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What’s behind the hype after the Spurs win the No. 1 NBA Draft pick?

The Spurs are largely expected to draft 19-year-old Victor Wembanyama of France.
Photo by Thomas S, CC BY-SA 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons / Illustration by Raul Alonzo, Texas Standard
The Spurs are largely expected to draft 19-year-old Victor Wembanyama of France.

Cheers and honking horns erupted in San Antonio Tuesday night, reminiscent of when a certain NBA franchise brought home several championships to the Alamo City.

But the celebrations were for another feat by that franchise, and one that might be chalked up more to chance.

Tuesday night was when the San Antonio Spurs won the number one pick in the upcoming NBA Draft, giving the team the rights to draft 19-year-old French phenom Victor Wembanyama.

Madalyn Mendoza covers all things San Antonio for Axios and joined the Standard to discuss what’s behind the hype for this potential turn in the Spurs’ fortunes. Listen to the story above or read the transcript below.

This transcript has been edited lightly for clarity:

Texas Standard: First off, for those listeners who might not be aware of how the NBA draft lottery process works and why this is such a big deal, can you explain how the how the Spurs came about getting the top draft pick? I understand that their chances of getting it were the same percentage as a couple of other teams, including Houston, right? 

Madalyn Mendoza: Yes. So because we were one of the top – or actually I should reword that – we were the last three teams between Houston Rockets, the Pistons and the Spurs and each of the teams had a 14% chance of getting the number one pick. But that didn’t mean that any of the other 14 teams towards the bottom had that chance. So it was, as you can expect, pretty tense and nerves were shot, including my own. And so as the season came to an end, I think in April, the Rockets and the Spurs had to have a tiebreaker to see who would be, I think, the second… 

Who could lose is the hardest is what it sounds like. 

Yes. And the Rockets ended up winning, which still meant that the Spurs had the equal amount of chance. They just couldn’t pick lower than seven and the Rockets couldn’t pick lower than six. So a lot of technicalities, a lot of nerves. All of this surrounding this big night on Tuesday.

And it comes down to the little bouncing balls in the lottery. 

Yes, all those ping pong balls. Yeah.

Well, as I mentioned, the Spurs are largely expected to draft Victor Wembanyama from France. Why is there so much excitement over this one draft pick? 

Yeah. So he’s a generational talent. It seems like he is a Swiss Army knife of a basketball player. People are comparing him to LeBron James. And then you think about the impact LeBron James had on Cleveland and the Cavaliers – not even as a team, but as a city. But for the Spurs, I mean, I think we can all agree these past few years have been a little bit off as a Spurs fan.

You know, I grew up in the era of Tim Duncan, Manu Ginóbili and Tony Parker. In ’97 I was 4-years-old. So all we kind of know is winning. So having him kind of brings back that feeling of the late nineties and the 2000s. It feels a lot like childhood for a lot of fans who are now in their thirties and have this buying power and are excited to buy season tickets and are excited to buy jerseys. Obviously we don’t even know if you know… we are hoping that he is who we draft, but we don’t know the number yet. People are just that excited.

It seems like there could be a bit of a danger too, because you put all your eggs in one prospect’s basket here. We’ve seen in the past there have been very much-hyped number one picks – Zion Williamson and Ben Simmons… Is there a danger there that even if all goes as planned, things won’t go as planned once the games begin?

Yeah, I have seen some of that conversation floating around Spurs Twitter. People are trying to have realistic expectations. You know, there’s going to take maybe a few seasons for him to jive with the system and get to know, you know, Pop’s (Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich) coaching skills, but I have also seen people kind of flashing back to when the Spurs did draft David Robinson and Tim Duncan and how their first seasons were, I think, one of the best seasons for rookies throughout the NBA.

So I think it’s somewhere in the middle. People are trying to be optimistic and excited and riding the wave. But also, you know, considering that he is a teen, he’s 19-years-old, he’s coming to San Antonio, it’s his first time in the NBA… So a little of both, a little bit of mixed feelings.

Do you have a favorite fan reaction so far? Could you say something a bit more about how Spurs fans are feeling right now? 

Oh, I think that’s a tough one. But I will say the honking downtown. Hearing that noise again, that beautiful melody of San Antonio, that has to be one of the top ones. And also, I don’t know if you all or anybody listening saw the Roo Pub, their reaction, It made it all over SportsCenter, ESPN. The Roo Pub offered to pay tabs that were open before the announcement if the Spurs got the number one pick. So the cheering from that night – just the combination of getting the pick and having free drinks – the reaction was great.

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