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Victor Wembanyama’s comments on Gregg Popovich sound like Tim Duncan talking

Wemby is ready to be mentored by his Hall of Fame head coach.

2023 NBA Rookie Photo Shoot Photo by Mike Lawrie/Getty Images

There’s a recurring gimmick on many reality television shows that features contestants paired off, with one partner blindfolded and tasked with navigating an obstacle course while the other, not blindfolded, calls out directions.

It’s a fun thought experiment to imagine NBA head coaches engaged in this exercise with their best players. In some ways, that’s the entire NBA season: a coach standing on the sidelines, calling out plays, and adjusting lineups based on the players’ performances. Steph Curry and Steve Kerr would likely slice through the course with ease. Latrell Sprewell and PJ Carlesimo, maybe not.

Ultimately, the blindfold challenge is a test of trust, commitment, and, above all else, communication, and according to San Antonio Spurs rookie Victor Wembanyama, those three elements are already present in his early relationship with Gregg Popovich.

“It’s really special,” Wembanyama said last week on ESPN’s NBA Today. “I feel like [Popovich] thinks this is going to be a special time, too. He cares a lot about me. He talks to me a lot, pretty much every day, and to me, it’s just such a chance to have a person this experienced, who’s been so successful in his life, he knows how to do it.”

And of potentially finding himself blinded on the court? Wembanyama isn’t all too worried.

“I could follow him with my eyes closed,” the French phenom boasted. “It’s easy to do.”

Aside from being a fun soundbite, the quote serves as music to the ears of San Antonio’s front office. It means that Wembanyama, generational talent though he is, doesn’t believe he’s got the league figured out. It’s humility in action.

This isn’t always the case with incoming top picks. The gulf between a coach and a nucleus of young top picks is sometimes vast and filled with tears. That chasm doesn’t appear to be so wide with Wemby and Pop. By all indications, the player is ready to study at PopU and lay the groundwork for San Antonio’s future success.

By extension, it also means he’s ready to lead by example. Superstars are culture-setters for NBA franchises. And when a player, no matter how talented, is willing to be coached the same as the rest of the squad, it usually bears tasty fruit for the team. Conversely, if a superstar is unwilling to be coached, or, god forbid, they serve as a de facto coach and GM, the compass tends to point in the opposite direction.

What I think Wemby is saying here is, buckle up. Because if I’m going to let myself be coached, mentored, humbled, and challenged, then there’s no excuse for anyone else in this organization to do anything different. It’s culture-setting at its finest.

And there’s perhaps no better example of this over the last 20-plus years than Tim Duncan. Okay, we might be a little biased, but the comparison holds up. Yes, they’re both Spurs, top picks, and foreign-born. But the truest similarity (and most exciting for Spurs fans) is that they share this singular, championship-caliber characteristic: a willingness to be coached.

“The greatest thing about Tim Duncan had nothing to do with his skill level as a player. It’s that he let Gregg Popovich coach him and coach him hard,” David Aldrige of The Athletic said in Episode 30 of the Spurs’ Ring of the Rowel docuseries.

Duncan’s time following Pop (blindfold not necessary) led to a 23+ year relationship — and an appointment with the Naismith Hall of Fame. It sounds like Wembanyama is ready to follow in the same path.