The Victor Wembanyama era has officially begun in San Antonio but it didn’t begin with the fireworks predicted.
And Wednesday night he took to the court with the entire United States – if not the world – watching.
But the teenager’s debut got off to a stuttering start before a fourth-quarter flurry ultimately wasn’t enough to lift the Spurs past the Mavericks in a 126-119 season-opening defeat.
And the Frenchman seemed to be ready to prove just that when he opened his NBA scoring account with a three-pointer – what else?
Victor Wembanyama finally took the NBA by storm as he made his highly-anticipated debut
The 7-foot-4 phenom greets Mavericks star and NBA veteran Kyrie Irving (left)
The 19-year-old’s first bucket in the NBA came with a three-pointer in the first quarter
But the first bucket did not open the floodgates as the teenager struggled through the first half, mustering just six points in 16 minutes.
The Frenchman was in foul trouble for much of his season opener before he was benched.
But, before the disappointment of the fans at AT&T Center could fester, he returned to the court for a fourth-quarter takeover. The phenom exploded for nine points, finishing the game with 15 points, five rebounds and two assists.
However, his last-minute revival wasn’t enough to lead the Spurs to an opening win in a tightly-contested game against some of the league’s biggest stars in Luka Doncic, Kyrie Irving and the Mavericks.
Wembanyama may have got the first block of his NBA career in the opening minute of the game against Irving no less, but there was not much else stopping Irving, who finished the night with 22 points, and Doncic, who was back with a bang with 33 points.
Dallas’s rookie Dereck Likely II was also making his NBA debut Wednesday night to much less fanfare than his Spurs counterpart.
But the No. 12 draft pick didn’t need a heralded arrival like Wembanyama’s as he burst into the spotlight of his own accord with a 16-point breakout performance.
The Frenchman was limited by foul trouble for the majority of his season opener
But the phenomn surged as he returned to the court for a fourth-quarter takeover
He exploded for nine points, finishing the game with 15 points, five rebounds and two assists
Luka Doncic was back with a ban, finishing with 33 points, 14 rebounds and 10 assists
Wembanyama had been described as an ‘alien‘ by LeBron himself for his close control, agility and accuracy shooting from the three-point range – traits not usually associated with someone so tall.
Wembanyama’s presence has energized San Antonio´s fanbase unlike any time in the franchise´s history.
The Spurs have won five NBA championships and had numerous stars, yet nobody has received this kind of attention.
‘How can I deny that,’ San Antonio coach Gregg Popovich said before the game. ‘It´s pretty obvious. Victor’s had a lot of attention pointed toward him for a very long time and that´s not going to change. Fortunately for us, he´s a really mature, prioritized young man that knows what he wants. He’s already a pro.’
San Antonio received more than 200 media credential requests from eight countries, rivaling the interest shown during the NBA Finals.
Wembanyama´s jerseys and T-shirts dominate the stands. Jerseys from Manu Ginobili, Tim Duncan and Tony Parker were worn by fans during the Big Three Era, but Wembanyama is the clear darling of a city desperate for its sixth NBA title – even after failing to make the playoffs the last four seasons.
Wembanyama´s presence forced the Spurs to sell standing-room only tickets for the opener, a move that comes just months after the team struggled to sell tickets during its 22-60 finish last season.
“I had a hard time even giving my tickets away last year,” Spurs fan Melvin Voight said. “A 200 percent turnaround. Big demand.”
The No. 1 overall pick in the NBA draft drew the undivided attention of fans and media filling the lower bowl of the Frost Bank Center while simply practicing free throws before Wednesday night’s season opener.
Dubbed ‘The Extraterrestrial’ by Nike, the 19-year-old from France who stands nearly 7-foot-4, has been astounding with his otherworldly play.
In preseason action, he blocked 3-point shots with his 8-foot wingspan and Euro-stepped from the free throw line to the rim for a dunk in two strides without a dribble.
Wembanyama was drafted by the Spurs in the most nailed-on first pick since LeBron James
The 19-year-old, 7-foot-4 Frenchman has been described as an ‘ alien ‘ by LeBron himself
The French teenager warms up prior to his debut against the Dallas Mavericks Wednesday
And it is safe to say San Antonio struck gold when they came out first in the NBA Draft Lottery earlier in the year.
The teenager broke down in tears as he sat with his family as the pick was announced at Barclays Center.
After being selected first overall, Wembanyama shared the reason for his emotion with ESPN’s Monica McNutt.
‘It’s just… accomplishing something that I’ve been dreaming of, you know, my whole life,’ Wembanyama said. ‘Hearing that that sentence from Adam Silver, you know, I’ve dreamed of it so, so much that, you know, I gotta cry, man.’
He later revealed that, despite knowing he was probably going to be taken first, the Draft was still the best night of his life.
That is perhaps until tonight when he played his first game of the NBA regular-season and his NBA career.