NBA star Zion Williamson says ‘80%’ of players will be in anime
In a recent article on GQNew Orleans Pelicans star Zion Williamson shares his love for Narutoto the point where it becomes the focal point for the entire feature.
If you think I’m joking, there’s only two paragraphs where we’re seeing things like:
Williamson speaks of Naruto with the same reverence that other NBA players speak of the Bible—it offers comfort and clarity in equal parts. Throughout the past year – an unusual turn of events in his star-studded career – Naruto has been his northern star.
That “tumultuous” year was the year Williamson was injured, unable to get better, weighed down and constantly questioned about his future in New Orleans (and in the league). Obviously Zion really love Narutoto the point where he appeared on the Comic-Con panel wearing the Hokage cape, and the fact that he gave it a lot of credit in helping him recover and get ready for the upcoming season.
However, what really caught my attention in this feature was (my emphasis):
Zion estimates that about 80% of the players in the league enjoy anime; they won’t admit it. Those familiar with the conventions of form know that it would be difficult to create a genre more suitable for professional athletes: Anime Shōnen (the term for shows aimed at boys) often revolves around a main character trying to achieve greatness in their chosen field, be it pirates at sea (One Piece) or fight alien warlords using energetic explosions. so powerful that they turn your hair into gold (Dragon Ball Z). Those are long stories of what it takes to be the Best — not coincidentally, the same goal that drives athletes.
That statistic is both mythical but also completely believable. Most NBA players are in their 20s, meaning they grew up in a culture where anime has long outgrown its (often unfair) taboo associations, and where Japanese manga like Seven Dragon Balls not only a piece of furniture, but especially resonates with the young black men who make up most of the league.
Now, I wouldn’t say Zion is the only NBA player to have made their love of anime public. Here’s Steven Adams in 2016:
And even more famously, here’s 2018 superstar Joel Embiid relaxing in his pre-match routine:
And that was before we entered the small but important lineup of players were recorded to talk about their love for seven dragon pearlslike Embiid teammate Tobias Harris and Cavs forward Lauri Markkanen.
But if Zion’s 80% figure is even true – he’s entering his third season in the league, he’s been in enough locker rooms and rehearsing court deliberations to at least bring make correct judgments – then this will be much more. There are 450 players in the NBA, which would put the number of anime fans in the hundreds, not the dozens. We can and should be looking at more things like pre-match dance routines, post-match interview quotes from Slam dunk and players with nicknames from Kill la Kill instead of old DC comics.
It is possible that many players feel that there is still some sort of stigma attached to it, that it will make them look like a nerd, and by the association (outdated and inaccurate), weak. But damn it, if Zion and Joel Embiid – two of the NBA’s biggest, worst men – can be out here like this, anyone can.