Zion Williamson on Dealing with Injuries, Naruto, and His First SLAM Cover

Zion Williamson on Dealing with Injuries, Naruto, and His First SLAM Cover

After gracing the cover of SLAM 210 at age 16 and emerging as a standout at Duke before being selected as the No. 1 overall pick of the 2019 NBA Draft, Zion Williamson has arguably been the most hyped, and electric NBA prospect in the last few years.

And yet, Williamson’s journey in the L hasn’t always been the easiest—he saw action in only 24 games during his rookie year after he tore his meniscus during the preseason. The following year, he played in 61 games and made his first All-Star appearance, only to miss the entire 2021-22 season after suffering a broken foot that required surgery.

Some critics pointed to his work ethic, while others pointed to his weight, but in a recent interview with GQ, he says everything was out of his control. The injury put Williamson in a dark place.

“It’s been a lot. I can sit here and explain it, but nobody will really be able to feel it the way I did. My foot was broken and I couldn’t magically heal it. It hurt, because I love the game of basketball. But because of it I was experiencing hate and pain from people I don’t know every day, and it started to wear on me.”

How did Williamson get himself through this tough time? Anime.

Zion has talked about his love for anime before, particularly the iconic Naruto series. He says that he’s always viewed life through the eyes of Naruto and that the show’s storyline is an accurate reflection of his life.

“For a while nobody took Naruto seriously,” he told GQ. “And then he went and trained with [Master Shinobi] Jiraiya for three years, right? And he came back at 16 years old, goated.

“Sure enough, I’m 16 years old and suddenly all of the attention starts coming. I remember thinking, Yo, that’s crazy. That’s exactly when it happened for Naruto, and it’s when it’s happening for me.

When Williamson appeared on his first-ever SLAM cover back in high school, that’s when he says that things really started to hit him (you can check out all of Zion’s SLAM covers here).

“It really hit me when SLAM put me on the cover,” he said. “I remember realizing, Oh, this isn’t just a high school thing. They’re talking college. They’re talking the NBA.”

But with stardom comes criticism, and Williamson has learned that the hard way. After reportedly signing a five-year extension with the New Orleans Pelicans in July, Zion says he’s ready to stay true to himself and his game.

“I had to come to a realization,” he explains. “No matter what the world is saying, I have to remember that I am who I am and stay true to that. That’s what Naruto did, and that’s what I’m going to do.”

Believe the hype because when Zion Williamson makes his return, he’s surely going to shock the world (word to SLAM 222).


Photos via Getty Images.

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