New Orleans Pelicans Owner Gayle Benson,
Executive VP of Basketball Operations David Griffin,
Head Coach Alvin Gentry, and Zion Williamson
Introductory Press Conference
Friday, June 21, 2019
Opening Statement by Joel Meyers (Emcee):
“It’s a special day for all of us and an incredible day for all of us. So, we’re going to move appropriately because you guys have been patient and waited and I’ll give you an idea. We’re going to hear from our owner, Mrs. Gayle Benson in just a moment. Then our executive vice president, David Griffin, Alvin Gentry, our head coach, and then Zion Williamson as well. We’ll ask some questions and then we’ll open it up to the floor for all of you. First of all, congratulations. Zion welcome to the city and becoming a New Orleanian. These are good days, really good days. I don’t know if you saw the television coverage last night, but I have two left feet. I can’t dance. I have a little rhythm. But when you said let’s dance, I started to look like Gregory Hines. It worked. So we all felt the same way and we’re really excited about what’s developing now for our franchise.
I don’t know if you saw it as well last night on Fulton Street. Did you see the signs as well? We the South, I like it. I like it a lot. That’s all good. The energy, the spirit that he has now provided and brought. It started, don’t forget a few weeks ago and it was early storm season was early. It was stormed David Griffin and let’s remember when Griff came here. I always say bright creative people attract other really bright, creative people. So I know they’ve had conference calls, but I also want to welcome Trajan Langdon and Swin Cash.
So this is a really good day, a relaxed day for all of us. We’ve never had this much cap room. Thanks Griff. So for all relaxed, there’s a good reason behind it. I also believe in meant to be. Meant to be department. Griff got here, a lot of things fall into place don’t they. Trajan, Swin now Zion. So we’re going to hear from Mrs. Benson First. I could go on for a long time about how I feel about our selection and Zion joining us. But first let’s hear from our owner, Mrs. Gayle Benson.”
“Thank you Joel for the warm welcome and thank you all for being here today for what is an exciting day for our franchise in our city. Before I go any further, I would like to say thank you to all of our great fans, especially the thousands who joined us on our draft fest on Fulton Street last night, for their passion and support. We speak about our organization being a family and that certainly starts with our fans. I am so optimistic about the direction we are heading and what we will be able to achieve as a Pelicans family. When we welcome David Griffin to the Pelicans, we spoke about changing the direction in the future of our organization for the better. I am thrilled with what we have witnessed so far. In short order, he has infused this team in this city with enthusiasm, hope, and a clear vision for success.
From day one, our entire organization has been in lock step with his plan to build a winning culture that will consistently compete at the highest level in the NBA. I believe we have put together the best front office in the NBA and now we are thrilled to welcome our newest Pelican and his family to the Crescent City. To receive the No. 1 pick in the draft is a prize that any sports team would covet, but this one is different. When we won the draft lottery in May and earned the opportunity to select Zion Williamson, we could not have asked for a better player with more potential on the court. More importantly, we could not have hoped for a better person to represent and help lead our franchise into this new chapter. To Zion’s parents, Lee and Sharonda Anderson, you have raised a very special young man who clearly reflects the values and beliefs you so strongly hold.
We are blessed to have your family join our Pelicans family and feel so fortunate to be part of Zion’s continued development both on and off the basketball court. Zion, we are so excited to see you in a Pelicans uniform and I hope you were able to see the excitement from our fans when the No. 1 pick was announced last night in New York. This community is ready to embrace you with open arms. I read a comment from Cam Jordan just yesterday morning and could not agree more. In essence, he said, if you genuinely love New Orleans and learn to experience this city, it will love you back many times over. Those of us who call New Orleans home agree 100 percent with Cam. I also know that your new teammates are excited to have you join them as we work towards our common goal of competing for championships. I am thrilled with the progress that David and his team are making toward building our roster to compete immediately while maintaining a keen focus on sustainable winning. While much work remains to be done, much progress has already occurred. We look forward to taking this positive momentum into free agency in July, training camp in the fall, and the start of the 2019-20 NBA season. Thank you all again for being here on this exciting day. Thank you.”
