Victor Wembanyama gathered a star-studded audience in his final regular-season game in France and delivered another game-winning effort in the fourth quarter just hours before learning his likely NBA destination.
Football sensation Kylian Mbappé and prominent French actor Omar Sy were also on attendance to see Wembanyama score 22 points as his Boulogne-Levallois team defeated Paris Basketball 93-85 in a local rivalry. Later Tuesday, the French sensation and much of the basketball world shifted their focus to the NBA draught lottery in Chicago, where the San Antonio Spurs won the No. 1 selection.
Wembanyama, 19, demonstrated why by scoring 14 of his game-high 22 points in the fourth quarter, with the crowd of around 4,000 screaming "Wemby, Wemby" as he came on late after a poor start.
"He seemed elsewhere early on, probably at the lottery," said Metropolitans 92 coach Vincent Collet. "However, he responded so brilliantly. He's 19 years old, and his life is about to alter drastically. Can you see what I mean? Tonight is a watershed point in his career. It's reasonable that things were running through his thoughts."
Wembanyama finished with a late one-handed slam, then patted his own head in satisfaction.
When another two-handed slam with only six seconds left made the youngster the game's leading scorer, one spectator responded by bowing with his palms extended out.
At the final whistle, Wemby clinched his fist and yelled, then hugged his teammates as the fans rose to offer the French league's highest scorer a standing ovation at the Palais des Sports Marcel Cerdan.
The 7-foot-5 Wembanyama then took a lap of honour, high-fiving people (or, given his height, low-fiving) and signing autographs.
Wembanyama still has the French league playoffs to look forward to, which begin this weekend, before he can completely focus on the NBA. However, the French public is seizing every opportunity to see him while they can, knowing that a comparable talent is unlikely to emerge very soon.
"I believe he's going to be a Hall of Famer," Paris basketball coach Will Weaver, a former Brooklyn Nets and Philadelphia 76ers assistant, said. "I worked with Kevin Durant and Jarrett Allen." I've been around a lot of good, large men with a variety of abilities. I only see professionalism and competitiveness in him."
Mbappé, France's World Cup hero, is an avid basketball fan who came just in time—about 30 seconds before the game began—to see another great scorer in action.
Though that wasn't Wemby's best performance,
He got into some problems and appeared anxious at times, maybe due to the occasion. "Mais non!" he said, pointing to his forearm. ("Not at all!") when he did not get his way on a refereeing decision. After missing a 3-pointer late in the first quarter, he bent his head and shook it.
During one of the breaks in the second quarter, a TV team from the opposing side went over to question Mbappé, who sat in the same row as Wembanyama's parents and was near to Sy. Mbappé was still posing for photographs seconds before the third quarter started, threatening to steal the show.
But then Wemby proved who the major attraction was by dominating the fourth quarter.
Collet, who also coaches France, said he will stay up late with Wembanyama to watch the lottery.
"He'll know his destination tonight," he remarked. "I don't think the team with the first choice will make a mistake."