Zion Williamson

Zion-Williamson-TIME-100-Next Scandebergs for TIME 

I’ve been hearing the comparisons since Zion Williamson was in high school. Big-bodied. Forceful dunks. Elite athleticism. Highly touted. They go on and on. Personally, I think every player is unique in their own right.

Who Zion Williamson is as a player shone through in the weeks after a national TV audience witnessed the then college athlete rip through his shoe and limp off the court injured this past February. Many analysts questioned whether he would ever don a Blue Devils uniform again. Why risk further injury at the expense of a long NBA career? What else was there for him to play for?

A lot, apparently, and it had nothing to do with what was ahead of him at the professional level. Blocking all of the chatter out, Zion decided to return to action—and Duke went on to win the ACC tournament. It was in his decision to come back where I learned everything I needed to know about the kid.

As we eagerly await Zion to start his rookie season in the NBA after knee surgery, he already has the weight of the world on his shoulders. But what means the most to him is playing hard for his teammates and coaches, setting a good example through his actions and making his family proud. No matter what happens when he joins his teammates on the court, I know these guiding principles will serve him well down the line.

And because of that, coupled with his talent, no comparison to anyone comes close.

O’Neal is a four-time NBA champion

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