
Our capacity to be awed has, at the very least, gone down linearly as time passes. An argument can be made that the capacity has decreased exponentially. We’ve become inured to 340-pound men who can run 4.9 40-yard dashes, pitchers who can top 103 mph fastball after fastball, and 7-footers who can drain the three and dribble like a point guard.
This, of course, is not a bad thing. And it makes Williamson even more spellbinding.
Consider the freakish talent and never-before-seen skill sets that have graced basketball. Let’s start with Shaquille O’Neal, who was mountainous and a precursor to the centers of the early-2000s. Consider LeBron James, the person Williamson is most compared with — and perhaps the last hoop star to achieve this type of early hype. It’s not hyperbole to suggest that Zion is a hybrid of the two, something a mad scientist cooked up in the lab to wreak havoc on basketball.
Consider Kevin Durant, Anthony Davis, Kristaps Porzingis, and Giannis Antetokounmpo — big men who showcase absurd body control and 94-foot games. Superstar after superstar has come out of the woodwork to awe us in recent years. Our senses dull a little bit with each one.
But there’s something unique about Williamson. He’s different enough from those who came before to demand extra attention. He’s met and exceeded expectations and done so with panache.
The shine, which is blinding right now, will undoubtedly fade. Familiarity breeds boredom. For now, though, part of the allure for this Duke phenom is that he’s a riddle we haven’t quite figured out. One looks at this block and wonders how in the hell he did it.
There’s something to be said about mystery and potential, and Williamson surrounded by both.