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Wembanyama and the Spurs is a partnership both sides were built for

Among other things, Thursday’s franchise-altering selection marked the beginning of a collaboration with neither blueprint nor ceiling.

2023 NBA Draft Photo by Sarah Stier/Getty Images

Gregg Popovich appeared before a contingent of local and national media on draft night just moments after the Spurs’ selection of Victor Wembanyama, in a corner of Spurs HQ set up to accommodate a larger crowd than years past, as well as a bigger moment for the organization. His first words as he took his seat: “So it begins.”

What “it” means is both vaguely obvious and unfathomable, a luminous future now officially tethered to a towering talent who brings a new level of possibilities, expectations, and attention to San Antonio. To perhaps borrow the words Wembanyama used after being selected:

“It’s the start of such a great adventure... You never know what’s going to happen, and that is what’s exciting.”

A foregone conclusion at 1 heading into Thursday, Wembanyama has demonstrated the kind of poise and self-awareness rarely seen in a young athlete amid his endless string of pre-draft media hits. Questions around who he is and what he wants to be have all been handled gracefully and graciously, in multiple languages no less, somehow emanating both the joy of being in his position and the confidence that he would always arrive here.

And with good reason: much of Wembanyama’s path to “Best Prospect Since LeBron” status has been a calculated, collaborative effort by him and those around him, meticulously maximizing opportunity and the management of his body. That won’t stop with his arrival in San Antonio and neither will it likely be handed over completely to his new employer, but rather a new collaboration as both sides move towards common goals that help Wembanyama reach his final form.

Back in South Texas, Popovich was asked what Year One with Wemby might look like. Among other things that came through, Pop was sure to note that no steps would be skipped, which included the familiarity he still needed to build with him, whom he noted he’d only spoken with on the phone.

“Because of all the hype he’ll have a target on his back. So more than O’s and X’s to begin with, we’ll be most interested in setting a framework and an environment where he’s comfortable and where he can be Victor. Not LeBron or Tim, or Kobe or anybody else — he’s Victor. So we’ll do what we’ve done in the past with every player. We’ll observe. We’ll be there to counsel, to suggest, to answer questions and be available when they matriculate into a team, into a city, into a home; where they’re going to eat their meals; who’s going to make their meals — every facet of an existence, just like each of us has an existence. We’ll be very observant but there’s nothing in stone, to where we going to already say, ‘This is way it’s going to be.’”

In some ways, this is business as usual for the Spurs, who rightfully trust that their culture and history, as well as Pop’s presence, provide a sound foundation for what’s to come. Yet, just like the Spurs coach stressed above, Wembanyama isn’t Duncan or like any other prospect that’s come into the program. Just as there’s no ceiling on his potential, there’s no blueprint for him to realize it, and he’ll come in with his own traits and goals.

Those goals include what may happen this summer and how Wembanyama follows up a long French basketball campaign by participating in the FIBA Basketball World Cup (running through August and September) and/or NBA Summer League, both of which the new Spur has voiced an intent to compete in. To a question regarding the latter on Thursday, Pop said:

“We are talking about what he should be doing moving forward. He never stopped playing. He went right into the playoffs in the French League, and that just ended. He will participate in the summer league, to what degree, we are not exactly sure yet. As I said before, I have only spoken with him on the phone a couple of times. I have to get a better feel for where his head is at, talk to his people who have trained him his whole life. They have been with our people and we have got to make those decisions once we are all together. But he will be there at some point.”

Where both sides land will be one of those early conversations, and perhaps compromises, between team and athlete, a dynamic that should build trust and eventually help define the type of player Wembanyama becomes. And while both sides will certainly have a similar endpoint in mind, it would be presumptuous to think they’re perfectly aligned in how to get there.

Luckily for all parties, the Spurs’ falling into Wembanyama (and vice versa) feels like a bit of serendipity for everyone involved. In San Antonio, the French big has an ideal landing spot where proven results meet a malleable, human-driven process. In Wemby, the Spurs get the rare self-aware nascent star, one who was seemingly elated to make his way here and who shares the same aversion to skipping steps. Whatever “it” is, you likely couldn’t have a better pairing to realize it.