Joel Meyers (Emcee):
Thank you, Gayle. Great leadership is the key. There is no substitute for great leadership in the NBA. You can have the best players in the world, but you need great leadership, great coaching, and we’re very fortunate here in New Orleans. It changed, let’s face it. It changed as I mentioned with Trajan coming in, Swin coming in, because they wanted to be a part of something that’s being built right now. That’s with great leadership. So I present to you now. We’re fortunate to have him, our executive vice president, David Griffin.
“First that I’d like to thank Austin Brown and Lisa Matulis from CAA, Zion’s representation. For the way they handled every step of the process here, since they got involved in the Pelicans family. Everything that has taken place from a professional standpoint off the court, I’ve never seen the equal of it. So, thank you very much Austin, Lisa, amazing. To his family that are here in front of us. We had a very special evening the night of the lottery. We had a really special evening the night of the lottery and Alvin and I were able to sit with Zion for about 20 minutes and we were so taken with him we asked if his parents were there, and if you would mind if they came downstairs. So, Sharonda and Lee came downstairs and we sat for about an hour and a half together talking about what it would look like to be a member of the Pelicans family. We had the conversation that if you choose us, we choose you. And we choose the whole family because when we’re raising a family, we’re raising it together. Lee and Sharonda were very receiving of that message, I think Zion was as well. I was really grateful that Noah and Tyreek could join us here today as well.
The city will put its arms around all of us, but what we’re going to do is love each other enough to tell each other what we need to hear. And Lee embrace that that night. What Lee told me that night was they chose us and there was a bunch of media around the very next day. Some of you will remember. That Zion was going to go back to school. He had wanted to go to another team. And all this media came up and it was alarming obviously to someone in my position because I’m trained to believe that when you sit in front of people, there may always be something else going on. So, I reached back out to Lee and Sharonda and I said, please tell me that’s not true. Lee was not a happy camper that I had to make that phone call. He said, did I not tell you if you choose us, we choose you. I said, you did. He said, then what are we doing here?
I’d tell you all of that to give you some understanding of exactly what Mrs. Benson says when she says Zion was raised the right way. These are people of their word. These are people that have been all about family from the very beginning. Zion stayed at a small school for high school, Spartanburg Academy. Because his mother told him, if you can play the coaches will find you anywhere, but you stay grounded, you stay with your friends, and you be Zion and let them come to you. That obviously worked and what it did is it laid the groundwork for a kid who is all about others, who’s all about team. He’s all about family and he’s not about himself. The reason that was so meaningful for us is that’s all we want to build. When Trajan and Swin came on board, we talked at length about what it looks like to raise this family and so with all of their input with the incredible front office we have that are here on the right. Everything we do is about adding members to this family that are reflective of the same values that Zions family have instilled in him.
Fortunately we are blessed, Jrue Holiday is one of those guys. When I said last night, when we did our first media availability, that Jrue Holiday is the face of this franchise. He is that dude. This is his team and we are all going to be made of the same stuff. That means we sacrifice whatever it takes to win basketball games. Because Zion is the person he is, all he wants to do is contribute to that. So people looked at me kind of oddly and it got ran many times again. He is not the savior of the Pelicans franchise and he’s certainly not the savior of the Saints, Pelicans family. Mrs. Benson and her team have done a remarkable job with the saints building a winner. A team that wins at the very highest level with the best front office, anywhere with the best coaching staff, anywhere. They’ve laid a model out very clearly for us to follow. So there is no narrative that should exist that we are a stepchild of that. What we are is beneficiaries of the fact that they already know how to do great. They know how to do magical. It’s our job to do that on this side and Zion will contribute to that just like all the rest of us will. So, I think I’m supposed to let Joel (Meyers) know I’m done so he can introduce this man. But thank you all very much. Take the journey and be mindful of the fact that it’s going to take some time.”
Joel Meyers (Emcee):
“If I can tag that to the two of you, the poise and the composure that your son is displayed. I repeatedly said last night as we celebrated together on Fulton Street. Unbelievable, and he is not 19 yet. It’s amazing. So congratulations to the two of you. Your first head coach, Zion. He’s put up with me for too long now and he’s given me a lot of grief because we used to be on opposite sides. So, I present our head coach and a very good one. We’re lucky to have him. Alvin Gentry.”
