CHICAGO — It might be early in the NBA All-Star Weekend festivities, which feature events with famous musicians, chefs, Instagram stars and actors, but one person has already left top draft pick Zion Williamson starstruck: former President Barack Obama. Williamson said his meeting with Obama was one of his top life experiences.
“This could be No. 1,” the New Orleans Pelicans forward said. “I don’t want to say it is No. 1 right now because the draft might be 1, but this is definitely top two.”
Obama showed up for an NBA Cares event in between Rising Stars practices on Friday morning. NBA players from the USA and World teams put on red T-shirts and assisted young students from local schools in filling 500 backpacks with colored pencils, markers, notebooks and other school supplies for under-resourced students and teachers.
Players like RJ Barrett and Luka Doncic stood and stuffed the backpacks while taking teasing jabs from the children about who could dunk on whom. Roughly 15 minutes into the event, Obama showed up. Most of the players and children had no idea he would be attending.
Slowly, Obama weaved his way around the room and introduced himself to every player, student, volunteer and coach. After Obama dapped up Charlotte’s Miles Bridges, Bridges turned toward reporters and admitted that he had intended to ask for a photo but was too nervous. The students said they felt the same.
“I can’t believe I just met him; I almost cried,” one student exclaimed.
Eventually, Obama nestled in between Williamson and Trae Young and chatted with the two young players for 20 minutes while helping them add markers to the backpacks.
“It was crazy being able to stand next to him, talk to him,” Young said. “He basically knew everything about my season, my game. I was definitely asking him a lot of questions. He was just like a regular person — that’s what was crazy. You see all these things on TV and you don’t even realize. He was just talking to me like a regular person.”
It was the first time both Williamson and Young had met Obama. Young said Obama told him that with him at point guard, the Atlanta Hawks would eventually turn things around and have a winning season.
“It is special when you meet someone that is an icon like that,” Young said.
Williamson was stunned when Obama started rattling off his recent stats in Pelicans games. Williamson said that the former president even recalled specific plays from his year playing for Duke.
“He said I played great, and I kind of zoned out after that,” Williamson said, still giddy. “That was all I needed to hear, to be honest.”