Victor Wembanyama freely acknowledged that he was often confused in his first NBA Summer League game, going as far as to say that there were times when he didn’t know what he was doing.
He’s in good company.
Wembanyama shared the stage for a conversation on Saturday at NBA Con with a pair of champions, Hall of Famers Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Isiah Thomas. And they may have given the San Antonio Spurs rookie a bit of solace by revealing that when they were breaking into the league, they had moments when they were lost as well.
“It takes a while. You have things to learn,” Abdul-Jabbar told him on the stage during the 30-minute conversation that Thomas moderated, one of the featured attractions at the inaugural NBA Con. “But he’s an intelligent young man. He’ll get it done.”
Hundreds of people crammed into a small space to hear the conversation; many more who couldn’t get in stretched their phones near the doors, desperate for even a look.
“It truly means something to me that such great people were in attendance for my game yesterday,” Wembanyama said, seated to the left of Abdul-Jabbar and Thomas. “It just means a lot and shows who the people who care truly are and who the people who are interested in the new generation are. You said it’s an honor for you to be with us, but it’s truly an honor for me to be with you two guys.”
Wembanyama had nine points on 2-for-13 shooting, eight rebounds, five blocked shots and three assists in his Summer League debut on Friday night while helping San Antonio beat the Charlotte Hornets. He airballed a couple of 3s, got dunked on once, and there were times he knew he was making a mistake.
Worry not, Thomas and Abdul-Jabbar told him. They were rookies once, too.
“As of today, I’m just a rookie,” Wembanyama said. “I don’t have one NBA game in me. I just got everything to learn. The truth was, yeah, I didn’t know what I was doing. And for the next games, I’m probably not going to know what I’m doing, too. But it’s going to come as time goes and hopefully we’ll be ready for the season.
“I’m still a kid. I’m just ready to learn.”
Abdul-Jabbar told him a story of one of his first games as a rookie, playing against the Chicago Bulls. The Bulls had a big man named Tom Boerwinkle; Abdul-Jabbar said he went home in a wheelchair that night with a sprained ankle after playing the Bulls.
Wembanyama is entering a bit more friendly league, Abdul-Jabbar said.
“You should be thankful for that,” Abdul-Jabbar told him. “They had guys in the league named Bad News. That should give you an idea of what it was about. I’m happy for you that you’re coming into a league that appreciates you and they’ll do all they can to make sure you don’t get waylaid by someone out on the court just because they want a job.”
Wembanyama has been greeted by big, appreciative crowds every step of the way in the early days of his NBA journey. Summer League has sold out its first three days in Las Vegas, and Wembanyama drew a completely packed house for his debut.
He’s appreciative, he said.
“I see a lot of Spurs jerseys. I even see a French team jersey,” he said, as Abdul-Jabbar and Thomas looked at the crowd and nodded. “Yesterday during the game, every time I got the ball I heard the people start cheering. It’s really all this love, all this attention. … I think it’s the best thing the fans can do for me as a rookie, as a new player in the NBA, just that love. I hope I can give it back over the years and I think the best way for me to give it back to the fans is get some rings.”
That’s when Thomas — a two-time NBA champion — asked the six-time NBA champion in Abdul-Jabbar to explain to Wembanyama what it’ll take to get those rings.
“The difficulty is learning how you can best contribute to a winning effort,” Abdul-Jabbar told him. “That’s what you’ve got to learn how to do with your skill set. You will find out what that is basically in preseason. You’ll find out a lot about that.”
And before the conversation wrapped, Abdul-Jabbar gave the rookie one more piece of advice.
“Be careful. Save your money,” Abdul-Jabbar told him. “And 20 years from now, you’ll say, ‘Hey, I’m glad I listened to Kareem.’”
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