Amid NBA coronavirus shutdown, Zion Williamson's generosity shows why New Orleans is in great hands
The 19-year-old rookie was one of the first players to respond after the league suspended the season
It was once estimated that the difference between LeBron James playing for the Cavaliers, and not playing for the Cavaliers, represented a $500 million economic shift largely felt in the downtown Cleveland area. Cabs. Hotels. Restaurants and bars. All these businesses, all across the country, boom on game night, and now, as we know, NBA games are not happening.
And it's not just NBA games that are housed in these multi-purpose arenas. We're talking about concerts, conventions, seminars, and all these mass-gathering events have to be worked by ushers, vendors, security, people who have to pay their bills and have now, in many cases, lost their only means of doing so.
Indeed, the economic fallout from the NBA's work stoppage due to the coronavirus has implications far beyond the billionaire owners and millionaire players -- many of which, to their great credit,.
One of those players is Pelicans rookie Zion Williamson, who on Friday pledged to pay the wages of all Smoothie King Center arena workers for a span of 30 days while the NBA enforces this hiatus. Again, Zion isn't alone in his generosity. Cavs forward Kevin Love as news of the shutdown surfaced, giving $100K to in support of arena workers in Cleveland. Giannis Antetokounmpo the Fiserv Forum staff in Milwaukee.
Blake Griffin did the same in Detroit. Rudy Gobert, , in support of various causes -- with $200,000 going to game-day employees for the Jazz, $100,000 each to the families impacted by the virus in both Utah and Oklahoma City, and €100,000 to his native France.
Upon the closure of schools all over the country, Steph Curry and his wife, Ayesha, are to the Alameda Food Bank -- via their Eat.Learn.Play. Foundation -- to help the more than 18,000 kids in that area that rely on school for at least two of their meals every day. .
But Williamson was one of the first to act on this issue, and beyond that, he's 19 years old. It's not to diminish, in any way, the contributions of anyone else. But these are grown men in most cases. Many of them have families. They have professional and general life experience that should, in theory, afford them a range of perspective beyond that of a teenager.
Then again, a teenager shouldn't be 6-foot-6 and 285 pounds ripping the ball from grown men's hands. Zion is different, and clearly that sentiment extends off the court, as well. Here is the statement Williamson put out on his Instagram account:
"The people of New Orleans have been incredibly welcoming and supportive since I was Drafted by the Pels last June, and some of the most special people I have met are those who work at smoothie King Center. These are the folks who make our games possible, creating the perfect environment for our fans and everyone involved in the organization. Unfortunately, many of them are still recovering from long term challenges created by Katrina, and now face the economic impact of the postponement of games because of the virus. My mother has always set an example for me about being respectful for others and being grateful for what we have, and so today I am pledging to cover the salaries for all of those Smoothie King Center workers for the next 30 days. This is a small way for me to express my support and appreciation for these wonderful people who have been so great to me and my teammates and hopefully we can all join together to relieve some of the stress and hardship caused by this national health crisis. This is an incredibly resilient city full of some of the most resilient people, but sometimes providing a little extra assistance can make things a little easier for the community."
I don't know what you were doing when you were 19 years old, but I can tell you I wasn't thinking or speaking like this. Zion is right. Every issue that hits New Orleans hits a little harder for the hole Hurricane Katrina left that community to dig out of, which remains an ongoing process some 15 years later. There are world views and there are the views right outside your front door.
That Zion already understands this, that he is able to see the world and his community through eyes other than his own, forecasts an incredible future as a teammate and leader. Think about all the levers in place to pull these high-profile athletes deeper and deeper into their own world. At 19 years old with a $9.7 million NBA contact and a $75 million Nike contract and all the ego that comes with flashbulb-popping fame, how easy would it be to get just a little lost in yourself and lose sight of the big picture?
When Zion was coming out of college, I talked with multiple scouts about him. Some were actually skeptical about his basketball skills. They were concerned about his shooting. They wondered if he could create in the half-court, if he'd be able to adjust when his athleticism wasn't so drastically superior to his competition. But one thing absolutely nobody questioned was his character.
"I've never heard one bad thing about him as a teammate," one league scout recently told CBS Sports. "Every indication has always been that he's just a good, solid, down-to-earth guy, and obviously we were kind of just starting to see what a special player he is. I think New Orleans is in pretty good hands with him as the future of that franchise, no doubt about that."
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