Zion Williamson stages a United Center takeover — and it isn’t even All-Star Weekend yet
Watching the Pelicans-Bulls game Thursday from halfway up Section 119, here’s what could be heard: Nothing. Except, that is, for when Williamson — can we simply call him Zion like everybody else? — had his 19-year-old, viselike, rookie-sensation hands on the ball.
The loudest cheers when lineups were announced were for Zion Williamson.
Sorry, Zach LaVine.
The ‘‘Oohs!’’ that erupted when Williamson swatted an early shot into the courtside seats were laced with delight.
Sorry, Tomas Satoransky.
The groans from the crowd when Williamson was taken out of the game midway through the first quarter made it clear whom fans at the United Center had come to see.
Sorry, whoever the hell else was out on the court.
I watched the Pelicans-Bulls game Thursday from halfway up Section 119, and here’s what I heard: Nothing. Except, that is, for when Williamson — am I allowed simply to call him Zion like everybody else? — had his viselike, rookie-sensation hands on the ball.
Then it was something. Then it was big-time.
Otherwise, it was bupkis. In fairness to Bulls fans, they had their souls sucked out of them a long time ago.
‘‘I always try to figure out, like, why so many people care about me,’’ Williamson said. ‘‘I’m just a regular guy.’’
Sure, he is. In a Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant, LeBron James kind of way.
The NBA All-Star Game will be here next weekend. Even though Williamson, who spent the first half of the season rehabbing from knee surgery, will be merely a whale shark in the Rising Stars game pond, no one at Wintrust Arena and the UC will generate more buzz.
No one else will be 6-6, 284 pounds and all of 19 years old. No one else will have quite the same combination of mountainous strength and limitless jumping ability. No one else will have been more hyped than any college one-and-done ever.
‘‘What he did at Duke was phenomenal,’’ said Pelicans center Jahlil Okafor, who helped the Blue Devils win a national championship as a one-and-done star after leading Whitney Young to the Class 4A state title in 2014. ‘‘I didn’t think anyone could elevate the Duke basketball brand more than it was, but he did it.’’
Traveling with Williamson is like traveling with, as Okafor put it, a ‘‘rock star.’’ But that’s a bit of a cliché, isn’t it? To put a finer point on it, Okafor said fan reaction to Williamson — at the airport, getting off the bus, inside the arena — is greater than what it was to former teammates Joel Embiid, Ben Simmons and Anthony Davis combined.
More than one Pelicans player said, too, that Williamson is even more jaw-dropping as an athlete than James, Giannis Antetokounmpo or anyone else in the league.
‘‘And yet he’s 19 and so humble and handles it all so gracefully that we forget how big of a deal he is,’’ Okafor said.
OK, so he’s not perfect. For example, Williamson doesn’t make himself available to media in the locker room before games. Jordan was at his locker before games. Derrick Rose, Jimmy Butler and Dwyane Wade were, too. James is famously accommodating.
Maybe next season, Williamson will have caught his breath on the mega-fame front and that will have changed.
Meantime, you know a star of all stars when you see one. Jordan. Kobe. LeBron. Zion.
Watch him get there.
Is Zion any good at baseball? Because, if he is, there’s a pretty good chance the Cubs would be willing to trade him.
Sorry, just a little Kris Bryant humor. What’s not funny about the any-day-now possibility of president Theo Epstein pulling the trigger on a deal that jettisons one of the Cubs’ top five players of the last 50 years in his prime, right?
• The new Dodgers tandem of outfielder Mookie Betts and pitcher David Price vs. the new Cubs tandem of outfielder Steven Souza Jr. and pitcher Jeremy Jeffress.
Or don’t. Either way, the Dodgers aren’t only in a different division than the North Siders now; they’re in a completely different league.
• Meanwhile, veteran right-hander Kenta Maeda to the Twins? Is that supposed to be scaring anybody?
That sound you hear is the White Sox shrugging in unison.
• I can’t be the only one who’s practically beside himself with anticipation now that 16th-year NBA big man Dwight Howard has decided to participate in the dunk contest — for the first time since 2009 — Feb. 15 at the United Center.
Seriously, that’s like George Foreman coming back at 45 to fight for the heavyweight title, only without any of the charm or even the panini-making capability of an eponymous grill.
• Maybe the best thing about Illinois’ resurgent basketball team is its attitude. The No. 20 Illini, who host No. 9 Maryland on Friday in a clash of Big Ten co-leaders, are feeling it.
‘‘Nobody plays defense like us, and that’s a fact,’’ sophomore forward Giorgi Bezhanishvili said. ‘‘We don’t care if a team might be more talented than us. We don’t care. We play defense, and defense wins.’’
Translation: Might want to bring some shoulder pads, Terps.
• Just spitballing here, but wouldn’t it be a great idea for someone in the Chicago media to write a story about how the Bears drafted Mitch Trubisky when they could’ve had Patrick Mahomes?
Frankly, I’m surprised no one has thought of it yet.