Victor Wembanyama strutted into his debut at The Garden with all the confidence of a 7-foot-4 MonStar and walked out as a 6-foot-16 shell of himself.
OK, those measure out to the same thing, but it’s all about perception, and by the time Mitchell Robinson was done with him, Wembanyama’s confidence had shrunk down to size.
At a pregame media availability, Wembanyama gave an all-time quote about his inaugural Garden experience that was lampooned endlessly.
“Pretty incredible. It’s not as big as I expected, but still the vibe is here,” Wembanyama said while looking around.
I don’t know how much smaller the world looks from the perspective of a Slenderman-sized human, but I can understand the sentiment. After living in New York long enough, you become inured to how compact everything is. However, Big Vic’s unintentional double entendre went viral.
Turns out all that Big Vic Energy wasn’t as big as New York expected either. The Garden is used to all-time performances. Jordan’s double-knickel and the night Steph Curry became a star are chief among them, but after watching Wembanyama score 38 against the Phoenix Suns, there was some hope that he might have another classic in him. The duality of Knicks fans is that as rough as they are on their own team, they’ll also show too much love to opposing players who give them a show.
Partly because they view their hallowed arena as the Basketball Apollo and because they’re negging the opposing team. When Knicks fans serenade an opposing player, it’s because they really want them in the blue and orange.
What got lost in the pregame chaos for Big Vic vs. the Knicks was Robinson and his nonchalant demeanor. Robinson is the anchor of your typical Tom Thibodeau defense and the perfect Wembanyama stopper. Or at least that’s how he’ll be known for the foreseeable future.
“I’m going to play him just like he’s one of those like Kristaps Porzingis, kind of [players]’” Robinson explained with great indifference. “Who else plays like that? Bol Bol? Just got a mix them two together. I kind of got a feel for how it should go.”
From the jump, you knew Robinson was going to be a different type of challenge. For the first time, Wembanyama lost the tip-off. It only slalomed downhill from there. On the night, Wembanyama scored nine points, but a majority of those even came in garbage time when the Spurs led by nearly 30.
From the in the post and below, Robinson personally frustrated Wembanyama for most of the night, holding him to 0-for-6 shooting. At one point in the fourth quarter, Wembanyama slapped away Immanuel Quickley’ arm as the crowd began chanting “Overrated!” while Wembanyama shot free throws.
Chanting overrated at a 19-year-old still feels like a traumatizing experience, but Wembanyama has been a professional long enough to shake it off. The expectation is that this becomes a canon event for him. His rookie year is going to be a trial by fire. Ups and downs galore. But ultimately, he’ll grow from the experience, literally and metaphorically. Anytime he’s in the weight room, those chants of overrated will be echoing through his mind. Greg Poppovich should send him some video of Tim Duncan giving the Knicks work in the 2000 Finals for inspiration. In a few years, those same Garden denizens will be courting Wembanyama to suit up for the Bockers.
Robinson used to be the skinny, 7-footer whom the larger basketball audience had never seen play. Now he’s the one putting rooks through Hell in a Cell on the defensive end. Wembanyama’s true impact on the game won’t be felt for years, but you can bet that when he does solve the basketball equation and bulks up, Robinson and the Knicks will be some of the first names in his little black book.
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