“I’m going to make it short and sweet because I think you guys are here to see anyone but me. It’s an honor to really have an opportunity to coach a player like Zion. Not just from an ability standpoint, just from the character that he has. When you start to try to turn a franchise into a consistent winner, you got to have the talent, but you have to have people that have the character that he has. So, just adding him to the mix along with other people like Jrue Holiday, I think that we’re well on our way to doing that. I think that it’s going to be enjoyable to see. The style of basketball that we will play he more than fits into it. We’re going to be exciting to watch. The fan base that we have here, you will learn that they’re really dedicated and they will follow you all the way. I think what Mrs. Benson says, that if you love the city it will more than love you back. And I can’t imagine anything that you wouldn’t do to make this city love you. You don’t get to coach guys like this very often. When you’re lucky enough to have a generational player like that, that you’re going to be able to coach, your relish just the honor of being able to coach a guy like that.
We had fun in Chicago that night talking about old school guys that I had no idea that he would know anything about. Right Lee? But, he’s a basketball guy and more so than anything he’s a tremendous guy and he’s all about the team. You talked to anybody at Duke, you talked to anybody at his high school, his mom and his dad and the way they operate, you know that he’s all about the team. Those kind of guys, when you add them to your franchise, you’re headed very much in the right direction. I know you guys are here to hear him, but I just want to say that we’re so excited to have him on our team. The assistant coaches, we’ve been writing lineups on the board and every time we write a line up on the board, his name is in capital letters. We’re excited about having him here and we look forward to a long, long and a great relationship. So, thank you.”
Joel Meyers (Emcee):
“In just a moment, we’re going to open it up for questions from all of you in the media. But, first a couple of questions for Zion. Did you happen to see what was going on Fulton Street? Your response? Because I was there and there’s and the city is amazing. When they talk about embracing the city, you’re going to find that out first-hand. But, what did you see when you saw Fulton Street?”
“Wow, OK! I saw fans that love this team. I mean the love they showed for what I saw in the video was incredible. Especially, I didn’t think I deserved all that much. But, I mean it was just passion for the team. That’s what I saw from it.”
Joel Meyers (Emcee):
I also wanted to point out, because you’re Spartanburg, South Carolina and it’s, you’re in the region. So, when I say we the south, it’s got to be a comfort zone for you to be so close to home as well.
“Yeah, it is very comfortable knowing that I’m pretty close to home. That I can get on a short flight and go back to South Carolina anytime.”
Joel Meyers (Emcee):
Now, you played for an amazing head coach who I’ve been able to work with before in Coach K (Krzyzewski). So, tell us about working with coach k and what you’re going to take forward as well.
“Um, working with Coach K was a different experience. Cause he’s coached all the greats. So I mean he would tell you, I don’t know who told you guys you are good, but you’re not. He’d be like, I’ve seen Kobe (Bryant), I’ve seen (Michael) Jordan, I’ve seen Lebron (James). You guys aren’t there yet. So, he always kept us grounded and he would always tell us to just be ourselves and just try to keep the game simple as possible.”
Joel Meyers (Emcee):
I don’t know if you saw, I tweeted it out, a two minute conversation with Coach K talking about Zion. So, obviously he waits till you’re gone to praise you, because he did say some amazing things about Zion in his ability. Especially more as a person, believe it or not, that as a basketball player, which is the best part of it all for all of us. Because, and I still can’t believe you’re not 19 years old yet. So finally, before we open it up to the local media. Style of play, because you’ve seen Alvin’s style of play, are you in shape?
Zion Williamson: “Am I in shape? I don’t think you guys would have drafted me if I wasn’t (Laughter). I think I’m in pretty good shape.”
Joel Meyers (Emcee):
Okay, because 82 games, greyhound races personified. We start games around here, here comes lucky basically. What I did like Alvin gave you some advice, right? Rebound and run.
“Yes, he said, if I get the rebound, just push it.”
