NBA star Zion Williamson says 80% of players are into anime

Slam Dunk

Picture: Slam Dunk

IN a recent article on GQNew Orleans Pelicans star Zion Williamson opens up about his love for Narutoto the point where it ends up being the focal point of the entire feature.

If you think I’m kidding, just two paragraphs in we see things like:

Williamson talks about Naruto with the same reverence that other NBA players talk about the Bible – it’s equal parts comfort and clarity. During the past year – an unusually turbulent year in his otherwise stellar career – Naruto was his north star.

The “tumultuous” year is one in which Williamson was injured, couldn’t get better, put on a lot of weight, and constantly had questions about his future in New Orleans (and in the league itself). It is clear that Zion really love Narutoto the point where he showed up to a Comic-Con panel wearing a Hokage robe, and the fact that he credits it so much for helping him recover and get ready for the upcoming season.

What really caught my attention in the feature is this (my emphasis):

Zion estimates that around 80% of players in the league are into anime; they just won’t admit it. Those familiar with the conventions of the form know that it would be difficult to create a genre better suited to professional athletes: Shōnen anime (the term for shows aimed at boys) often revolves around a protagonist who strives to achieve greatness in his chosen field, be it piracy (One Piece) or fighting alien warlords using energy blasts so powerful they turn your hair to gold (Dragon Ball Z). They are long-form stories about what it takes to be the best—not coincidentally the same goal that drives athletes.

That statistic is both wild and also completely believable. Most NBA players are in their 20s, which means they’ve grown up in a culture where anime has long outgrown its (often unfair) weeaboo associations, and where Japanese series like Dragon Ball Z is not just part of the furniture, but resonates especially with young black men, who make up most of the league.

Now, I’m not going to say that Zion is the only NBA player who has made his love for anime public. Here is Steven Adams in 2016:

And even more famously, here’s 2018 superstar Joel Embiid relaxing during his pregame routine:

And that’s before we get into the small but important line-up of players who have gone on record to talk about their love for Dragon Ball Zlike Embiid’s teammate Tobias Harris and Cavs forward Lauri Markkanen.

But if Zion’s 80% figure is even entirely true—he’s entering his third season in the league, he’s been in enough discussions in the locker room and on the practice court to at least make a good guess—then there should be a lot more of this. There are 450 players in the NBA, which would put the number of anime fans in the hundreds, not dozens. We could and maybe should see more things like pre-game dance routines, quotes after interviews from Slam Dunk and players with nicknames from Kill la Kill instead of old DC comics.

Perhaps many gamers feel there is still some sort of stigma attached to it, that it would make them look geeky, and by (outdated and mistaken) association, weak. But shit, if Zion and Joel Embiid — two of the biggest, baddest guys in the NBA — can be out here like this, so can anyone.

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