You had to be there on Wednesday night when Chet Holmgren, all seven-foot-one of him, pushed the ball in transition, absorbed contact from a 230-pound Jeremy Sochan and, switching to his left hand, went up for what would otherwise have been the kind of deft finish few men his size have ever been capable of. And it likely would’ve gone down for a cool and-one were it not for an even larger young man — Victor Wembanyama — timing his own jump to obliterate the attempt the shot at the rim. The official call on the floor of a foul did little to stifle the reaction from the San Antonio crowd, delirious and righteous and only mildly invested in the outcome of the game, while Holmgren headed to the line to add to the Thunder’s lead in what became a rout over the Spurs.
You had to be there — and by there I mean the internet — when one user shared a clip of the play and opined, “Chet impacts winning on a higher level, obvious ROY,” to which someone else replied “lol Wemby clears Chet.” Or something. I forget.
Heading to the Frost Bank Center through Wednesday’s downpour, I made sure to not deny myself the full Chet vs Wemby experience, sloshing my cool, wet feet to my perch on media row a few minutes before tipoff, opening my laptop and firing up social media.
Throughout the night, as Holmgren made good on his stretch-5 profile by knocking down threes, as Wembanyama made reads out of triple teams and bullied his way around the paint, as the two rookies (both top 3 in blocks among all NBA players) combined for 7 rejections on the night, Twitter users diligently reminded one another that one was by far the better prospect or more deserving of the rookie award. Just imagine what he’d be doing in that guy’s situation!
Wembanyama’s gaudier highlights and statline led someone behind an account possibly titled DaigneaultMuse to suggest that he’s padding stats on a bad team — and also, uh, scoreboard, pal.
Someone was in the middle of a thread on Wembanyama’s damning efficiency numbers when Wembanyama called for a screen from Blake Wesley, took another from Devin Vassell back towards the middle of the court and, keeping Holmgren on his hip, driove right then spun left to lay the ball in at the rim over Holmgren’s outstretched arms. A smattering of boos for Josh Giddey.
A Holmgren blowby against the smaller and theoretically more mobile Keldon Johnson, finishing with an easy flush. A comment by a prominent media member you might follow daring the world to just imagine what Wemby could do if playing alongside Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and facing nightlong single coverage. More boos for Giddey.
In an otherwise meaningless 4th quarter, Wembanyama drives at Holmgren from beyond the three-point line, dunking it and holding his stare as Holmgren inbounds the ball. Moments later the Thunder big lowers his shoulder into Wembanyama, seemingly matching the Frenchman’s energy and appropriately dinged with an offensive foul. As the crowd, still unbothered by the ballooning deficit, erupts once more, you’d be justified in asking: are we watching the next great player rivalry unfold — on the league’s Rivalry Week no less, a perfect matchup of young and similarly larger-than-life stars? Can the Spurs front office do right by their young star, by the pair of them, hell, by us and the game itself, in building a contender to match the one emerging in Oklahoma? Simply pose this prompt into the abyss, to which a thousand unblinking accounts will — correctly, technically — let you know, “net rating is a team stat, not an individual one.” My feet are cold and they miss the touch of grass.