Joel Meyers (Emcee):
I liked that. Don’t draw it up. Don’t look over your shoulder. Don’t look for me for a play. Play, you’ve got great natural instincts, we know that. We are really excited to have Zion here and I’ve got more questions, but I know you guys do as well. So, if you raise your hand and identify yourself. We will get some questions as well from the Media. Please identify your affiliation as well.
Zion, I’m curious, how many text messages have come into your phone in the last 24 hours? Who are you hearing from, people you haven’t heard from in 10 years, or what’s the nature of those types of texts?
“Wow, let’s just jump into it (Laughter). Well if I am being honest, probably not too many because I recently changed my phone number (Laughter).”
People always come in about your humility and the way you kind of handle all this attention. I wonder how, how has it been overwhelming at all to see the amount of love you’ve received from this franchise and people around the city?
“No, it hasn’t been overwhelming at all because the thing that keeps me grounded is I just always think about the times when it was just me, my Stepdad, and a basketball on an outdoor court. So, that’s all I need to keep me grounded.”
Can you just talk us through the last 24 hours and tell us what that’s been like for you? Just the whole whirlwind.
“It’s been a lot. I’m still taking it in. I dreamt about having my name called by the commissioner since I was a little kid and for him to call my name first, meant even more to me. Having my family and friends there to support me, I think just made that moment much better. As the rest of it, it’s just sleep, get on a plane, and press conference (Laughter).”
Have you had a chance to talk to Jrue Holiday? What do you know about him? Have you watched him play before or anything like that? What do you know about his game?
“No, I have not had a chance to speak with Jrue Holiday. I don’t really know too much about his game, but I know that he’s for his team cause that’s what everybody says and I can’t wait to get on the court with him.”
Looking on the roster here and I don’t see anybody wearing the number 12. So, are we going to get a throwback from you and see the number 12? I know that you’re used to one being at Duke. But, I know that you just got here as well, so I was just wondering if we might see the number 12 back in effect?
“I think I’m going to just stick with No. 1.”
I just wanted to know, do you have a favorite thing about New Orleans culture, since your last visit here?
“My favorite thing? So, it’s a lot even though I was here for like 24 hours. I’m going to just say the family feel that I just got from just walking around. People here, were just welcoming. They didn’t come up. They came up and spoke for a minute and just went on about their day. They didn’t hold me up or anything. They just said, you’re going to love this city and everybody’s family and that’s the vibe I’ve been getting.”
Last night you joked with us and you said you’re just an 18 year old kid who gets a lot of attention, but do you embrace the fact when people say you’re mature beyond your years, or wise beyond your years? Are you wise beyond your years?
“I don’t know if I can say that, but I try to be, because I look at it from a realistic point of view. I am 18 and I do have a lot to learn.”
This for Zion and Alvin last night David told us about the instant connection that you guys seem to have. Can you go into depth about that and how well you guys hit it off, almost immediately?
“Well, first of all, we both are southern guys. Secondly, I think he’s got a great basketball mind, but he also appreciates the history of the game. So, it’s really funny we talked about players from the 70s, even when I was in high school and taking visits to college, he knew some of the guys that I was talking about in that came from, Lee, I’m sure. We talked about that but, he’s an easy guy to talk to. He’s an easy guy to discuss things with. I mean, I think it’s going to be a, a joy to coach really. He plays extremely hard. He’s all about the team. So, when they say he’s a coach’s player, the way we related, I think it’s easy to see how that can be. Yeah, and I’m going to let him shoot a lot. He knows that too.”
“Pretty much the same thing. I think we connected because he just saw that I just wanted to play basketball. The media and stuff wasn’t on my mind. I was 18 year old and wanting to get on the court and hoop.”
Zion, who was the first new teammate that contacted you since last night? And what was his message to you?
“Frank Jackson was the first person. His message was, welcome to the family. I don’t want to say the rest cause you know, that’s brotherhood material.”
How much does it excite you, just thought the number of young guys coming into this team at once and just being able to be a young family that can try to maybe win the summer league?
“It’s very exciting. Because, we’re all young and I can learn a lot from them. They’re close to my age, obviously. I think we’re all just hungry to win. I think we just want to do whatever we can to help the team succeed.”
