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Wembanyama chosen by Spurs with No.1 pick in NBA Draft

NEW YORK (AFP) – France’s Victor Wembanyama was chosen with the top pick in the NBA Draft by the San Antonio Spurs on Thursday, sparking wild celebrations as the Texas club reveled in landing the gifted teenager seen as a once-in-a-generation talent.

The 7ft 4in (2.24m) 19-year-old hugged family members as the Spurs confirmed a decision which had been a mere formality ever since San Antonio were handed the No.1 selection in the Draft last month.

“Just accomplishing something that I’ve been dreaming about my whole life,” a tearful Wembanyama told ESPN following the selection revealed by NBA commissioner Adam Silver at the Barclays Center in New York.

“Hearing that sentence from Adam Silver, I’ve dreamed of it so much – I’ve gotta cry,” Wembanyama added.

Wembanyama is widely regarded as a transformational talent, who arrives in the NBA as the most coveted number one pick since LeBron James entered the league in 2003.

In San Antonio, Spurs fans packed into the team’s 19,000-capacity AT&T Center to watch the draft ceremony on a giant screen and roared their appreciation as Wembanyama’s selection was confirmed.

Wembanyama has cut a relaxed figure since arriving in the United States earlier this week, brushing off the soaring hype that has surged in the build-up to the draft.

On Thursday, the Frenchman, wearing a dark green suit, happily signed autographs for fans in the minutes before the draft ceremony got under way.

In an interview with ESPN before his selection, Wembanyama said he was relishing the challenge of being a star both on and off the court.

“I know I can bring so much more than just basketball to a franchise,” Wembanyama said.

“My goal is always going to be to win titles, obviously. But also to the community, the franchise, to the fan base I know I can bring so much more.”

San Antonio general manager Brian Wright sees Wembanyama, who will be formally unveiled by the team in Texas on Saturday, as a “unique talent.”

“People talk about generational talent, and they only think on-court skill, but it’s bigger than that,” Wright told ESPN.

“You see him doing things that you wouldn’t even have guessed someone could do.”

With his potentially dominant blend of size and skill, Wembanyama has already drawn a legion of admirers across the NBA before even setting foot in the league.

LeBron James says Wembanyama’s skillset makes him less a “unicorn” and “more like an alien.”

“No one has ever seen someone as tall as he is and as fluid and as graceful as he is on the floor,” James said last year.

“He’s for sure a generational talent.”

If Wembanyama manages to live up to the hype, he could conceivably be one of the faces of the NBA for years to come, with the likes of stars such as James, Stephen Curry and Kevin Durant all well into the final phase of their playing careers.

NBA officials, meanwhile, say there is already evidence of a “Wembanyama effect”, citing spikes on streaming platforms and social media.

“Victor is an incredibly promising young player who seemingly has all the attributes of a true game-changer,” NBA deputy commissioner Mark Tatum said.

“We’ve already seen the enormous interest he has generated among NBA fans from streaming his games on the NBA App and featuring his highlights on NBA social media channels.”

French basketball player Victor Wembanyama (R) shakes hands with NBA commissioner Adam Silver after being picked by the San Antonio Spurs during the NBA Draft at Barclays Center in New York City, on June 22. PHOTO: AFP
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