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I Saw a Unicorn Named Wemby Play Basketball in Paris


In the world of basketball, the term "unicorn" is synonymous with players who have unique skill sets and limitless potential. Victor Wembanyama, affectionately named Wemby, is a marvel in the truest sense.


May 21, 2023


Academic Director of Graduate Programs in New York

Unicorn



At 19 years of age, Wemby is listed officially at 7 feet 2 inches and weighs approximately 230 lbs. (104 kilos)—but he moves around the basketball court like a hybrid of Kevin Durant’s shooting ability, Tracy McGrady’s athleticism with the post-play agility and movement of a prime Hakeem Olajuwon. It is a sight to behold to watch him glide across the basketball court and dribble-drive to the hoop for a dunk or spot up for a long-range jump shot. 

It is as if Wemby was born to play basketball, which is not too far from the truth, as his parents are both exceptional former athletes. Wemby’s mother, Elodie de Fautereau (former French national team player and coach with Nanterre 92), and father, Felix Wembanyama (former Congolese track and field athlete), along with Wemby’s two siblings have been active in the sporting world for years.

During a business trip to Paris, I was fortunate to score tickets to the Boulogne-Levallois Metropolitans 92 (Mets 92) v. Mincidelice JL Bourg-en-Bresse play in the top French league (LNB Pro A—French basketball) game where the consensus 2023 NBA #1 draft pick Victor Wembanyama played for Mets 92 at Accor Arena. Wemby scored 25 points, grabbed 10 rebounds, and had four assists in the victory. 

On the basketball court, his talent is undeniable. Strength, speed, grace, finesse, tenacity, a high motor, and beautiful motion describe watching Wemby accelerate on a fast break and dunk the basketball through traffic. In the half-court, where sound strategy and tactics from good coaches will nullify athletic ability, I found Wemby’s cerebral approach to the game patient and professional, as he let the flow of the game come to him so he could find the best shot for his team to win.

In essence, his presence and impact on the game were inevitable, and it reminded me of another high school-aged unicorn I’d seen play earlier in my career in Akron, Ohio…

LeBron hype comparison

I am proud to say that LeBron James was the first unicorn I saw play during my lifetime. I can remember the first time I saw him play live 20 years ago in 2003 as a high schooler for St. Vincent-St. Mary’s. As part of my master’s thesis in graduate school, I would drive 5 hours each way from Southwest Ohio north on the interstate highway (I-70) to the University of Akron to watch LeBron play as a high school phenom during his senior season when he was considered a generational basketball talent.

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I guess old habits die hard, as the opportunity to travel across the pond from NYC to Paris to witness the phenomenon of Wemby during his pre-NBA experience gave me time for reflection and admiration, and to witness him play before he was drafted to the NBA. The Wemby hype is so surreal that 4x NBA MVP Lebron James has referred to him as an alien, while Steph Curry (2x NBA MVP) equated his skill set to video game cheat codes. Even 2x NBA MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo went on the record to suggest that Wemby could go down as one of the greatest players ever.

French connection in San Antonio

2007 NBA Finals MVP Tony Parker has gone on the record hoping that Wemby gets coached by NBA Hall of Famer Gregg Popovich, who was his coach for four championships. Parker—president of the Asvel Basket club in Lyon, France, where Wemby played from 2021-2022—has served as a mentor for Wemby over the years. During their time together in Lyon, Parker advised Wemby on the importance of prioritizing health and wellness as he prepares to transition from the professional leagues in France to the NBA in the United States.

Another French national with NBA ties, Nicholas Batum, who currently plays for the Los Angeles Clippers, was one of the first to notice the talent of Wemby. Batum has been an advocate for years, spreading the gospel of Wemby in NBA circles. It is evident the success of Wemby shines a light on French basketball and the development of the game across the country. Wemby’s success is linked to the trendsetters such as Tony Parker, Nicholas Batum, and Ronny Turiaf, who paved the road for Wemby to find a path from France to the NBA.

The future for Wemby

As we prepare for the NBA draft event on June 22nd, the pressure isn’t on whether Wemby will be the first pick, but where his dynasty of an NBA career will launch. Wherever he goes, the world of French basketball will have a team to cheer for in the United States, as an NBA franchise will soon welcome a generational talent and the first unicorn since LeBron James. 

To heed Tony Parker’s advice about health and wellness, LeBron spends $1.5 million per year on his body recovery over an exceptional 20+ year career. I am hopeful that Wemby will follow a similar path and give us many years of excellence as his career takes off stateside. It was worth the trip to Paris and an experience I will never forget.





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