It sounds like you’re a student of the game a little bit. Any players you’ve looked up to model your game after?
“I’ve looked up to Michael Jordan because not only was he an assassin on offense, he was an assassin on defense. I try to model my game from just a lot of people. If I like something from someone’s game, I’ll try to take it and just add it to mine.”
Griff, I know you can’t talk about some of the moves that you’ve made already, but ideally, how would you like to have this team built, with Zion and Jrue?
“So, I think because we’re efforting other deals, it’s hard to really speak about what it looks like ultimately. But, the idea behind it and the philosophy behind it is all very much designed around Alvin Gentry system and the Way Alvin and his coaching staff want to play and the way that they envision Zion interfacing with the rest of those pieces. Again, Jrue is a player that can do equal damage on both sides of the ball. He can play with or without the ball. So, there’s a lot of versatility there. I think throughout the roster you’ve seen that there’s a great deal of versatility. It’s something that we’re putting a premium on. Two way players that are able to both create and terminate plays. You need a really healthy balance of both. But, I think the way we’re structured gives us the best opportunity to take advantage of both Zions gifts, but the rest of the fit of the team working so well with the pace that Alvin and his coaches want to play at. And in particular the style they want to play at.
It’s really easy to build to a team when you know that your coach understands the offensive side of the ball. Now, oftentimes you have to go find people who can manufacture all offense. We don’t need that. What we’ve done is we’ve put a lot of the emphasis on finding people who can play defense. Like Zion loves to do. To play defense like Jrue loves to do. So, then we get out and transition and take advantage of those gifts as opportunities to score. But, we didn’t need to find offensive players. We needed to find people who could defend at his pace. That’s been a big focus of what we do when it’s a big part of why Zions such a good fit with us.”
Zion, when you hear David Griffin say that you are not the savior of the Pelicans franchise, do you think that that takes some of the weight off of your shoulders coming into the League as a rookie? Just knowing that the weight of an entire franchise is not on just you?
“Like I said before, I look at things from a realistic point of view. I think people are kind of doing a bit much. I am 18 I haven’t even played one game yet, so I look at it just like that. I’m just trying to come contribution to the team. Whatever the vets need me to do, I’m ready to do it.”
Last night you addressed the people in New Orleans and you said, let’s dance. What was the origin of that? Was that something that just popped in your head or was there some background to that?
“I have a funny story about that. A group of friends and I, went to see Avengers End Game. And if you know me, Thanos is my favorite character. Captain America’s shield is broken. I’m like, we’re about to win, for once the movie’s going to be realistic and the bad guy wins, cause he’s the strongest. So, my friend Axel, said hold on. All of a sudden all these superheroes who disappeared five years ago just started appearing and I’m like, oh we might lose and he looks at me, he goes, let’s dance.”
Joel Meyers (Emcee):
“In conclusion, we’re going to have photo ops with the group as well. I’ve watched a lot of film now and a lot of Duke Games and you were just talking about it, David and Alvin. There’s guys that know how to play defense, rebound, run, play offense. There’s a two way player that the Pelicans just got. We’ve watched the guy leader team to a championship cause he’s a great two way player. Draymond green with the Golden State Warriors. He reads, he reacts, he recovers, and he’s like a free safety in football. And the more I watch Zion, he’s way ahead of the game at the defense end of the floor. It’s an amazing addition and there’s this old saying as we wrap things up, those were the days. Well as far as I’m concerned for all of us that love this franchise and love this city, these are the days, this is just the beginning. Thank you once again for being with us. Now some photo ops. One final thing. Everyone, Zion’s father would like a take a second. Thank you.”
Lee (Zion’s Step Father):
“Good afternoon. I’d like to take this moment just to say thank you to the city of New Orleans. Mrs. Benson, Mr. Griffin, Coach Gentry, masters of ceremony today, we are thrilled to death. Zion and I had this conversation about playing in New Orleans before the lottery. Nobody in the world knew that, but we had this conversation. I’m so thankful I told him then that I thought, this city would be a great place to go and God worked it out. So, on behalf of my family, I just want to say thank you to all of you who had anything to do with it and Zion’s state in this city will be well worth it.”